Last week, Mattel announced the launch of a new addition to their Barbie Sheroes line. The new doll is modeled after Ibtihaj Muhammad, a U.S. Olympic sabre fencer, who is also Muslim. In fact, she is the first female Muslim-American to win an Olympic medal while wearing a traditional hijab. Mattel decided to include Muhammad in their Sheroes line, because they feel that she embodies their goal of inspiring underrepresented girls to believe that they can be anything they want to be.
Mattel’s Shero line is part of push for Barbie to be more inclusive of other races, ethnicities, and now religions. Their goal is to represent more realistic versions of Barbie to allow young girls to see themselves in the toys with which they play. Girls should also be able to identify with women who are successful in business and sports, areas that were traditionally masculine. Muhammad satisfies these goals. She is an African-American Muslim Olympic medalist.
Despite the seeming positivity of modeling a new Barbie after Ibtihaj Muhammad, there has been quite a bit of backlash. There are many who fear that marketing a Muslim doll condones the oppressive nature of Sharia law, and promotes Islamic fundamentalism. This is partially due to the association of the traditional hijab headdress with Islamic terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda. There is also concern that supporting Muhammad means supporting anti-Semitism, due to her anti-Israeli commentary.
— Ibtihaj Muhammad (@IbtihajMuhammad) November 16, 2012
Conversely, some people, such as Rabbi Jordie Gerson, believe that Muhammad’s public display of the hijab is actually a positive statement for all religions that promote modesty via headdress, including Jewish women who wear traditional head scarves or sheitel.
In an interview with USA Today, Muhammad expressed a similar viewpoint when she stated, “a lot of people don’t believe that Muslim women have voices or that we participate in sports.” She explained that though she chooses to wear the hijab, she wants to change these and other misconceptions, both within and outside of the Muslim community.
Regardless of her comments, there is still quite a bit of backlash against Mattel and the idea of producing a hijab-wearing “Muslim Barbie.” Many have called for a boycott of the doll, of all Barbies, and of Mattel in general. With this in mind, should Mattel continue with their plan to release the Ibtihaj Muhammad Barbie in fall 2018?
CNNMoney presents the new hijab-wearing Barbie in the following clip:
Should Mattel release the Ibtihaj Muhammad “Muslim Barbie”? Is this doll an inspiration for young girls who are underrepresented, or a promotion of social oppression?