Doll play is a popular activity for children, especially girls (Sutton-Smith, 1986). It is therefore of concern when sexualized dolls are marketed to girls. One series of dolls popular with girls as young as age 4 are the Bratz dolls, a multiethnic crew of teenagers who are interested in fashion, music, boys, and image (see www.bratz.com). Bratz girls are marketed in bikinis, sitting in a hot tub, mixing drinks, and standing around, while the “Boyz” play guitar and stand with their surf boards, poised for action (Brown & Lamb, 2005; Lamb & Brown, 2006). Moreover, Bratz dolls come dressed in sexualized clothing such as miniskirts, fishnet stockings, and feather boas. Although these dolls may present no more sexualization of girls or women than is seen in MTV videos, it is worrisome when dolls designed specifically for 4- to 8-year-olds are associated with an objectified adult sexuality.The objectified sexuality presented by these dolls, as opposed to the healthy sexuality that develops as a normal part of adolescence, is limiting for adolescent girls, and even more so for the very young girls who represent the market for these dolls. (page 14)
The girls' daycare just participated in a Scholastic book fair, and we didn't have Bratz books listed among our selections, but our selections were limited to the very earliest stages of books. We did have several Barbie selections to choose from, though, and Barbie is surely a gateway to Bratz just as much as skinny jeans for the diaper set can lead to thongs on seven-year-olds.
I was asked to elaborate my thoughts with the clothing. How does one decide where to draw that invisible line? Here's mine: The '2 Cute 4 U' was a real shirt I saw this summer. It bothers me, that message. Its inferences are all terrible: of superiority, of the wearer as an object to be acquired, of taunting the observer regarding the observer's inferiority. It has a mean edge. Why put that on a little kid? By contrast (so, just on the other side of that invisible line) there is a shirt that is currently in the fallow field of too-small-for E/too-big-for-L that is emblazoned with the phrase 'Cutie.' It's not my very favorite shirt, either, but it's just a nickname, not a comparison game or a tease. The 'Princess in Training' shirts: this is not an aspiration I hope for my daughters to hold. Look, if they happen to fall in love with actual princes, fine, great, whatever, but what are the odds? But they're not going to acquire royal status any other way, and the notion of aspiring for a life of diadems and scepters and servants is pretty hollow, isn't it? The shirts that say just 'Princess,' I don't love those, either, but I don't hate them. It's not so innacurate, is it, to tag one of my girls a princess -- they have adults eating out of their hands, bringing them excessive gifts, fawning on their every utterances (Grandparents: I'm looking at you.). But they're also not-three and not-one. Would that wide-eyed expectation for such devotion be so twee and charming at not-seventeen and not-fifteen?
Permit me two last snippets from the APA's report:
If, as the self-objectification literature suggests, girls’ preoccupation with appearance ties up cognitive resources, girls will have less time and mental energy for other pursuits. Girls may be learning to prioritize certain rewards (male attention) over other rewards (academic accomplishment), thus limiting their future educational and occupational opportunities. If they perceive occupations relating to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) as less consistent with a sexy self-image, they may be induced to want to be a model, fashion designer, or pop star in order to embody the sexualized look that they know is valued for women rather than choose to be a chemist, computer programmer, or engineer. (page 33)
Self-objectification has been shown to diminish cognitive ability and to cause shame. This cognitive diminishment, as well as the belief that physical appearance rather than academic or extracurricular achievement is the best path to power and acceptance, may influence girls’ achievement levels and opportunities later in life. (page 35)
This morning, E uttered her first ever "I know what I want to be when I grow up" sentence. Any guesses what she said? Hint: it wasn't 'Princess.'
We were driving to school and passed the usual traffic slowdown outside the turn up a long, narrow driveway to a private school not far from our house. As usual, there was a policeman standing where the driveway meets the street, directing the flow of school traffic and through traffic in an intersection that's very busy for about 10 minutes twice a day, and unnoticeable at any other time.
Mama! Mama, when I get bigger, I want to be a policeman! A GIRL policeman!
After introducing the word "policewoman" to her vocabulary, I asked her, "why?" She had the best reasons, and she laid them out clearly, and I think they demonstrate that for now at least, her cognition is just fine:
- Policemen have whistles that are LOUD.
- They get to drive the cars with the blinky lights.
- They don't have to stay on the sidewalk--they are allowed stand and play and dance in the middle of the street.