catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 7 :: 2011.04.08 — 2011.04.21


What’s the big deal about Bebe Gloton?

Bebe Gloton, a Spanish-made doll that’s been on European markets since 2009, is about to hit American toy store shelves as Breastfeeding Baby, and not everyone’s happy about that. According to the company that manufactures the doll, Berjuan Toys, the toy “lets young girls express their love and affection in the most natural way possible, just like mommy.” It’s a mechanical doll of the sort we’re used to by now — who hasn’t seen a doll that pees, cries or sucks on a bottle? — except that Bebe Gloton’s key accessory is a flowered halter top to be worn by the little girl. When the doll cries, the girl can put its mouth close to one of the two felt flowers that decorate the vest. The doll, activated by sensors in the flowers, then makes suckling noises and movements. It’s set to retail for about $99.

To my way of thinking, especially when it comes to toys for my children, the doll is a bit gimmicky. I’m not a toy purist, but I do like my kid’s toys to be somewhat more open-ended in terms of play possibilities, and I tend not to be a fan of toys that run on batteries, partly because my kids make enough noise on their own and partly because I hate replacing batteries. Plus, I’m not convinced that this doll is filling in any real gaps in kid’s play possibilities (wait, kids don’t need products to fill in play possibilities anyway!).  I nursed my various baby dolls when I was little and both my children — both boys, I might add — nursed their dolls or stuffed animals or whatever. But I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with Bebe Gloton per se. Sure, it’s a little annoying to see a company exploiting a decidedly non-commercial enterprise — breastfeeding — to market yet another plastic toy; on the other hand, baby dolls have been sold with plastic bottles for years, and so perhaps Bebe Gloton represents a move toward increased normalization of breastfeeding, generally regarded as a good thing.

But critics of the toy insist that the doll is inappropriate for young girls, even hinting that it will encourage promiscuity and increase teen pregnancy rates. These writers are inclined to hint that the flowers on the child’s top are “strategically placed” (wink, wink) or even that they look like pasties (well…). The suggestion that the doll will lead girls astray sexually seems patently ridiculous in light of the many other offerings of the toy aisle, like Barbies, Bratz and various oversexualized Disney princesses. Breastfeeding Baby is much more Madonna with Child than, well, Madonna. The fact that, in our culture, female breasts are so loaded with sexual meaning, while their life-giving, nourishing capabilities are frequently regarded with a kind of ew-gross attitude should give us pause. Objecting to the breastfeeding doll on grounds of inappropriateness says more about us than about the dolls, or the girls who would play with them.

I was delighted when my children mimicked breastfeeding with their toys. I loved it when my older son, then about two-and-a-half, confidently asserted that he would one day nurse his baby brother, once his “knuckles got big enough.” And it makes me glad when I see children — boys and girls — nurturing their dolls or their toy animals. Children’s play is serious work, and, until they learn otherwise, largely innocent of the meanings that grown-up culture attaches to that work. I’m sad that an act of nurturing so ancient, primal and near-perfect as anything in this world is tainted, even in child’s play, by adult anxieties surrounding that other ancient, primal, and — in context — near-perfect gift of God. I’m not encouraging you to go out and buy a Bebe Gloton, but you probably already guessed that. I am saying that we should protect the right of children to be just that: children, who in time will, to be sure, have their own struggles with rightly ordering their desires. But shouldn’t their love of nurturing, even in play, be shielded as long as possible?

(And, you know, that just might include leaving aside toys that require more than their imaginations to run.)

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