Modern Dolls: Slut-Trainers or Empowerment Tools? Is There a Middle Ground?

11 years ago
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According to my learnings, which include Wikipedia, other opinionated mothers I know, and four lovingly-wasted years as a budding art historian, dolls are possibly the oldest toy in the world. They have been found in the children’s graves dating back thousands of years, and were often made of wood or pottery. I am guessing that these are just the ones that actually survive the ravages of time. I can just see a caring Grecian mother surprising her daughter by whipping a wooden doll out of her toga.

Mother: Here, Octavia, something for you to do between hauling giant buckets of water and weaving cloth.

Octavia: Oh, thank you mother. AGGH! The splinters! IT BURNS!

Mother: Heh heh. That’ll teach her to put a toga pin on my milking stool.

So I’m guessing that there were cuddly cloth dollies for everyday use. Lucky for us, little girls today don’t have to worry about dollies being cute and cuddly, because when I see dolls now the words that come to mind are “pointy” and “transvestite.” I’m not dogging this trend, though. I’ve gotten some of my best fashion advice from transvestites.

In our era, meaning the last century or so, I am told that there were a few fashion dolls on the market before Barbie, at least ones that made a splash or are remembered. She has become the prototype for everything that’s come after. Think about it. Everything on the market now is basically a riff on, or a response to Barbie.

Bratz Dolls are the “hipper” and “multicultural” version of Barbie. What do Bratz do? I glance at them in stores, and they seem to just stand around looking like Meg Ryan. Is this okay? Is it true that their whole feet come off? If so, how will young girls know the pleasure of nibbling on Barbie’s single shoe (the other has gone missing under the dresser)? I have so many questions.

There is the lesser known (in the United States) Fulla doll, which is sometimes referred to as the “Muslim Barbie.” Fulla has a different figure than Barbie does, and come with optional modest accessories, such as head scarves.

There are also American Girl dolls. “Oh thank goodness,” parents sigh. “These dolls are ten, and like, historical, and expensive and stuff, so this is a good alternative to Barbie, right?” Full disclosure: my older daughter is the proud owner of a Hella Historical Felicity doll, who, in her little careful made-up dolly universe of 1775, lives in the Northern United States, and only knows free blacks. The American Girl thing is interesting. As Lisa Milbrand puts it so well, “(I)t’s chiefly white-girl history.” I have found myself filling in the blanks where the slaves and the other ugly realities of the colonies are missing. But you certainly wouldn’t have to.

The tug-of-war between what a doll should look like, what a doll does or does not do for a living, and how old a doll should be has finally come full circle back to ancient Greece. There’s a new doll on the market: SophiaDolls, which seek to “expand the definition of beauty.” The SophiaDolls are, literally, Greek goddesses. The website offers a comparison of shapes past (Barbie), present (Bratz), and future (SophiaDolls). They are not just dolls. They are Empowerment Tools.

Can you expand the definition of beauty for girls? Aren’t little girls just going to gravitate towards the shiniest or most traditionally beautiful thing? Should the real role models be us, as mothers, aunties, and older sisters? Beverly at Homeschool Image argues that it’s up to mothers to set the example, not the dolls. Now I am imagining custom dolls that look like the women in my children’s lives. It could be cool, but probably expensive, to have a doll hand-painted with all my stretchmarks.

Where do you draw the line at your house? What purpose do you see dolls serving in a child’s life? Do dolls need a job, an agenda, and a “realistic” (whatever that means) figure? Or can they just be imagination toys? If you buy the weird new PC dollies, and no one else on the block has them, will they even be played with?

Other BlogHers weigh in:

Rita Arens on Hussy Control
Mir from WCS: Sorry, Sweetie, That Doll’s Too Skanky

*******
Your Pop Culture Librarian nibbles Barbie feet almost daily at I, Asshole.

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