There are plenty of toys that talk. My granddaughter has a toy bird, for example, that will insert her name in sentences such as, “Hello, how are you today?” and  “Do you want to play?”

In 2019, this technology is widespread, but in the early 1990s, it was a novelty. Little girls were thrilled when in 1992, Teen Talk Barbie came out. Not only was the doll glamorous, but if you pushed a button on her back, she would say things such as “Will we ever have enough clothes?” “Let’s go to the mall.” “Wanna have a pizza party?” and “Party dresses are fun!”

Each doll was programmed to say four sentences. There were 270 sentences available, so there was a good chance that two Barbies, though they sat side by side on a store shelf, would say different things.

Many of these sentences were like those above, all about shopping and clothes and parties. However, some dolls got to say “My horse is a show jumper.” “I’ll always be here to help you.” “I’m studying to be a doctor.” and “Teaching kids is great!”

In the mix, though, was a sentence that angered a lot of people. Some Teen Talk Barbie’s would exclaim, “Math class is tough!”

If you opened a Barbie’s head, you would see that she had no brain, so math class, no doubt, would be difficult for her. Nonetheless, many people felt that hearing a Barbie say math class is tough would re-enforced in young girls the idea that girls are not good at math.

At the time, Mattel’s Teen Talk Barbie was not the only doll that could talk. Hasbro had a G.I. Joe that, when his chest was pressed, would say such things as, “Eat lead, Cobra!” “Vengeance is mine.” and “Dead men tell no lies.”

The two toys were made by different companies, had different sized speakers, different circuit boards, and different battery setups. That didn’t stop people from opening the two, modifying and switching the electronic innards, and closing the dolls back up. This created a G.I. Joe with Barbie’s voice that would talk about shopping and parties, and a Barbie with a G.I. Joe voice that would spout gruff phrases about killing the enemy.

In 1993, a group calling itself the Barbie Liberation Organization took this a hilarious step further. They bought Barbies and Joes from stores in New York and California, carefully removed the dolls from the packaging, switched their voices, repackaged them, then reverse shoplifted them. That is, they took the toys that they had bought and modified, and put them back on store shelves for unsuspecting parents to buy.

The number of kill-saying Barbies and party-saying G.I. Joes was in the hundreds, not the thousands, so both manufactures chose to ignore the action rather than give it credence by making a big deal out of it. But the point was made, and Mattel apologized for the math class is tough phrase and removed it from the pool of things that Barbies could say.

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