He Speaks, She Speaks

A gender communication specialist unravels the mystery of how men and women communicate.

What Barbie Means to Little Girls: The Nature-Nurture Question

What Barbie Means to Little Girls: The Nature-Nurture Question

For the last 30 years I have conducted research, consulted, delivered keynotes and seminars all across the country and internationally in gender communication. My signature program is "He Speaks, She Speaks: What Different Things They Say." The most asked question I receive from not only my audiences but television and radio hosts is: "Are men and women born this way or is it learned?" The old nature-nurture issue. Of course it is a combination of both nature and nurture.

Barbie turned 50 this year and has been one of the most purchased dolls for little (and big) girls for fifty years. So what? Barbie is a reminder of the influence of nurture. The messages boys and girls received from their parents, teachers, coaches, peers and the powerful media influence (anybody catch the latest research claiming the average 12-18 year old in the US is in front of a screen an average of 6 hours a day!) about what it means to be masculine and feminine cannot be underestimated.

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Barbie is an iconic symbol of "femininity" for young girls. And she has grown with the expanding roles of women. Does anyone remember the Barbie that said, "Math class is tough?" Yikes. Lawrence Summers, former President of Harvard, said something similar about how women were not "innately" programmed for math and it costs him his job!

Today we can all acknowledge Barbie has come a long way since 1992 when she claimed math was tough. Yup. She went from aerobics instructor and super model to her new job to celebrate her 50th-Computer Engineer. This marks her 126th career. She does have a hot pink lap top and glasses. She also still has that impossible small waist and tip toe feet to accommodate heels. Smothered in pink we will take what we can get-a Computer Engineer!

Audrey Nelson is an international corporate communication consultant, trainer, author, and keynote speaker.

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