Teen Talk Barbie
Teen Talk Barbie is an edition of Mattel's Barbie doll, introduced in 1992, that incorporates a voice box to speak one of four randomly selected phrases when a button is pushed. It became controversial because one of the phrases was "Math class is tough", and was also later used for a protest wherein some dolls had the voice boxes exchanged with those for Talking Duke G.I. Joe action figures produced by Hasbro.
Teen Talk Barbie was introduced at the 1992 American International Toy Fair and became available for sale for about $25 in July that year. 350,000 were produced. The dolls contained a voice box programmed with a random assortment of four phrases out of 270 possibilities, including "Will we ever have enough clothes?", "Let's plan our dream wedding!", "I'm studying to be a doctor", "Wanna have a pizza party?", "Want to go shopping?", "Okay, meet me at the mall", "Wouldn't you love to be a lifeguard?", "Let's have a campfire", and "Math class is tough."
Educators including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics objected to the "Math class is tough" phrase as detrimental to the effort to encourage girls to study math and science, and particularly in association with the phrases about shopping; the American Association of University Women criticized it in a report about girls receiving a relatively poor education in math and science. Mattel initially offered to exchange dolls for nonspeaking ones on request, and later apologized to the American Association of University Women, withdrew the math class phrase from those to be used in future dolls, and offered an exchange to purchasers who had a doll with that phrase. The criticism gave rise to the 1994 "Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy" episode of The Simpsons, in which Lisa Simpson objects to sexist utterances by a "Malibu Stacy" doll such as "Thinking gives you wrinkles." As of 2005[update], the collector's price for one of the estimated 3,500 Teen Talk Barbies including the phrase "Math class is tough" was around $500.
Voice box exchange with G.I. Joe
In 1993, to draw attention to what they regarded as outdated gender stereotypes exemplified by the dolls, a group of East Village performance artists calling themselves the Barbie Liberation Organization orchestrated an exchange of voice boxes between 300 Teen Talk Barbies and Hasbro Talking Duke G.I. Joe action figures, which were replaced on store shelves. Affected Teen Talk Barbies spoke phrases such as "Eat lead, Cobra!", "Attack!", and "Vengeance is mine!" They were found in stores in New York and California.
- Linda van Laren, "Math Class Is Tough", in Girl Culture: An Encyclopedia, ed. Claudia A. Mitchell and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh, Volume 2, Westport, Connecticut / London: Greenwood, 2008, ISBN 978-0-313-33910-3, pp. 423–24.
- "Company News: Mattel Says It Erred; Teen Talk Barbie Turns Silent on Math", The New York Times, October 21, 1992.
- Dawn Herlocher, "Barbie & Friends", 200 Years of Dolls: Identification and Price Guide, 3rd ed., Iola, Wisconsin: Krause, 2005, ISBN 9780896891678, p. 81.
- John Boone, "The 14 Most Controversial Barbies Ever", Entertainment Tonight, November 24, 2014.
- David Firestone, "While Barbie Talks Tough, G. I. Joe Goes Shopping", The New York Times, December 31, 1993.
- Susan A. Nolan and Thomas Heinzen, Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences, 2nd ed., New York: Worth, 2012, ISBN 9781429232654, p. 196.
- Catherine Driscoll, "We Girls Can Do Anything, Can't We Barbie?", in Girl Culture: An Encyclopedia, ed. Claudia A. Mitchell and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh, Volume 1, Westport, Connecticut / London: Greenwood, 2008, ISBN 978-0-313-33909-7, pp. 41–42, p. 41.
- Andrew McClary, "Bad Barbies?", Good Toys, Bad Toys: How Safety, Society, Politics, and Fashion Have Reshaped Children's Playthings, Jefferson, North Carolina / London: McFarland, 2004, ISBN 9780786418374, pp. 34–35 and note 18, p. 183, citing Ken Schroeder, "In Brief ... Barbie Doesn't Add Up", The Education Digest 58 (December 1992) 72–75.
- Associated Press, "Talking Barbie dolls called sexist", The News-Journal (Daytona Beach, Florida), October 3, 1992, p. 6A.
- David Grimes, New York Times regional newspapers, "Being brainwashed by a talking toy", The Times-News (Hendersonville, North Carolina), October 17, 1992, p. 12A.
- According to van Laren, "Math Class Is Tough", Mattel only promised that the phrase would no longer be juxtaposed with "Want to go shopping?" and "Okay, meet me at the mall".
- John Martin, "TV Tonight: Highlights", Lakeland Ledger, February 17, 1994, p. 4C.
- McClary, p. 35.