I'M A FEMINIST MOTHER BUT HERE'S WHY I DON'T LIKE 'NICE' DOLLS
Deborah Talbot would choose Bratz dolls over Lottie dolls any time...
Feminist dolls are overrated, says Bratz doll fan Deborah Talbot
I've always been a feminist. Growing up in a misogynistic city in the 1970s, where girls and women were judged only by their looks and subjected to anything from frequent put-downs to downright abuse, it's hardly surprising. Being a feminist was a survival strategy.
I sat somewhere between second- and third-wave feminism. I felt my hybrid radical/lipstick feminism delivered a powerful reproach to the patriarchy through the skewer of my raggedy kitten heels, new-wave clothing and an all-powerful and unconstrained mouth. It coincided with a new gender fluidity, where men wore make-up and broke free from the constraints of a narrowly-constructed masculinity.
So naturally I struggle with having a young daughter who, from an early age, displayed an ingenious engagement with fashion. And boy does she like dollies.
My daughter has many dolls, Barbie and Bratz dolls being the main attraction. They lie piled in corners and baskets, like a piece of Stuckist sculpture depicting a Mad Max-like post-apocalyptic world.
Luckily, she appears to have inherited my particular brand of ironically pimped-up, outspoken feminism, and she dresses her dolls how she alone pleases: sometimes girly, sometimes hippy, sometimes grunge and rock star, mostly a mélange of all three.
Seeing how she plays with the history and iconography of female conformity and rebellion is pleasing. Which is why I have a problem with the growing trend of encouraging girls to play with nice dolls. Lottie dolls, for example, wear sensible shoes, no make-up and have age-appropriate bodies. They sound perfect, but they received a resounding thumbs-down from my little wannabe.
Seeing how she plays with the history and iconography of female conformity and rebellion is pleasing.
I’m not going to talk about Barbie dolls here, that’s a whole other article, I want to focus on Bratz dolls, which seem to offend those seeking a ‘cleaner’ kind of doll. At least one mum around my neck of the woods has experimented with removing the Bratz make-up, high heels and hooker clothes. None though have had the success of Tasmanian artist Sonia Singh, who repaints the dolls’ faces so they look as if they’re wearing no make-up, and dresses them up in mainly knitted clothing and flatties, turning them into thoroughly nice girls. She then takes pictures of them among leaves, flowers and shrubs. They are called Tree Change Dolls. Very outdoorsy, very Waltons-meets-rural eco-warrior.
But I'm not one to avoid a bit of market research, so I showed them to my daughter, who took one look at them and rolled around laughing. ‘Mum,’ she said, ‘they're soo creepy’.
Has Singh ever heard of Hole, I wonder, that post-punk grunge band fronted by Courtney Love, wife of Kurt Cobain (of Nirvana)? Hole epitomised post-punk feminism. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t trashy. I didn’t think they exploited their sexuality, like many female pop artists do today. They were loud, urban, feminist and in-your-face. When I look at Bratz dolls, I see Hole. They even come with electric guitars and Harley motorbikes. The only thing that’s creepy or wrong about them is that their feet come off which, when piled up in the corner, makes them look like the victims of a weird cult. Anti-feminist? I just can’t see it, unless your model of feminism is the local vicar’s wife.
Subcultures liberated women. It's the big unspoken story because respectable middle-class feminism never had anything to do with subcultures. In fact, they find female engagement in subcultures a bit suspect. Women in subcultures are often portrayed as a footnote to male subcultures (think Courtney Love to Kurt Cobain): with a suspect permissiveness, a lack of seriousness, and a slutty fashion sense.
Here’s my take on it, though. When I was growing up, the ‘nice girls’ got exploited. They neglected their careers for housework, children and husband-pleasing. They got refused cleaners (‘my principles won't allow it,’ the men said). They were more easily controlled and manipulated by male power. They were quiet and occupied no space at all. The nice girls I knew didn’t make it to university, and they didn’t change the world. Now, maybe that’s more attitude than fashion choices, and maybe things are different these days, but I still find it worrying that some parents are so keen to rail against the subcultural ‘bad girl’ look.
So faced with a choice between my daughter choosing a nice-girl dolly, or one sporting punk-ugly, I’d choose the latter, any day. So I don’t have a problem with Bratz. But then again, I’m a feminist. So it’s not up to me, it’s up to her.
To find out what dolls and soft toys we’ve chosen have a look at our curated selection below.
We regularly check out the latest baby and kids’ clothes, toys and home accessories to bring together a hand picked selection of items for your young ones. Visit our website to learn more.