The Good, The Bad, and The Bratz

May 7, 2007

I am, as most of you know, on record as hating Bratz dolls. Loathing Bratz dolls. You know, in that railing-against-the-hyper-commercialized-hyper-sexualization-of-all-things-pertaining-to-childhood kinda way.

Which is why there may be some serious karmic payback for this:

Still Life with Skank-Ho

This weekend, WonderBaby came within inches of a Bratz Doll. Fractions of an inch. At one point, she even peered up its scrap of a miniskirt, regarded its black-mesh thong panties with disdain, and then flung it to the floor. It was gratifying, to be sure, that she rejected the thing, but still: I let her have that skanky thing in the first place.

Do I go to Sanctimonious Hypocrite Hell for that?

To be clear: I did not buy this for her. It was not a gift. It belongs to my niece, and was offered, to WonderBaby, as something to play with during our visit this weekend. And because I was exhausted from a difficult night with an off-her-schedule WonderBaby and was disinclined to play patty-cake and Whack-A-Mommy all afternoon, I acquiesced – with shrilly-voiced reservations – to the Bratz Doll.

My niece, it should be said, is a bright and lovely twelve-year old with a very keen sense of self. A bright and lovely and self-aware twelve-year old who makes no apologies for her Bratz Doll. She listened, patiently, as her older sister and her grandmother and her aunt disparaged the tarty plastic toy and its tarty clothes and its general tartiness and then said, serenely, I like her.

She went on: I like her clothes. I wouldn’t wear them myself - and at this she rolled her eyes at us, the universal gesture for LIKE, DUH – but I can still like them. I think they’re fun.

To this, I had no response. Oh, sure, there’re a zillion things that could have been said, things about how such dolls contribute to the objectification of women, how such a sexualized toy desensitizes children to overt displays of sexuality, how such a toy might make overt displays of sexuality seem okay, yadda yadda yadda blah. But faced with a self-possessed, self-reflective twelve-year old who understands that her doll is extreme, who understands that these kinds of arguments can and will be made, over and over and over again by well-meaning mothers and grannies and aunties and other assorted nosey parkers, I was left with only this: the deafening echo of DUH. The recurring image of eyes being rolled, of lips mouthing the words yeah, and?

Because, really, from the point of view of a girl playing with such a doll, so what? It’s just a doll.

My niece is, as I keep saying, a smart girl, a nice girl. The kind of girl that I hope WonderBaby grows up to be. And in defending her Bratz Doll the way that she did, she gave lie to many of my anxieties about Bratz Dolls: that they encourage girls to aspire to slutdom, that they make ‘Skank-Ho’ an acceptable look for the pre-teen set, that they teach children that hyper-sexuality is the norm for young women. For my niece, the Bratz Doll is just that: a doll. Not a role model, not a source of inspiration: just a doll. Kinda fun, kinda silly, no more realistic than – and not to be taken any more seriously than – a bepetticoated Holly Hobbie or a Spiderman figurine or an Olsen twin.

Of course, not every girl is as self-possessed – nor, perhaps, as bright and well-loved and confident – as my niece, and so not every girl is going to regard a Bratz Doll with the same degree of clear-sightedness. And for this reason, among others, I still think that Bratz Dolls – or, rather, the creators and marketers of Bratz Dolls – are, in their way, hell-spawn. But any instrument of evil is really only evil insofar as it is wielded as such, no? I’m prepared, now, to accept the argument that, in the hands of a bright and self-aware child, a Bratz Doll is, very possibly, no more pernicious than Smurfette. It’s my responsibility to raise my child to be self-aware, not the responsibility of toy-manufacturers and toy-marketers and Toys-R-Us. And if I raise a bright, self-aware child, I needn’t be so worried about what pernicious crap is being hocked in toy stores. (My concerns about the decline of Western civilization are, although related, another matter entirely; in any case, my fruitless anxieties about that decline should probably be kept, so far as possible, separate from my anxieties about matters over which I have some control.)

This is probably something that every other decent parent on the planet already knows, but it hit me this weekend with all the force of a two-ton epiphany: toys don’t corrupt children – lazy, inattentive parenting corrupts children. So, as a decent and attentive and only occasionally lazy parent, I needn’t get my (decidedly-not-mesh-thong) panties in such a serious twist about Bratz Dolls and their ilk. At least, that is, until WonderBaby tells me that she wants a Bratz of her own, at which point I may revisit and revise this entire argument, because I am entitled, as a mother, to reverse attitude on absolutely anything I choose.

In any case, any parent who lets her child keep a phallic object as a lovey probably shouldn’t throw stones at thong-wearing dolls.

(Un)Still Life with Phallic Object and Buffalo.


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    Her Bad Mother May 8, 2007 at 9:27 pm

    Tracysan – ‘Chucky was just a doll.’

    LLLLLOL. I’m totally stealing that line one of these days.

    Here’s the thing – I have the same anxieties that you do about those dolls – and the Barbies and the princesses (I ESPECIALLY hate the princesses) and all that crap – because it seeps into the psyches of young women and messes them up without them even knowing it. Which is why I won’t be letting one into our home. BUT, I have to recognize that she’s going to come across them, and that the best way to defuse the bad messages is to not let them have any power – to raise her to be critical. To encourage her to fling the thing to the floor. And maybe stomp on it. And if not, maybe just get her to understand that SKANK IS BAD.

    (For girls, that is. Bad mommies get a pass.)

    NotSoSage May 8, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    That mommy-right to reversal of opinion…is there a statute of limitations on that? ‘Cause that might explain my relationship with my mother.

    On a totally different note, it breaks my hear that beautiful little WB might one day aspire to look like the Skank Ho next to her in that shot, when nothing could possibly compare to her sweet, sweet face.

    Her Bad Mother May 8, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    NSS – If WB ever articulates the slightest aspiration to skankdom I may just have to introduce the burka to our household.

    Manic Mom May 8, 2007 at 11:36 pm

    WHere have you been all my life, Her Bad Mother!?!?!? WHy have we not cyber-met yet? This is awesome! First, I found you from that adorable little cherub with the Mutha Sucka shirt–TOOOO CUTE!
    Then I get a load of Still Life with Skank Ho and Child with Fluffy Dildo Thingamagig.

    Where have you been all my blogging cyber life. You are a riot!

    Tracey May 8, 2007 at 11:44 pm

    Oh my Word. That’s her LOVEY?

    Gotta love kids.

    modmom May 9, 2007 at 1:36 am

    i don’t even take my daughter down the bratz aisle at target. is that a ring toss thing?

    ewe are here May 9, 2007 at 7:48 am

    WonderBaby looks so grown up! When did that happen?

    As for the Bratz dolls, I cringe whenever I see them being advertised. Totally skanky. I pray neither one of my boys ever brings a girl home who aspires to emulate these…these…plastic pieces of garish hell. Because I’d have to hurt them. Badly.

    So. What exactly is that phallic object…?

    Her Bad Mother May 9, 2007 at 8:45 am

    ModMom – Bingo! It is indeed a ring-stacker thingy (rings long since lost!)

    Fidget May 9, 2007 at 9:14 am

    right now I tell my kids how much we disdain those dolls. they are young enough to believe me. I am dreading that first birthday party where one of their unsuspecting friends presents one of the with a Bratz.. I’ll be holding my breath and snapping a picture.

    mom of 6 May 9, 2007 at 10:37 am

    As a mom of six, 3 of them girls, i have to agree with the Bratz are skanks theme but…. I caved in. My 9 year old begged me for anything Bratz and so she got the Race Car Driver (only one we could find that was covered from head to foot) and guess what – was her favorite toy for about a month and now she can’t even find it.

    Jennifer May 9, 2007 at 10:48 am

    When I began my idealic journey through motherhood, I swore that my children would NEVER have toys that look like whores. It would never, never happen. I would most certainly die on that hill because it is my duty to protect my daughters from such things. Fast forward four years. Emma’s best friend has a million Bratz dolls. Emma knows their names and which ones are “good” and which are “bad.” To this day I have no idea whose qualifications those are. For Christmas, Emma’s maternal birth-aunt and birth-family friend sent her gift cards to Toys ‘R Us. On the drive there, she couldn’t set still. “I know what I want, I know what I want.” she said. She simply glowed with happiness. “What?” I asked. “My very own Bratz doll.” Her happiness was infectious, even if I got a lump in my throat when she said that. In the end, my one attempt at being a “good” mother was to make her pick a Bratz doll that had some sort of substantial outfit. As she floated on her cloud to the register I decided that some battles aren’t worth dying for. She’ll learn more about being a woman from me and living role models than she will from a silly doll, who is rather cute, actually.

    TB May 9, 2007 at 10:55 am

    At the pediatrician’s office last week I saw a 3 year old dressed like a Bratz doll. It was jaw dropping.

    I can see now how hard it is not to be a judgemental parent.

    Slackermommy May 9, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    My girls have Bratz and Barbies and to them they are just dolls. In fact my girls think the Bratz are ugly. They have never asked to dress like them. I’ve watched them play with them and basically they are mimicking what they see the adults around them do. Which brings me to the point that we can blame dolls and toys for our children dressing like prostitots but it really is their real life adult role models that influence our children the most. They are like sponges and it is so easy to teach them to think how we think and do what we do just by how we live. I have always pointed out how silly girls look in their short shorts and crop tops or that celebrities may dress sexy for the stage or tv but it is not appropriate for real life. If their friends are dressed inappropriately I will comment that it is so sad her mom isn’t teaching her better. Now my girls will ask me if the clothes they choose are appropriate and if they see a prostitot they will point out how ridiculous she looks. No worries if your daughter plays with a Bratz doll or any other sexist toy, she’s already becoming the woman she’s going to be just by watching you.

    You do good her bad mother.

    Anonymous May 9, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    I just don’t like the word “slutty”, period. That bothers me more than the Bratz dolls do.

    radioactive girl May 10, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    I tried to write something similar months ago about it being about the parenting and that these are just toys. People were not happy. I do not buy my kids Bratz dolls, but other people do. I let themplay with them because we have a good relationship and I know that ultimately I need to teach them right and wrong or whatever degree they choose in between myself and not let a toy be what they look to to see what they should be. I still can’t articulate what I mean, but you did and for that I thank you!

    Eve May 10, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    I’m getting bored of Bratz. What other nasty things can be turned into dolls?

    I KNOW. How about lewd construction worker dolls with their asses hanging out, and when you pull their finger, they shout, “NICE TITS!”

    We could call them Pigz.

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