Friday, March 25, 2011

An Unusual Gripe with Bebe Gloton

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 a doll designed specifically for that purpose.

If you like this blog, please vote for me on
Babble's Top 100 Mom Blogs.
Thanks for your support!


  1. Nicely written; I've thought much the same of this doll and on playtime w/dolls...The thing that gets me through my most prickly feminist moments (keep playing w/those trucks, girls!!), is the equal opportunity nature of the way Beatrice plays w/her toys. Dolls, cars, stuffed animals, tea sets, etc. all get thrown into the toilet with equal energy! Seriously, though, I'm completely simpatico w/what you're saying here--I have to be careful not to dictate how my kids play w/their toys, but I can guide them in play by showing them different ways to play.

  2. i like what the above commenter said, "I can guide them in play by showing them different ways to play." i try to make that my goal.

    yet, i see where you're coming from. while i have no issue with the boy i watch biweekly dressing up as tinkerbell, i cringe a little when my daughters insist that 'girls have to play mommy!' i need to remember that equality is equality, and they're allowed to play within gender roles as well as outside of them.

  3. FWIW, I also tell Riley to be gentle with baby dolls, but I have an ulterior reasoning - we're about to have a new baby and I'm hoping he'll be able to translate between baby dolls and human babies, but I'm probably expecting way too much from a 14 month old.

  4. I think my main gripe is the cost. Whenever the Boychild had contact with dolls and was rough, we told him to be gentle, as well. Everyone needs to remember that we love babies, we don't hurt them.

    (Sorry if this makes no sense. My kid is on a sleep strike.)

  5. $100 for a doll?! I didn't breastfeed at all; my daughter was fed formula from her first feed. I'm not sure what I feel about these dolls.

    CJ xx

  6. I love this. I admit I was a Barbie fan when I was a kid, though I spent way more time setting up the very elaborate layout of the house then I did playing with actual Barbies.

    My niece was bottle fed, but all her cousins were breast fed, and she used to put on my sister-in-laws nursing cover and pretend to nurse her dolls. I think the only thing I don't love about the idea of a specific breastfeeding doll (I don't know if it's this one, I can't tell from the link) is the one that has the flower petals over the nipples on the "nursing top", just because I don't see the point of that strange modesty.

  7. This is great Joella...I am glad I brought up the topic...So weird that you saw it on "The Talk" also. I watch "The Talk" - I like it much better than "The View" which I used to watch religiously. And Sara Gilbert is by far so great! I adore her. I follow her on twitter and I just love her. Anyways, as to the breastfeeding doll...I don't really know how I feel about it all. But I love your blog on it. And thank you...I love to read your blog.

  8. Hi Joella :) I appreciate the thoughtfulness of this post and your daughter's play. As I read I thought about the boundary that was coming up for me and has with dolls - they are representative of people. If we want that to be their purpose for our children then we can demonstrate a way to play with them that is representative of the way we want to treat real, live people. That's not gender specific, in my opinion.

    On the other hand, if the use of the doll is not specific then it could be used to experiment with gravity. The psychology major in me wonders about the associations a child would have if they were really enacting violence towards a baby with the doll and how it may be helpful to demonstrate helpful ways to deal with anger... but you know, that may not even be the issue with a younger child. :)

    I also appreciate your willingness to navigate this with introspection so you're not buying into *any* ideas that can deter you from what is truly important to you as a mother.

  9. I don't see a problem with dolls in general so long as it isn't expected that girls nurture them and boys throw them, yanno?

    The petals are totally the dumbest part about this doll, and the price of course. I'm sure they are banking on the fact that moms will choose this baby doll over bottle "fed" dolls. As I have said on many, many other blogs and message boards on the subject, I would love it if instead of stupid petals this doll came with a mini breastfeeing pillow. =)

  10. I don't think that teaching our children to treat their baby dolls gently is necessarily gender specific. The Critter (male, 2.5 yo) recently went through a phase of hitting hitting hitting his doll, Johnny. Our response was to encourage the Critter to be gentle. After all, we call Johnny his "friend." We don't hit our friends — so we don't hit Johnny, either. My view is that all of the hitting was a safe way for the Critter to explore his own power, ways to relate to others, and others' reactions (e.g., mine) to his using his power in certain ways — exactly the kinds of explorations that dolls are for. Frankly, I wish that I could have been more neutral about the whole thing — that is, encouraging gentleness from the Critter, without getting so upset. The hitting was actually very upsetting to me, and it was difficult to let go of those feelings.

  11. Nice and thought-provoking post, but I don't get the title. How is it a gripe with Bebe Gloton? They provide the doll - surely it's down to you to decide whether you want to advise your children on how they should play with it, or whether you want to draw any differences between your daughter and your son in who gets the doll?

  12. Is there really a doll promoting breastfeeding that cost $100? I'd never seen that before, at least in my country.And I bet most people of my place are feeding their babies with bottle. So, it's quite unusually if a young girl is breastfeeding her doll in the public.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...