Crip Generation Gap

Mike ErvinI have a question for everybody out there who was once a criplet. When you played with your favorite childhood dolls, did you ever wish those dolls were crippled like you?

My doll of choice when I was a criplet in the 1960s was G.I. Joe. I had several that I played elaborate war games with, although if you called G.I. Joe a doll to my face back then, I would’ve spit fire back at you. G.I. Joe wasn’t a doll, dammit! Girls played with dolls! He was an action figure! G.I. Joe was a soldier, or a sailor, or an Air Force guy, depending on how you dressed him that day. He wasn’t some wimpy-ass Ken! G.I. Joe was buff and rugged. Some G.I. Joes had beards. No Kens had beards. Ken was a scrawny, preppy, spoiled-brat-son-of-a-millionaire draft dodger! The only thing G.I. Joe and Ken had in common was that neither had genitals. At least G.I. Joe had an excuse. In his case, it could have been a war wound.

Anyway, I asked the above question because the Mattel toy company, famous creator of Barbie dolls, recently revealed that later this year it will come out with a wheelchair Barbie. She is the latest addition to the Fashionista line of Barbies, which has a wide variety of different body types, skin tones and hair textures.

It’s kind of funny because Mattel already introduced a wheelchair Barbie in 1997. She had the cutesy name of Share-a-Smile Becky. And then a few years ago, Mattel quietly killed her off. They stopped making her. But the Mattel spokeswoman who announced the coming of the new crippled Barbie said the demand among young girls to create a new wheelchair Fashionista Barbie was high.

But I didn’t want my G.I. Joes to be just like me. I wanted to be just like them, except for the part about not having any genitals. It didn’t once cross my mind that it would be cool if my G.I. Joe was in a wheelchair. If I wanted a crippled G.I. Joe, it was easily done. All I had to do was yank off one of their limbs. I did have some G.I. Joes who became amputees through wear and tear. It was traumatic for me when that happened. In my war games, they were always relegated to the lowly role of wounded guys.

Maybe that’s the difference between today’s criplets and the criplet of my vintage. When I was a criplet, the whole point of dolls like Barbie and G.I. Joe was that they didn’t look like you. When we played with dolls, we were pretending. And you don’t pretend to be what you already are. A princess doesn’t pretend to be a princess. If there’s some weird planet out there where all the females look like Barbie dolls, I bet nobody there buys Barbie dolls.

But today’s criplets pretend differently than we used to. They (and their parents) are cocky enough to believe that they can be a princess or a badass like G.I. Joe and still be in wheelchair, too.

In addition to a wheelchair Barbie, Mattel also added that the Fashionista line will include a new Barbie with a prosthetic leg. And in the interest of realistically depicting living with a disability, the leg will be detachable.

I think that’s a good thing. No human has their prosthetic limb permanently attached, so why should dolls? It would be like having wheelchair Barbie molded into her wheelchair.

But when it comes to realism, Mattel is only ready to go so far with wheelchair Barbie. Her accessories do not include catheters and suppositories. Maybe someday criplets will be cocky enough to demand that.

** This post was originally published on

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