Soapbox Part Deux

The question has been asked. What exactly is so wrong with things like Bratz dolls?

First, let me direct this at the parents who buy Bratz dolls or have kids that watch Hannah Montana and the like. I don't think any of these things are inherently evil or bad for our kids. Much in the same way I don't think Heavy Metal can cause some teen to commit suicide, I also don't think a Bratz doll is going to turn a girl into a passive pole-dancing, no-voting, abuse allowing woman.

And still, I have a problem with the Bratz dolls and other toys like them. It's the same problem I have with women's fashion magazines. Even as adult women, we look at these and emulate them, aspire to them, we want what they wear, we want their smooth thighs, visible collar bones and thick hair. A lot of the things we want are a product of the images we have been bombarded with. High heels are not a natural feminine construct, they are what society has told us is feminine and sexy. Now, I love high heels but I love them in part because what they have come to represent for me.

Our girls look at the world around them to construct their idea of what they should and can be. It's not a conscious decision, it's choices made based on the choices we provide them.

I hear a lot of parents say, why can't we allow the girls their own predispositions to in part determine what kind of girl they will be? Oh, we should. One of my points in the previous post was that without a lot of interference, I was naturally a very girly girl, many of our girls are. So yes, the dolls and the pink and the dress up are fine. But why do we have to let them be sexy or provocative. Why do we need to allow them to aspire to icons and images that are unreal and unreachable. Isn't it bad enough that we already force this upon ourselves? Don't we already know as women how difficult it is to unprogram ourselves even in the full glaring light of the knowledge of why these images are thrown at us and how inconceivably unreal they are. And don't we still quietly aspire to them? Don't we want better for our girls?

Let me pose it to you another way, is it ok for our sons to be sexy and provocative. Should we dress them in uncomfortable tight pants and low necked shirts? Have you looked at the differences in the cut of girls and boys jeans lately? I remember a day when girls and boys jeans were nearly identical. Now, boys jeans are cut for comfort and movement, girls for silhouette. Even as moms we see images of cute girls and want our girls to be cute, we want them to be accepted, socially popular. My husband and I have a little rule of thumb with regard to the clothing we dress our girls in; if on me it would be sexy or fetishwear, it's not appropriate for our girls.

Like I said, I don't think letting your kid play with Bratz makes you an irresponsible parent but I do think we need to look at these things critically. None of our kids toys are just toys. Every toy we hand our children is a teaching tool. So we need to vigilantly ask ourselves, what is this particular thing or image teaching? I'll use an example of toy selection. I loved Barbies growing up and even though I am slightly conflicted about their impact on girls self-concept, I have allowed my girls to play with them. My five year old has Soccer Barbie, Barbie Space Camp, and Veterinarian Barbie. She doesn't have Barbie Totally Stylin Tattoos, Barbie Totally Nails, Barbie Wedding Day or Barbie Fantasy Groom. Can the girls aspire to be pretty, yes. Should they aspire to be pretty for pretty's sake? Are we making this too important to them by parading images of "beauty"? Are we making marriage and weddings a fantasy? Why not Barbie Totally PHD or Barbie Small Business Owner or Barbie Cures Cancer or Barbie EcoPatrol? You may say that your girls wouldn't want to play with these dolls but we don't even give them the chance. Instead we limit their options by telling them that the hair and the clothes and the accessories are the most important. I want to help define my daughters(and my sons for that matter) self-concept, not let Disney and Mattel do it.

Like many of you, I think you can allow your children to be around some of this. I don't think any of these things are inherently evil but my girls are bombarded with enough of these images every time we go out, I don't want to add to it at home.

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Blues said... May 4, 2009 at 1:58 PM  

Great, thought-provoking post, once again. I have the same aversion to Cosmopolitan magazine and Sex and the City typologies. I find them demeaning to women while parading themselves as the precise liberation of women. Liberated from what to what?

Blues said... May 4, 2009 at 1:58 PM  

p.s. FF, I emailed you my new site. You did get it right?

Pueblo girl said... May 4, 2009 at 4:09 PM  

I agree with you 100%, but, Phew! am I ever glad I stuck to cats...

A Free Man said... May 4, 2009 at 4:28 PM  

"I want to help define my daughters(and my sons for that matter) self-concept, not let Disney and Mattel do it."

Hell yeah. I spat it the first time someone (probably my Mom) gave Zach a Disney something or other. But I've come to realize that's a fight I'm going to lose. Disney is everywhere. We have two brands of diapers down here - one of them has Disney characters the other Wiggles. Does a baby (or toddler) for that matter give a crap what's on his nappies? Really? But they suck you in early and then there's no stopping.

I'm on a tangent.

formerly fun said... May 4, 2009 at 4:48 PM  

Blues- I think I am such a product of the things around me that I couldn't even tell you what liberation really looks like. So much of this just seeps into your psyche.

Yeah, we have two cats too and I don't worry about their "self-concept" at all.

AFM-Yes, the stuff is insidious, everywhere and unavoidable which is why I do my best to weed out what I can and not add more to it. Unless you raise your kids in a commune or compound, they are going to be exposed to messages that aren't in line with your belief system(as a parent)I aim for fewer messages that don't fit what we want for our kids.

Anonymous said... May 4, 2009 at 10:07 PM  

FF, I feel the same way about heavy metal and the models we have for our children. I remember as a kid that I played with Barbies, and I always wished that I looked like them. I eventually outgrew that, but it transferred to other ideas of the idolized feminine.

Blues- I never thought I would be in the minority of those who liked Sex and the City! hah. I can't help it, they were a mid-20's indulgence, and sadly, not any worse than 90% of the stuff out there when it comes to women- they're the ones working full time and doing all the cooking and cleaning. At least it broke that mold... Not that I'm defensive or anything...

Please don't think any less of me.

SSG said... May 5, 2009 at 1:32 AM  

I never had barbies because they were too expensive. Instead I had a rag-doll called Jonny that i totally loved. he had red hair and blue dungarees. I was quite a tom boy. then i discovered magazines, and I remember pinning up pictures of the women from it on my bedroom wall. i wanted to be the woman in the perfume ad with long brown hair and short red dress. I would still like to look like that now. Growing up in a small village in Scotland with not much exposure to different media, most of my self image came from older relatives and the few movies I saw. I don't think i had anything Disney but I did have a thomas the tank engine torch. Reading your posts, i think i was pretty lucky in some ways to not have my childhood influenced so much by Disney, Bratz and the like. I see my cousin who had every disney movie available as a child, one of those head-toys you can do the hair and makeup on, and spice girl outfits, and I am glad I didnt have that pressure. She does look good now though, those years of makeup and dressing and hairdos where I was building dens did her well in some senses. But I wouldnt change my childhood for the world.

Rassles said... May 5, 2009 at 9:27 AM  

Never was a real big Barbie girl. I had two, though, that were minor characters in my elaborate fantasies. Someone needed to take care of all the ponies.

I don't know what I would do for my daughters, if I had any. I KNOW I would make them watch Pancake Mountain, because I'm obsessed with it.

As far as stresses looks...I don't know. Very rarely did the parents tell us we were beautiful. But we were bombarded with smart, imaginative, clever, funny.

Looking back, I wish beautiful had been included, because I've never felt beautiful, really, and I never realized how detrimental that was, because society relies on beauty so much. It's much easier to see it when you don't have it. Sure, I grew up thinking I didn't need it, but everyone around me that wasn't my family thought it was weird that I didn't care, while I thought it was weird that they did. I still get it all the time: "All you need is a little make-up, just show a little cleavage," and it completely pisses me off, and then I get defensive and start fights that are about much more deep-seated beliefs than people realize.

If anyone compliments me on my appearance, which happens about once a year, I get all pissed off and uncomfortable. I wish it happened less.

But, and I stress this, I do not believe there is anything wrong with caring about your appearance or having pride and confidence in your beauty. I think it's a good thing, and something I sometimes wish I had cared. Maybe I would have more self-confidence...but do I really need more of that? I've got buckets, damn near aqueducts of that shit, just not in regards to appearance. Never appearance.

The problem with that, though: Guys. They don't know how to hit on girls that don't care about their appearance. Because if a guy compliments me on anything appearance-related, I'm skeptical and offended and automatically extremely uncomfortable. I don't trust it, I'm guarded: they want something. Fuck you, you can't have it, you don't deserve it if this is all you see, and then a male friend has to calm me down by reminding me that, really, guys just aren't used to me. It sucks, and it's hard, and it would just be easier if I tried to look pretty, and accepted compliments as they're intended.

So, that's my problem.

FF, you are a glorious individual. You really, truly are. And thank you for letting me vent.

I'm Nate's Mom said... May 5, 2009 at 10:42 AM  

There is a wonderful book called Packaging Girlhood (I can't tell you the author b/c I must have sent it to my sister) that discusses the myriad ways that girls are marketed to from an early age and how it affects their attitudes.

On clothing, I noticed last year that my son's size 8 or 10 clothes are much, much bigger than my daughter's size 12s. Why??

Gwen said... May 5, 2009 at 3:59 PM  

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. Trust me, nobody is more upset with beauty magazines than myself. When I was a teenager and into my twenties I idolized Kate Moss and her ilk. I thought I had to be skinny to be pretty. It fucked up my self-esteem. Did it cause my eating disorder? No. Fashion models and magazines don't cause eating disorders any more than Bratz dolls cause girls to become pole dancers. But you are so right when you say we shouldn't be making it HARDER for our daughters to feel good about themselves. And handing my daughter a toy (as you say, a teaching tool) that is dressed provocatively isn't really sending the right message.

Anonymous said... May 5, 2009 at 4:55 PM  

I had a Barbie growing up...just one. Much like Rassles though, I was horse-obsessed and Barbie was never a big deal. Books and catching crawdads in the creek in the woods were my favorite ways to pass the time. But that was years ago and now parents can't let their kids out of their sight. We used to disappear for hours, and no one thought a thing of it. So maybe Bratz and their ilk are a reflection of the fact that kids' worlds are smaller than they used to be. My world was, literally, as far as my feet or bike could take me. Today, worlds are relegated to bedrooms, patios or decks.

Momo Fali said... May 5, 2009 at 6:23 PM  

Very well said. We don't have any Bratz in our house for all of the reasons you stated. I don't need to put that kind of pressure on my daughter.

Bimbo Baggins said... May 6, 2009 at 6:46 AM  

I thought all of this was crap. Do we people really think it influences their kids? I'll admit to being selective with which dolls I buy her (no tattoo barbie, its too much!) But I always let her have them. THEN, 2 weeks ago the Punk says, "I want to dress like a rockstar at school today, you know with a little of my back showing". I flipped out and threw away every doll clothing that showed skin.

They are vey impressionable and you're right, they are teaching tools!

Gypsy said... May 7, 2009 at 10:38 AM  

I could not agree more. The day they have a Chief Justice Bratz is the day I'll think they're worthwhile.

Reinvent Dad said... May 8, 2009 at 2:35 PM  

How about the actual clothes they market and sell to 'tweens.... many modeled after the same Bratz & Barbie dolls. The pants alone are two sizes too small and show way too much "cupcake." My wife & I have to search high and low for acceptable clothes for our 11-yr old to wear.

Just wanted to say... said... May 10, 2009 at 10:03 PM  

Half time in southern California/half time in Oregon.

Teenage girls from the Valley with Coach handbags, Tiffany jewelry, designer shoes and clothes--and braces--and knowledge of a good majority of the car models priced over $50,000.

Teenage girls from Central Oregon with tin lunch boxes (albeit very clever and cute), reusable sacks (green is in), lunches made at home and eaten on benches at the lunchroom table, mostly without make-up, clean clothes.

It has been refreshing to teach dance to a group of middle schoolers who are just kids. Awkward in their bodies, blossoming some, shy and direct. No live action Bratz or Barbie. Just a good kid.

Evil O. said... May 16, 2009 at 11:17 AM  

You've made some very good points.

It wasn't until the mention of Barbies that I realized exactly how spot on you are. I remember being small and thinking that blonde hair, blue eyes and big boobs were the ideal. I also recall the way that the girls in my elementary school classes who fit that description (well, minus the boobs) were treated differently and how the boys all talked about them and never the brunettes, red heads or anyone else who was in between or completely outside of that spectrum.

Good post, chicky.

Miss Alana said... May 18, 2009 at 8:41 PM  

I love that you allow the inevitability of finding Disney and Mattell in your children's "tool" box at some point. If you want your kids to fit in and have a healthy social life, you can't parade them around in grandma's creations and pack them vegan lunches everyday. It just isn't fair.
That said... I wasn't allowed to listen to non-Christian music or watch MTv until I was twelve. I did not have Barbies and my mother did not read me stories about a poor forsaken princess who is waiting to be rescued by a handsome woodcutter who is really a prince.
Thus, I spend more of my energy on my own life rather than finding a husband and have a pretty healthy "self-concept," which I credit to my lack of Disney's influence in my early years. Well, actually, that was until I started subscribing to those nasty magazines. Now I'm just as weird as I ever was but I know it.
My point? These influences are out there and we can't shield children from them all the time but active and intelligent parents like you can prepare them to be more critical as they grow up and supply with confidence that comes from within.
Good show!

Sid said... May 22, 2009 at 2:26 AM  

Wow this is a well written article/piece, plus it mirrors my thoughts on the tos too. I just don't want my future kids only ambition in life to be "looking good".

Mia Watts said... May 22, 2009 at 7:36 AM  

Um. Dude. Their feet come off. 'Nuff said.

Arizaphale said... May 22, 2009 at 6:17 PM  

Nice follow-up. I never bought my daughter a single Bratz doll and yet she had 6. All gifts >:-(
Still, she played with them obsessively for a year or so and then just like that, gave them all away. We will see what damage was done as the years progress I guess. She is certainly interested in her appearance but she is pretty unsophisticated thank God.

Michelle said... May 31, 2009 at 3:39 AM  

Here, here. Excellent post.

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