Everyday Semiotics

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Preadolescent maternity

Bebe Gloton
Bebe Gloton on "Fox & Friends"

(With thanks to Erin, who did most of the brainwork.)

As long as they've been marketed to little girls, baby dolls have come with formula bottles. Now there's a doll to simulate breastfeeding. Fox News is incredulous; but I'd argue this isn't such a wacky idea after all.

Why should Fox be shocked? Probably because to give a young girl a doll that simulates breastfeeding would be to suggest the young girl has breasts.

Breasts are first of all sexualized. In a culture where many parents do prefer formula over breastmilk, the utility of breasts is not frequently seen or reinforced. (In some states, public nursing is illegal; and even where it's not prohibited by law, nursing mothers are often asked to stop or cover up.)

So: we don't have a problem with the idea of a child nourishing a baby. We do have a problem with the idea of a child nourishing a baby with her body, which is sexualized by default.

It's non-controversial to give a girl a standard baby doll because holding such an object does not necessarily imply motherhood. Anyone can hold a baby. But if the girl instead of imaginary formula offers the infant an imaginary mammary gland, all bets are off. Not only is she playing-pretend with a sexualized body part; the implication that she has been sexually active stalks at the edges of the game.

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