In a move that I’m feeling ethically ambiguous about, Iranian “Morality Police” swept in to stores on Monday to warn shopkeepers that Barbies were not to be sold in Iran. “About three weeks ago they [the morality police] came to our shop, asking us to remove all the Barbies,” a Tehran shopkeeper claimed. Many shopkeepers, however, are defying the ban, putting Barbies in behind other toys in order to fool the authorities but still have the popular toys available for customers.
Iran first declared Barbie an Undesireable in 1996, stating the leggy dolls had “destructive cultural and social consequences.” The Iranian government introduced alternative dolls, Sara and Dara, cute little folks who wear more culturally appropriate clothing – Sara even comes with four head scarves, although she is meant to be younger than the required age for females to cover their heads in Iran.
Would this move work in North America? Banning toys that aren’t outright harmful to children simply because they espouse a different set of values is certainly censorship. Free speech is free speech, and choice in toys is part of that free personal expression. And yet, I’m not so fond of Barbie dolls and the message they give to children either – that as long as you’re blonde, leggy and have big boobs, then you too can grow up to get the pink car and the handsome man, and who would want anything else?
Frankly, I despise Barbies, and will do my best to keep them out of my house. But if the government told me that I couldn’t buy Barbies because they thought I wasn’t smart enough to realize they were Bad For Me, then I’d be carrying every placard I could to protest their draconian measures, right before I told my daughter that Barbies suck. Because it’s my decision on how to educate my child, not theirs.
The damage, perhaps, has already been done in Iran: one mother lamented the absence of Barbie, saying “My daughter prefers Barbies. She says Sara and Dara are ugly and fat.”
Perhaps the statement that Barbies have “destructive cultural and social” consequences isn’t quite as off base as we’d like to claim.
Photo Credit: Vaniljapulla on Flickr