Yesterday after arriving home from class, feeding Delilah lunch, and getting her down for a nap, something very unusual for a Thursday afternoon happened. I turned on the television. As the screen sprang to life, I was presented with a program I'd not seen before, likely due to the rarity of the TV being on during the day in our home. The program was "The Talk", which seems to be a bit of a copy of "The View". The topic of their discussion? Bebe Gloton, the infamous "breastfeeding doll".
I felt myself start to tense up, bracing myself for all of the anti-breastfeeding rhetoric I was certain was about to be unleashed. As it turned out, the consensus was that the hosts were supportive of breast-feeding. The requisite debating of "how long is too long" got under my skin a bit, but even then the guest host admitted to breastfeeding her children until age 3 (an admission that was met with a collective horrified gasp by the audience), and Sarah Gilbert spoke out in support of extended breastfeeding, citing the fact that human milk changes to meet the needs of growing toddlers, and that breast milk doesn't stop being nutritious for us. If I didn't love Sarah Gilbert before (I did) I definitely love her now.
The most vocal opposition to Bebe Gloton came from Leah Remini, and her complaints are consistent with the current uproar over this doll. Her main complaint was that breastfeeding is something done by grown women with mature breasts, and that she finds it inappropriate for young girls to imitate the act. She further complained that it would be inappropriate for a young girl to pretend to breastfeed her doll in public, hinting at a general disapproval for nursing in public. Once again, Sarah Gilbert, my hero of the hour argued that many dolls are packaged with bottles, and that she saw nothing wrong with a doll promoting breastfeeding as the natural, default feeding method.
So where do I stand on the issue? I think it's fantastic that there are dolls that promote breastfeeding. I don't see a young girl imitating breastfeeding as any more inappropriate than a young girl imitating bottle feeding, whether at home or in public. As a lactivist through and through; I, personally, would not purchase a doll that came with a bottle attached for my own daughter.
What, then, is my gripe about this doll? It's the same gripe I have about any doll, period. Not so much the dolls, but what they symbolize, and the messages they send. Before anyone gets their hackles up, no, I don't and won't forbid Delilah from playing with dolls. She has two dolls that she's received as gifts, both are beautiful, high-quality, made from organic materials, and bottle free. In fact, it was my own knee-jerk reaction to her playing with one of her dolls one day that solidified this position in my mind, and has made me much more mindful of the messages I send surrounding her play with dolls.
What happened? Upon seeing Delilah gleefully toss "her baby" on the floor, and handing it back to her only to see her toss it again, I said "No no honey, we don't throw our babies; we LOVE our babies." No biggie, right? But what message was I sending? What gender roles was I unconsciously imparting? I essentially told her that the way she was playing with her doll was incorrect; that the purpose of the doll was to teach her how to nurture and care for a child; buying into the idea that the primary purpose of the female sex is to make use of our reproductive organs to bear and then lovingly raise children. If she prefers to use her dolls to explore complex concepts like gravity, rather than hugging, feeding, and diapering, then who am I to stop her? What sort of feminist am I if I insist that she mother her dolls, setting up the expectation that becoming a mother is her fate, a fate that might, if left unmet, become a source of disappointment for her own mother?
Am I reading too much into this? Perhaps. Maybe the advanced study of second-wave feminist theory that I'm currently undertaking while completing my Women's Studies minor is making me hyper-vigilant about the gendered messages that have been so deeply ingrained in myself that I unconsciously pass them on to my daughter. Is that a bad thing? I would argue that it isn't. As a feminist who is also a mother, and the mother of a daughter at that, one of my priorities is ensuring that my daughter knows that she is not limited by her gender, and that she is under no circumstances required to comply with our society's perception of what constitutes a "real woman".
In short, I am not opposed to my daughter playing with dolls, so long as she chooses the manner in which she plays with them. I am certainly not opposed to her imitating breastfeeding, if she is moved to do so, but you won't find me spending upward of $100 on doll designed specifically for that purpose.
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Originally published at: Fine and Fair
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