Back in 1992 Mattel put out a Barbie Doll called Teen Talk Barbie. Pull the string in her back and Barbie would utter any of 270 phrases. Most of them were fairly innocuous, such as “I’ll always be here to help you,” and “Do you have a crush on anyone?”
But one line rightfully sent The American Association of University Women and feminists everywhere into paroxysms of outrage. Frequently misquoted these days as “Math is hard,” what Barbie actually said was, “Math class is tough.” The misquote doesn’t matter. It’s the stereotype behind the statement that created the brouhaha.
Women were fighting the image of the shallow, airhead role model who was befuddled trying to work out a solution to two plus two. So righteous was the feminist fury at Mattel for reinforcing this stereotype, that someone in Mattel’s corporate suite in El Segundo, California, flinched.
No, Mattel didn’t order a recall — perhaps because that would have only made more women aware of the problem — but they offered to swap the loose-lipped Barbie for one who had her microchip partially clipped. It would only speak 269 phrases instead of 270. The one that Mattel aborted was, “Math class is tough.”
Jill Barad, the president of Mattel, fessed up that — shall we call her Math-Challenged Barbie? — was a great big blooper. “We didn’t fully consider the potentially negative implications of this phrase…” Barad wrote to the President of the AAUW.
A quarter of a century later, Donald Trump has caught up to Mattel’s mistake.
His Orangeness declared this week that “nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”
That was the best confession of air-headedness since “Math class is tough.”
“I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject,” he said of health insurance.
Well shucks Donald, anyone who had anything to do with passing the Affordable Care Act could have told you that way before the election. All you had to be able to do is read a newspaper. How could you not know unless you’re continuously drugged and unconscious? Or functionally illiterate.
Perhaps Steve Bannon could do a recall and clip your, uh, whatever. That way, when he pulls the string in your back, you won’t sound like the failed airhead version of a 1992 doll.