Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Why are these dolls so creepy?

Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of creepy dolls of all kinds. But something about this ongoing controversy about the Spanish breastfeeding baby doll just won't leave me alone. Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams opines that the worst part about it is the price, and portrays Fox commentator Dr. Keith Ablow's comment that the doll is "another way of turning little girls into adults," and "Contributes to the sexualization of children and it makes them targets of assailants." as crazy (Although she doesn't actually explain why. Well, okay, it is kind of crazy.

But the problem isn't the scream-downs between breastfeeding advocates saying that breast-feeding is the only alternative for a mother who loves her child and thus a doll that promotes breast feeding over bottle feeding is GOOD! and those who think that breasts are for men to ogle.

The problem is one that no one likes to talk about which is twofold: 1. The whole baby doll thing is problematic. Do we really need to be giving little girls baby dolls to play mommy? How many boy dolls (yes, boys play with dolls, we just call them "action figures") teach boys to stay home and parent children? As the parent of a young (male) child, I have noticed since he was born that children's toys remain disgustingly gender segregated. Even lego, which really used to be such a great toy, now is separated by sex, with girls having pink homebuilding kits with ponies, and boys have war and exploration games. These boy legos are clearly not for girls, since the figures which used to be yellow and only vaguely humanoid are now Caucasian and mostly male - occasionally one will throw in a side character that is female, but she's clearly side-kick at best. The lego website is chock full of boys, and hardly a female to be seen. Et tu, lego? Toy stores, too, - at least the chains - yes, Toys R us, I'm talkin' to you- are separated by aisles of pink and blue, with all the role modelling of interesting careers happening in the boys aisles.

But that's almost a minor quibble. After all, no one really objects to girls playing with babydolls, at least, as long as dolls are encouraged for boys too, and there are non-doll alternatives for girls in which they see themselves portrayed (by the way, my son, when small, used to take cars and all kinds of other non-animate toys and set them up into families and play house with them, with the little boy car or whatever, inviting Ima home to make salad for her. But he wouldn't play with things that had faces in this way).

NO, we do mostly feel a little queasy about this breast-feeding doll. Why? Well, not because little girls are trying on adult roles. No, all kids do that. But because the adult-ness of little girls reflects a real, underlying problem with the way we view women and girls, which is that we still primarily believe -and reinforce in many ways- the idea that women are primarily sexual beings here for the pleasure of others. It's because Ablow isn't a pedophile that this doll gives him the raging squicks. Somewhere within, we are unnerved by the idea of girls breastfeeding because we do, underneath it all, think that breasts are for sex, and sex is what girls are for, and when that comes face to face with little girls playing at having breasts, it's like pulling aside the curtain of Jon-Benet Ramsey and the pageant culture of sexualizing girl-children, the completely inappropriate clothing that is sold for little girls to wear that sexualizes girl-children's bodies, the younger and younger ages at which we find girls dieting and wearing make-up, talking about boyfriends; not to mention the standards of beauty for women that emphasize child-like-ness- blonde straight hair, hairless bodies and so on.

I'm not opposed at all to breast-feeding; I did it for my child, and would have continued longer had he not made his own wishes clear as a year old that he wasn't interested. And let's be real, there is a measure of physical pleasure and closeness about breast-feeding. But this doll isn't really making us worried because of breast-feeding; rather, it's because underneath it all, we do believe that women's bodies are for others, and not themselves, and we are just starting to be aware enough of this that it troubles us - as it should.

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