I was eight years old when my parents bought me my very first Barbie house, marking a pivotal entry in my dream house journal. Concocting my own gourmet dishes and creating custom bed spreads out of my mother’s hand towels, I was as happy as a girl could be. I had even chopped off Barbie’s hair and given her that punk rock blush look, so you can just imagine the scene. She was a rebel, and so was I.
After some time, I decided that Barbie’s “Dream” house was a little too suburban, so I set my sights on the big city, transforming my dresser into a custom-made loft. Barbie had an endless view of the New York City skyline and underground parking to accommodate her Volkswagen Cabriolet. Barbie was on top of the world.
Looking back, one thing in particular distinctively stood out: I’d always portrayed Barbie as a single woman, with no man in tow. Sure, Ken was invited over for dinner when Barbie felt like cooking or was in the mood. He was the perfect house guest and part-time boyfriend. I wonder now why my very own Barbie had never thought of asking Ken to shack up or get married. Perplexed, and I find myself asking: could my instinct be coming from my very own plastic doll with the hour glass figure?
Mattel introduced the very first Barbie “Dream House” to the world in 1962, three years after the doll’s debut. The fold-up, cardboard condo came furnished with a dressing table, clothes closet, studio couch, and a single bed. Ken Carson was introduced in 1961 as Barbie’s on-again-off-again lover boy, meeting him on the set of a TV commercial. So where would Barbie’s newfound love sleep? One might not find this to be too terribly shocking given today’s standards, but this was three years before the Supreme Court gave married couples the right to use birth control, ruling it as a constitutionally protected right to privacy in 1965. Could it be Mattel may have seen the writing on the wall? Or were they inadvertently advocating women’s rights? 1962 was also the same year Helen Gurley Brown, inspired by her husband, valiantly released her book, “Sex and the Single Girl,” selling more than 2 million copies worldwide within three weeks. Her book was intended to encourage women to become financially self-reliant and to experience sexual relationships apart from marriage. Shortly thereafter, she went on to transform Cosmopolitan into a woman’s magazine, continuing to advise single females on sexuality and independence, breeding a new found freedom for women in the 1960s. Writer Betty Friedan published her famous book “The Feminine Mystique” in 1963, sparking the second wave of feminism since the early twentieth Century. She interviewed countless dispirited housewives, shattering the glorified image of America’s “happy housewife.” Women were beginning to speak loudly, and suddenly the idea of being a Ms. was becoming less and less of a stigma.
According to the National Association of Realtors®, between 1980 and 2000, the number of households headed by unmarried women increased by almost 10 million. And In 2013, unmarried women accounted for 23 percent of all home buying purchases, supporting the possibility of such trends being an illustration of the past.
Would it be that unimaginable to think Barbie, Helen, and Betty pioneered the way for single female homebuyers of today? Perhaps that’s a question for Barbie.
After 43 years of a sometimes precarious, sometimes blissful love affair, Barbie and Ken finally called it quits in 2004. She’s been a proud homeowner since 1962.
 23% of unmarried women is a combined group of 16% single females and 7% unmarried couples. Statistics provided NAR 2013 Home Buyer Profile Presentation. http://www.realtor.org/presentations/presentation-profile-types-of-home-buyers