The thing about Ken is the he doesn’t have one. Mattel’s gentleman companion because that Barbie, the Ken doll, came right into the civilization without junk and also remains that way. His lack of genitalia is a to run joke: Ken is associated with dicklessness, as multiple recommendations in pop society attest—lines in Dogma, Sisters, and also the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters, to surname a few. “Give Ken-Doll Crotch below two weeks, tops,” stated the effective Derek (Adam Scott) of his manchild brother/new employee Brennan (Will Ferrell) in Step Brothers. And also this isn’t just something world say in movies; earlier this year, the real-life Stephen Colbert explained the equally actual Rick Santorum as “Ken doll with even smoother genitals” top top The Late display with Stephen Colbert.
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As a kid, i didn’t think Ken’s crotch to be funny; I discovered it frustrating. Every ostensibly masculine doll I come across, and growing increase with 4 younger sisters, there were a lot, i pantsed in the expect of an eyeful that plastic dick. Together a kid growing up in the ’80s who very much want to look in ~ penises—any penis, even a fake plastic dick would do—it to be a rough time. Dicks were also rarer assets in movies and also especially on TV than they room today. The was particularly maddening since there were no shortage of boobs to ogle, if just I had actually wanted to.
Every ostensibly male doll ns came throughout I pantsed in the expect of one eyeful the plastic dick.
I had a feeling of wanting to watch dicks way before ns had any sense of wanting to do anything through them or your owners, and it appeared unfair as an aspiring connoisseur that the entertainment approximately me gave me no accessibility to the goods. Barbie had actually boobs, i reasoned crudely, having no idea that that her lack of nipples to be what make them socially agree for kids to look at at. Why can not Ken have a penis?
The answer, it turns out, is intricate and somewhat bizarre. Ken was not merely dickless by default; the bulge to be the result of cautious strategizing come which his inventors, businessmen, a psychologist, and also Japanese manufacturers all contributed. Despite all this planning, Ken still came to represent things his parent firm never intended, as icons tend come do. The story the Ken’s crotch is not just one the PR, manufacturing, and/or branding—it’s around which realities our culture deems acceptable, and also which that it looks for to keep hidden. This go not simply for the doll, but for the male he was named after, Ken Handler, who passed away in 1994 with significant parts that his life airbrushed out of windy view.
Ken (full name: Kenneth Sean Carson) was released in 1961 expressly to administer Barbie with a boyfriend. That was called after Ken Handler, kid of Ruth and also Eliot Handler, that ran Mattel. Ken Handler to be a teenager at the moment of Ken’s debut. His heritage would come to be inextricably attached with the namesake doll that eventually he’d involved resent.
Like a perverted and plastic riff on the old chicken-or-egg cliche, Ken’s crotch to be a an essential feature of his very own conception. In his 1987 publication Children’s Advertising: The Art, the Business and How it Works, former Mattel advertisement man Cy Schneider defined the inquiry of what come put in between Ken’s legs together “a warm internal issue” and also surmised that Barbie’s breasty appeal had something to execute with it. Mattel’s Ruth Handler, who invented Barbie (based ~ above the German Bild Lilli doll), want Ken at the very least to have a bulge, according to Robin Gerber’s 2009 publication Barbie and Ruth. Handler assumed that the design team lacked the organs to give Ken even the pointer of genitalia, reports Gerber. Handler had actually been met v some resistance indigenous Eliot and also the architecture team once conceiving Barbie—the guys felt the no parents would certainly buy a doll with breasts for their children. They to be wrong, she was right.
After pressing, Handler was able to sway the architecture team to do mockups hinting in ~ Ken’s genitals. Three were made: “One was—you couldn’t even see it. The next one to be a tiny bit rounded and then following one yes, really was. For this reason the men—especially among the angry presidents—were terribly embarrassed,” recounted early on Barbie clothes designer Charlotte Johnson in M.G. Lord’s 1994 publication Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized story of a actual Doll.
“None of united state wanted a doll through a penis showing,” Handler is quoted in that book as saying. “If the kid took turn off the swimsuit, we felt it would be inappropriate with an adult boy to display the penis—so we all got to a conclusion that he should have a long-term swimsuit.”
Johnson disagreed—she did desire a doll v a penis showing and not some painted briefs: “Do you understand what every little girl in this nation is going to do? They room going come sit there and scratch that paint off to see what’s under it. What else would they do?”
There was some certainty the Ken’s junk would certainly be of details interest come Barbie’s audience that children. Psychologist, marketing expert, and also the “father that motivational research,” Dr. Ernest Dichter had actually been commissioned to observe little girls playing through Barbies. Schneider talked to the directly and also reported in Children’s Television.
“He mentioned the primary play mode for the Barbie and Ken dolls to be dressing and also undressing them,” created Schneider. “He doubted whether kids would understand that Ken to be a friend or understand what a boyfriend yes, really was. Would certainly they see Ken together their fathers, brothers, or the boy following door? and if so, to be it healthy and balanced to view him undressed? and when he to be naked, why did he or no he look favor Daddy or a brother?”
From the beforehand mockups, Johnson claimed that she and also Handler made decision the Ken of tool hung-ness “as being the one the was nice-looking.” However, according to Schneider, Ken’s package obtained a bang down throughout the production process, once it was established that the molding ~ above the shorts was too challenging for the tree in Japan come make—and that the large, rounded lump added a cent and also a half to the cost of the doll. An engineering supervisor “arbitrarily” eliminated both. Nonetheless, Ken did finish up with something under there, a nudge that a bulge that to scale can have resembled a hockey puck.
So Ken came right into the human being with the smoothness that has been therefore mocked in popular music culture. Historically, part variations the the toy have had actually embossed underwear the same color of his flesh, while part are fully smooth, arguing just about nothing. Marvin Barab, manager of marketing research for Mattel native 1959-65, is quoted in Barbie and also Ruth together saying, “They decided it was much better for Mattel if he to be neutered, and also that to be the finish of it.” Ultimately, this do no difference to consumers, according to Schneider.
“Children did no think Ken had remained in some terrible accident,” wrote Schneider. “Those concerns had every been involves of adult who had actually over-stressed the problem. Ken was, and still is, welcomed as a crucial escort to many of Barbie’s activities. There was a class in this for all of us: do not instead of your own tastes, thoughts, or creative thinking for a child’s.”
All the hand- and dick-wringing because that nothing. Ken’s penislessness seemingly did not impact his bottom line. The doll’s as whole anodyne nature was merely reaffirmed by his absence of a dick, come hear some specialists tell it. He to be devised together a “fantasy escort” for Barbie and, according to Schneider, “Mattel was mindful to give him boyish, clean-cut looks and also the overall, non-threatening, asexual figure of a wimpy little jerk.” In Forever Barbie, however, mr notes a type of compensatory dog-whistling via plastic add-ons. Mr writes that the accessories that came with Ken’s very first garments sold independently from the doll, “came through long, slim accessories—symbols for the cock he lacked. A log in stick v a school pennant attach his ‘Campus Hero’ outfit; an electric shaver through a dangling cord attach his bathrobe; and his weekend ‘Casuals,’ khakis and a T-shirt, came with automobile keys.”
By 1963, two years after ~ the effective launch that Ken, his phallic stand-ins had become “outrageous” in Lord’s assessment: a rifle with searching outfit, a baseball bat, a pendulous stethoscope, and a long fork skewering a pink plastic weenie in the “Cheerful Chef” iteration the Ken.
Mattel itself drew inadvertent attention to Ken’s lack of a dick when it released the notorious Earring Magic Ken in 1993. With his close-cropped blonde hair, shiny lavender vest v a equivalent mesh shirt underneath, and also of course, earring, this Ken came to be a boy sensation among gay males who spotted the signs and claimed Earring Magic Ken as among their tribe. And, together Dan Savage discussed in a piece published a few months ~ the doll’s release, “hanging roughly Ken’s neck, on a metallic silver thread, is what ten out of ten world in the recognize will phone call you in ~ a glance is a cock ring.”
Mattel manager that marketing and also communications Lisa McKendall consistently denied to the push that Ken was packaged wearing a device designed to do his prick harder and also last much longer in bed. “We’re not in the company of putting penis rings into the hand of tiny girls,” she told Savage. Though over there are many accounts that Earring Magic Ken’s success, Mattel quit making the doll seemingly within a year.
Both Ken’s penisless existence and his appearance as a gay symbol in the at an early stage ‘90s space somewhat relevant to the biography of Ken Handler, the child of Ruth and also Eliot Handler who inspired Ken’s name. Ken Handler, follow to several accounts, to be embarrassed come share a name through a doll the didn’t have genitalia (and would come to be primarily well-known for doing not have packing). The real Ken, in spite of having a wife v whom he had three children, likewise had sex with men, follow to Robin Gerber’s 2009 publication Barbie and Ruth, and Jerry Oppenheimer’s dishy 2009 book Toy Monster: The Big, bad World the Mattel.
Ken Handler, according to Gerber’s book, likewise loathed the body-image concerns his parents’ agency seemed come instill in young girls. Pivoting native the family members business, Ken Handler was a musician, he placed up an arts show around the AIDS dilemm in 1987, and he directed part movies, consisting of the raunchy ‘80s comedy Delivery Boys. The movie’s young breakdancing, pizza-delivering characters found themselves in a variety of sexual predicaments. One obtained a boner that he just couldn’t obtain rid of and obscured from an interrogating cop via a pizza box; another, to escape the lavish house of a love interest, wore drag and pretended to be a freshly employed part of the family’s help. The horny dad attempted to coerce the into providing him dental sex through a glory hole he had installed in his room. The bewigged delivery boy escaped unharmed by smearing the father’s genitals with whipped cream and also having the residence dog lick them, to the joy of his oblivious harasser.
Both Gerber’s and also Oppenheimer’s books claim that as soon as Ken Handler died at age 50 in 1994, it to be of AIDS. The Handler household allegedly sought come suppress this information, which was not stated in his obituaries. “Various version of his cause of death circulated—that he passed away of a condition he picked up in his exotic travels, that he passed away of encephalitis or that a mind tumor, as was reported in Ruth’s obituary in the New York time and Los Angeles time eight year after his death,” wrote Gerber, in reference to the trips Ken had actually made come the Amazon searching for treatment.
The story it s okay slightly stranger from there, because it was Ken Handler’s doctor, Dr. Pamela Harris, who evidenced his diagnosis and spoke of dealing with him. She quoted separately in Gerber’s and Oppenheimer’s books. Gerber said me by phone that she’d currently heard rumors the Ken’s cause of fatality when she began writing Barbie and Ruth, but she discovered her very first proof that it when she gained accessibility to a crate of restricted materials in the Mattel archive. After part persuading, Elliot Handler, that was still alive at the time (he died in 2011), eventually gave Gerber permission to examine the materials of the box, which had Ruth Handler’s letters to Dr. Harris. Gerber to be living in D.C., at the time and Harris, who functioned there too, met her for coffee.
Gerber mental Dr. Harris as originally “reticent” yet she would certainly go on to share the story the Ken Handler’s diagnosis, and her break the news through Ken to his wife Suzie (who continued to be with him), and informing his parents of their son’s disease alongside Suzie when Ken walked on the adjacent beach, not wanting to confront them during the reveal. Ruth Handler addressed to aid her son gain treatment in the days prior to HIV was a truly treatable disease.
How the continuing to be members that Ken Handler’s household felt around his an illness finally gift reported v credible sourcing is miscellaneous of a mystery. After ns contacted Dr. Harris about speaking come reporters around her patient’s status and also cause that death, she sent out me earlier a response telling me not to quote her. She did not respond to additional inquiries. Nor did Stacey Handler, Ken Handler’s daughter, nor a Samantha Handler that i have good reason to believe is another daughter of Ken and also Suzie’s. Mattel additionally refused to discuss this matter.
Both Oppenheimer and Gerber said me the they never heard native Mattel or the Handlers about the components of your books, which are both proud unauthorized. Gerber called me the she knew that Mattel go not prefer Barbie and also Ruth ~ a chilly communication at a toy convention, though the may have actually had more to carry out with she centering she narrative top top Ruth Handler. At the time of her book’s publication, Gerber said, the toy company was attempting come downplay Ruth Handler’s historic significance. However, Gerber has because worked with Mattel again—she created Barbie Forever: she Inspiration, History, and Legacy, an authorized coffee table publication that came out in September. Gerber states Mattel’s management has changed in the 10 years due to the fact that her book’s release. Apparently no grudge is being held versus the author and also her tea spilling.
In she 1994 blend of background and criticism, Barbie’s Queer Accessories, scholastic Erica Rand construed the hubbub in ~ Mattel over representing Ken’s cock versus the seeming nonissue the Barbie’s absence of genitalia was to it is in “sexist and also heterosexist presumption.”
“It’s no surprise that Mattel taken into consideration the penis to be a an important feature of girls’ sexual fantasy and psychological health, given the presumption widely supported by Freud and his pendant that son psychosexual breakthrough hinges ~ above the exploration of the penis—not the vagina, which, overall, is rarely defined as something to see—followed by an immediate realization of the penis’s an excellent value and an unavoidable conclusion that human being who don’t have actually one are incomplete or wounded,” rand continued.
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With currently 25 years passed and also considerable developments made in (at the very least liberal) culture of what constitutes manhood, the Rand these days expressed a various interpretation of Ken’s crotch once I freshly reached she by phone.
“What go it typical to think around this topic once we have actually a wider understanding that the relationship in between genitals and gender? This idea the Ken is a man without a penis, what walk that actually mean?” she said. “If we think now that in a way there’s no such thing as one male body, if you recognize as a man, you have a male body, every little thing parts friend come v would it is in my see of things now. If you’re a trans man, you could not have actually come with what Ken didn’t come v either. If you a infectious diseases world fashion woman, you’re still a woman also if you started out life through a penis. That makes me think of points a tiny differently.”
While the manufacturing, PR, and also representational considerations make by Mattel in the early ‘60s appeared to have actually nothing to carry out with one open-minded interpretation of gender (and this was decades before “transgender” was also a indigenous in large usage), the is an ext than a small odd in retrospect the the toy company mass marketed a vision the manhood the was pointedly not characterized by what was between Ken’s legs. In retrospect, it nearly seems forward-thinking.