CBC Digital Archives

Toys and Games: Barbie says, "Math class is tough!"

From the hula hoop, tabletop hockey, Spirograph and toy guns to Cabbage Patch Kids, Elmo, GI Joe and Transformers, kids in Canada have had no shortage of toys and games to choose from since the 1950s. Mega-seller Barbie came in various incarnations and the trivial pursuit of digital equipment made popular games seem invisible in the new millenium. CBC Digital Archives takes a look back at what's been cool and unique in playland throughout the years.

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In the toy business, staying on top of the times and keeping up with current values may be job number one.  Mattel failed to do that in 1992 when they created a Barbie that said, "Math class is tough."  Girls didn't like the perceived negative message and newspapers jumped all over the story.  But 10 years later, this 2002 clip from CBC-TV's Venture shows that Mattel wasn't the only company to drop the proverbial ball.  Canadian Tire put together a girl's back-to-school pack that included a weight-control drink.  Meanwhile Labatt's got into hot water with a contest in Newfoundland that offered the winner a job.

• The Barbie that emitted the controversial "Math class is tough" phrase was called Teen Talk Barbie. It was released in July 1992 by Mattel. This Barbie also spoke a number of other phrases, including "Will we ever have enough clothes?", "I love shopping!" and "Wanna have a pizza party?" Each doll was programmed to say four out of 270 possible phrases, so it wasn't likely that two dolls would be the same. In fact, only about 1.5 per cent of the Barbies spoke the controversial phrase.


• The math comment was attacked by the American Association of University Women which denounced the doll as having short-changed girls. In response Mattel announced in October 1992 that Teen Talk Barbie would no longer say the phrase. The company offered to exchange the doll of anyone who owned an offending Barbie.

Medium: Television
Program: Venture
Broadcast Date: Dec. 20, 1992
Guest(s): Ann Boden, Tony Long, Vaughn Whelan
Host: Linda Sims
Reporter: Dianne Buckner
Duration: 4:48

Last updated: November 26, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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