I bought my first Bratz recently. Looking over a Giving Tree at my athletic club, where Christmas present requests from needy children were hanging, just about every six to nine year old girl wanted a Bratz. So I headed off to Fred Meyer and entered a new doll world.
They’re a lot hotter and hipper than Barbie. More controversial, also, as a fascinating article in The New Yorker (“Little Hotties: Barbie’s new rivals”) discusses at length. These excerpts convey the essence of the Bratz appeal. And for many mothers, the fright.
"Bratz dolls have large heads and skinny bodies; their almond-shaped eyes are tilted upward at the edges and adorned with thick crescents of eyeshadow, and their lips are lush and pillowy, glossed to a candy-apple sheen and rimmed with dark lip liner. They look like pole dancers on their way to work at a gentlemen’s club.
…Bratz dolls don’t have Barbie’s pinup-girl measurements -- they’re not as busty and they’re shorter. But their outfits include halter tops, faux-fur armlets, and ankle-laced stiletto sandals, and they wear the sly, dozy expression of a party girl after one too many mojitos.
…You could never imagine a Bratz doll assuming any of the dozens of careers Barbie has pursued over the decades: not Business Executive or Surgeon or Summit Diplomat -- not even Pan Am Flight Attendant or Pet Doctor. Bratz girls seem more like kept girls, or girls trying to convert a stint on reality TV into a future as the new Ashlee or Lindsay or Paris."
The article says that Barbie was originally aimed at nine- to twelve-year-olds. Now, girls widely see it as a toy for three- to six- year olds. Many girls older than that like to destroy their Barbies. Like, in the microwave oven.
Why? The author of “Little Hotties,” Margaret Talbot, suggests that “Barbie now represents a ‘mommy figure’ for many girls, and they don’t particularly want to play with a doll who reminds them of their mothers.”
What seems to be driving the ascendancy of Bratz over Barbie, in large part, is the increased sexualization of young girls. In the old days “sassy” meant rude and disrespectful. Now, says Talbot:
What Bratz dolls are both contributing to and feeding on is a culture in which girls play at being "sassy" -- the toy industry’s favored euphemism for sexy -- and discard traditional toys at a younger age.
My daughter Celeste was born in 1972. When she and her friends started to play with dolls, a lot of them actually looked like chubby babies. I suppose you can still find dolls like that. But they’re not going to elicit screams of joy when opened on Christmas day.
In a few months I’m going to be a first-time grandfather. Celeste is going to have a girl. My daughter will have to decide whether to go the Bratz, Barbie, or whatever other doll route little girls want to travel on a few years from now.
This mother says, “you can’t say no to a Bratz doll forever.” I’m pretty sure my daughter won’t even try. After all, she lives in Hollywood. There most of the women you see on the sidewalk bear a decided resemblance to a Bratz or Barbie.
And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. As a man, you’d expect me to say that. But I have some scientific reasons for my “hottie is good” attitude that go beyond my inherent male chauvinistic pigness.
The November 30, 2006 New Scientist tells us why bonobos “Make Love, Not War.” The article says, “Humans, like chimps, are notoriously aggressive. So how come our other close relative, the bonobo, is so peaceable?”
There are a bunch of reasons. Not the least of which is sex.
"Bonobos are famous for it. Aside from the typical male/female activity, they also engage in more 'creative' behaviours: wet kissing, masturbation, oral sex, female/female and male/male couplings, group activities, the list goes on and on. The only restriction seems to be incest between mothers and their children.
Chimps by contrast restrict themselves almost entirely to male/female sex and don't have nearly as much of it as bonobos. What's more, males are dominant, frequently use food to lure females into having sex with them, and sometimes beat uncooperative females."
That said, an over-sexed society has its problems. But so does an over-violent society. And if I had to choose one over the other, it’s obvious which way we should go.