The politician is having a busy week. She has events at the Capitol and an important bill to sign into law. Like her namesake who calls her shade a “power color,” she wore a hot pink pantsuit.
The Politician is a Barbie Doll One of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s top aides decided to dress like their boss and post it to social media this week, as Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” hits theaters.
Earlier this summer, staffers working with Whitmer — the Democrat who surprised pollsters with a double-digit victory in the final race for office — began to appreciate the sheer force of the world’s current Barbie obsession. Among many other marketing stunts: Crocs produced customized Barbie shoes. Burger king pink sauce. Members of Whitmer’s team wondered if their boss might benefit from a special connection to her.
It’s a bit of a gamble to deliberately compare a politician to a doll programmed to despair that “math class is hard” and which was such an avatar for sexist clichés that feminists spent the ’70s advertising posters declaring “I’m not a Barbie doll.”
But Barbie also worked as a robotics engineer and ran for president seven times. Aided by a Dreamhouse-sized marketing budget, it found itself in the midst of a cultural renaissance.
However, she has never been a ruler. So Whitmer’s team decided to give her some executive experience at the state level, catching the attention of their boss in the process.
Christening the Lil’ Gretch doll, Julia Beckett, Mrs. Whitmer’s digital and creative director, is a take on Big Gretch – The Michigan nickname for Mrs. Whitmer, inspired by a local pandemic-era rap song about the governor.
The stunt is supported by Emily’s List, a Democratic organization dedicated to electing women who support abortion rights. (It has no official endorsement from Mattel, the company that makes Barbie. When asked if girls interested in infrastructure might soon see a Barbie ruler on store shelves, a representative for Mattel said the company couldn’t share future plans but added, “It’s so fun to know they’re a fan!”)
Instagram users will find this Governor Barbie in lively panels that include her speaking from the podium, signing legislation and “fixing goddamn ways,” said Kaylie Hanson, Whitmer’s chief communications officer, citing one of Whitmer’s favorite slogans. In one setting, Governor Barbie is pictured behind the wheel of a Chevrolet Pepto Bismol. The car is built in Michigan, and the team has been in trouble to sign. Miniature pink construction cones indicate that there is work on the way.
Ms. Whitmer’s name is an integral part of lists of potential 2028 presidential candidates. Her victory in November 2022 was so decisive that it helped turn both houses of the state legislature into the blue for the first time in four decades. This kind of reputation for coalition building has even led some to whisper about a possible 2024 launch, even though she has said she will not enter the race. But a collaboration dedicated to a blockbuster movie isn’t like jamming a corn dog at the Iowa State Fair. It is not on the list of presidential requirements for campaign strategists. So what on earth It would compel Mrs. Whitmer to do so this?
Ms. Whitmer, 51, joined a recent video call to explain. She was wearing hot pink. Lil’ Gritch wasn’t her idea, but she was instantly excited, she said, after growing up with (and cutting her hair off) a large collection of Barbies that she shared with her sister.
“When they showed me the first iteration, I thought it was so funny,” she said. “This Barbie will sign legislation! She will lead!” Barbie will also get attention. The education bill that Governor Barbie is pictured signing with her unobjectionable thumb is the same one Whitmer is expected to pass into law this week.
Critics might raise doubts (Barbie, of course, can’t). But Selinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, called the move a “slam dunk.” Social media algorithms tend not to reward basic governance work. She has seen in her own statements how voters struggle to remember the accomplishments of their elected officials. And those pink building cones may have an effect, she said. “The TikTok generation is very accepting of these kinds of things,” Ms. Lake said.
“There will be people who don’t understand, and that’s okay,” Whitmer said. “We’re going to have fun. We’re going to continue to be fierce and feminine in our fuchsia hitchhiker.”
And Mrs. Whitmer loves fuchsia. Her mother, a Michigan assistant attorney general, also preferred shade. “One of her classmates said, ‘You can’t wear clothes pink Whitmer said. And she said, “Fuchsia is my power color. When her mother died, mourners showed up dressed in pink in her honor.
In 2022, Ms. Whitmer will make reproductive access a focus of her re-election. When she was declared the winner of that race, she celebrated in a $500 hot pink suit from workwear brand Argent, which produced the look in collaboration with feminist association Supermajority. (Pink, in the shade of the pussy hat, had by then become the unofficial color of the Women’s March.) Argent’s founder, Sally Christson, said Ms. Whitmer ordered it herself online — “like a normal person.” Little did she know Mrs. Whitmer was planning on wearing it as the votes were being counted in November. It is the brand’s best selling suit to date.
For her second inauguration, Ms. Whitmer again wore fuchsia. To overturn an abortion ban that would have criminalized the doctors who performed the procedure, she wore bubblegum pink. Purple lipstick is such a staple that she even pressed it when she announced that the FBI had thwarted a plot to kidnap her in October 2020. She was also wearing a leather jacket, which is another signature. “That was the armor in which I felt most comfortable,” she said.
When Mrs. Whitmer was first running for office, She had to contend with what she called the “Xerox Model” of women’s dress—dark suit, white blouse, hair slicked back. “I was silent,” she said. Most of the advice about what women should wear in politics came from men. “There have been a lot of strong opinions about dressing modestly so people can listen to your words and not be distracted by your clothes,” Whitmer said. “It’s all nonsense. It’s all about controlling women.”
“It’s Whitmer’s pinnacle to do that,” said Jennifer Palmieri, who profiled Ms. Whitmer for Vanity Fair. She served as Hillary Clinton’s communications director when Mrs. Clinton was running for president. By that, she seemed to mean that she was smart and cheerful.
At the time Mrs. Clinton was a candidate, “the wardrobe was a big question mark,” said Ms. Palmieri. She recalled deliberating how to present Mrs. Clinton as a leader without forcing her to dress as a man. I settled on light colored leggings and bomber jackets.
in 2016, Mrs. Clinton was also transformed into a Barbie doll — which wasn’t her team’s idea. “Saturday Night Live” He ran an advertisement parodying the “Barbie the boss” doll in the style of a Barbie doll. An uninterested girl waved at the doll. She’s trying too hard.
The ad depicts Barbie as a retrograde and Mrs. Clinton as a leftover. Other calls for the doll were more malevolent. In 2014, Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis faced life-size posters of her head affixed to a naked Barbie’s torso. Nicknamed Mrs. Davis “Abortion Barbie”. In 2020, a man carried a Barbie doll hanging from a noose onto the front steps of the Michigan State Capitol and claimed it was Mrs. Whitmer. He also had an ax confiscated by the police. (Unfortunately, female leaders see such attacks more often because of their gender,” said Ms. Hanson.)
“As it applies to me, and as the term has been applied to other women,” said Ms. Davis of the “Barbie” taunt, “it is intended to belittle us, to draw attention to the way we look, to sexualize us, and to divert attention from our accomplishments, our intellect, and our abilities.”
Like Mrs. Whitmer (and Barbie), Mrs. Davis is associated with the color pink. In 2013, she blocked anti-abortion legislation in the Texas Senate, where she was then serving. She stood on her feet for 11 hours in pink sneakers. “I have more pink in my wardrobe than you can imagine,” she said. “I’ve heard a lot of women who’ve run for office talk about this tightrope we’re wearing. And I love the idea of freeing ourselves from those shackles and not being afraid of being totally ourselves.”
However, Meg Hickman, assistant professor of journalism and media innovation at Northeastern University, sees dangers for women in particular who “bend too hard” in individual aspects of their personalities — not least one borrowed from a glamorous child’s play. “It runs the risk of underestimation,” she said, something female candidates have long struggled with.
Ms. Hickman also suggested that while creating a “popular cultural parallel” to the de facto ruler might “subtly reshape the face of political leadership” away from white and male, it could also legalize other barriers to entry.
“Barbie is traditionally an attractive and imaginative white woman,” noted Mrs. Hickman. “Who else is left out of frame?”
in 2021, The Barbara Lee Family Foundation has published an updated guide to running for elected office as a woman. She cited focus group participants who said they advise female candidates to ensure their “wardrobe, makeup and appearance are impeccable”. The foundation’s executive director, Amanda Hunter, said she was surprised to see voters penalize women for minor flaws, such as frizzy collars or less-than-pristine hair.
In this underwhelming sense, Governor Barbie actually lives up to the voters’ expectations. “Voters have a level of perfection for women,” said Ms. Hunter.
Ms. Whitmer — who has actually had a perfect voting record since her first race at age 29 — is serious about Barbie, but the wink is palpable, Ms. Palmieri said. She said, “It’s like, ‘You want me to look like a Barbie doll, I’m going to embrace that as something that empowers me, not something that bothers me.'”