Cook Honors Students Take Barbie to Task

Posted on 3/31/2011 2:08:32 PM

by Sara Patton

On February 16, 2011, Janel Prinkey, Theresa Hoffman, Carrie McGraw, and Amy Bouch, all sophomores at the Robert E. Cook Honors College (CHC) at IUP, participated in the university’s annual English Undergraduate Conference. Their presentation, titled “Barbie: A Feminist Analysis of an Infamous Icon,” dealt with the way that Barbie portrays females and how she has influenced young women over the years.

Sitting down with Theresa Hoffman to discuss the conference, one immediately got the feeling that she had had a good time presenting and was excited to talk about her experience. In response to the question of why the group had picked this topic, Theresa stated, “We all loved Barbie dolls when we were little. I loved Barbies growing up, but looking back now, these are awkward dolls to be playing with.” She went on to explain how they approached the presentation and what they had decided to focus on.

To start, the presenters provided feminist analyses of the poem, “Barbie Doll” and the song, “Barbie Girl,” looking at the way Barbie is depicted as a bimbo and sex symbol, and how both Barbie and Ken fulfill traditional gender roles. Then, they used mathematical proportions to reveal to their audience the unrealistic and unhealthy way Barbie would look if she were a real person, and discussed other controversial dolls, such as the Pregnant Midge dolls. They ended their presentation by looking at kinds of advertising that make women look stupid and like sex objects, and a discussion with the audience about any additional thoughts on the topic. To top off their excellent presentation, all four women had fun and dressed up as different versions of Barbie to make the experience more fun and memorable.

When conversing with the ladies, it became evident that all of them had truly enjoyed their conference experience. Janel Prinkey in particular seemed pleased with the reactions to their presentation. “I loved presenting in front of the English major crowd,” she explained. “Not only were they exposed to feminist critique, but they were enthusiastic about the topic.” To expand on that, Amy Bouch added, “It's a somewhat laid back experience, and the people who come generally want to be there, so they are actually interested in what you are saying.”

Since all four women are CHC students, I was curious to find out if their experiences with honors core and unit presentations had helped or at all influenced their confidence and preparedness for the conference presentation.  In response to that question, Theresa earnestly declared, “Core absolutely helped.” She cited her experiences with core presentations and how they had made her more confident in performing in front of other people. “Probably what’s helped me more than anything,” she said, “is [learning] not to be afraid to get up and make a fool of myself. [Also], I’m used to answering questions from people during presentations. I’ve learned that there’s a gray area. It’s not all right and wrong.”

“The biggest challenge,” Janel continued, “is finding time to meet as a group to work on the project. As sophomore English majors who are also in the HC, we have little time to spend working on outside activities, but we made time to present at the conference. We knew that it would be a worthwhile experience.”

Amy, however, thought the biggest challenge was not making time to work together, but was rooted in more technical aspects. “I would actually say it was using the technology in the classroom,” she explained. “Janel made a video of pictures in Windows Movie Maker, but then when we went to open it on the computer it didn't work. It was most likely because the computer we were using didn't have the program. We ended up just looking at the pictures in Google and it turned out okay.” Laughing at the difficulties they had experienced, Theresa added, “I’ve learned [that] the more tech-savvy you are, the better. Especially if you’re going to use it in your presentation.”

All the presenters strongly encouraged others to participate in next year’s conference or similar opportunities. “Go for it!” Amy exclaimed. “It's a good thing to put yourself out there and show some of your work.” Janel agreed, saying, “This was a fun experience that gave us the opportunity to share the work that we had completed in a previous class. It was also on a really fun topic, so it wasn't as much work as it appeared to be.”

Theresa wanted to reassure anyone who has doubts about presenting, saying, “Anything that goes wrong for you isn’t going to be something that hasn’t happened before, so don’t be afraid to get up there and take that risk.” She added another incentive for presenting as well. “Employers want to have people who have public speaking skill or experience, so you want to have that on your resume. It’s such an integral part of any career, really.”

These CHC students are using the skills they learn in core to go beyond expectations and take advantage of the amazing opportunities that come their way. The ladies informed me that they might have an opportunity to give their presentation in a women’s studies class, but that they are currently awaiting more information on that particular possibility. They will also be presenting their topic again at the Undergraduate Scholars Forum on April 5, 2011. After talking about their future plans for their Barbie presentation, Theresa smiled and said, “Looks like we’re going to take the show on the road!”