Laurie and Debbie say:
This holiday season, many parents are up in arms about the hot new Bratz dolls, and we thought we’d check them out. (Warning: the website is a nightmare of bad design and worse navigation.) The Bratz dolls consist of eight or nine characters, all with names, nicknames, and color palettes. They are multiracial in skin tone, but they all have identically straight hair, very full lips, and huge eyes–interestingly enough, the darker the skin of a Bratz doll, the bluer her eyes are. (Subliminal message: straighten your hair, have your lips plumped up, and get contacts.) As with everything these days, they’re part of a much larger marketing campaign: not only accessories (including cars and the band’s bus) but also videos, electronics, scooters, and anything else their corporate masters could think of. The slogan is “Passion for Fashion”; the website’s loading message is, “It takes time to look this good,” and the exit message is “Above all else, be beautiful.” The focus of the controversy around these dolls is their aggressively raunchy clothing. Many of the outfits are skin-tight, bare midriff, lots of glitter. They are frequently shown with one hand resting suggestively on their bare belly.
Subtle this is not.
One complaint we’ve heard is that mothers don’t want to buy their daughters such raunchy dolls, but Barbies are just for little kids (like under 7) now. And yet the complaints of the moms who don’t want to buy Bratz sound exactly like the complaints from previous decades of why moms didn’t want to buy Barbies: too sexualized, too stereotyped, too sexist, and encouraging girls to “grow up too fast.”
Looking at today’s Barbie site, we find that the slogan here is “B Who U Wanna B.”(“Be a fashionista. Be a gamer. Be a princess.” Apparently, those are the three choices a girl has. It’s a nod to feminism, from a long distance away.) Barbie is much whiter than the Bratz girls (dark-skinned Barbies can be found in the background if you look, but they don’t get much play). The emphasis is on buying things for Barbie, whereas you can buy a few things for your Bratz doll(s), but the emphasis is on buying things for the girl, not the doll. Barbie is far less sexualized. After all, she’s almost fifty.
Ken, apparently, has vanished from Barbie’s story, and there are no males whatsoever on the Bratz site. It’s as if all this emphasis on beauty, fashion, clothes and looks was somehow happening in a vacuum (unless the Bratz dolls are doing each other as soon as the website windows close, which seems unlikely).
The shift from the stereotypical Barbie, whose dream was to be a prom queen, to the stereotypical Brat, who is already a rock star, reflects the shift in the culture. We do feel confident that girls will maul, manipulate, and dismember their Bratz just as they did their Barbies–but they won’t be able to cross-dress them if no Ken-clothes or equivalents are available.
If you have young girls in your life, buy them tractors, or pogo sticks, or mobiles of the solar system; if they crave Bratz (or Barbies), that’s what their allowances are for.