In the 1970s heyday of the late 20th century resurgence of feminism, a very famous Doonesbury cartoon showed feminist Joanie Caucus proud and happy because one of her daycare charges describes a newborn sister as a “baby woman.”
I don’t think cartoonist Trudeau was thinking 35 years ahead to these two products for “baby women”; I certainly wasn’t.
Let’s start with “Baby Bangs Hairband”
“I’M NOT A BOY,” the site proclaims proudly.
Our patent pending HAIR+band accessory combination allows baby girl’s (with little or no hair at all) the opportunity to have a beautifully realistic HAIR style in a SNAP!! … our Baby Bangs! come to you pre-customized & size appropriate, cut, styled and ready for immediate wear. The wispy hair strands have been arranged in the cutest most adorable elfish coiffure!
(Being a fat activist has made me a connoisseur of “before/after” pictures. Not all the pictures on the site show this dramatic a contrast but, just like weight loss pictures, they all have something that makes the “before” picture dorky or unattractive.
Then, there’s “something for the evening”:
Yes, folks, it’s a baby t-shirt with nipple tassels, available in 6-month and 12-month sizes.
So which is worse? At first glance, the second one, because it sexualizes infants, which is indubitably repulsive. However, the more I think about it, the more I am even more offended by the first one. A baby (of any gender) in a tassel shirt would think the tassels were toys–as, in fact, they are. The distance between the baby’s own perception of the shirt and the adult meaning of the shirt is so great that it can’t be crossed in baby terms: some adults will probably think the shirt is marvelous and coo, others will think it’s shocking and giggle, still others will think the shirt is repulsive and try to hide that reaction from baby and parents. None of these reactions will get significantly through to the baby, who will be too busy pulling on the tassels and finding out if they’re edible.
Meanwhile, the hairband is actually going to affect how people relate to the baby. Again, the baby could be any gender, but any baby in that get-up is going to get treated like a “little lady” by most family, babysitters, and passersby on the street. That’s the kind of connection babies can make: “people really treat me differently when I have this silly thing on my head.”
And here’s the point: babies are extremely hard to truly sexualize, because they’re so far away from the adult version of sexuality. But it’s easy to teach them that the gap between boys and girls is essential to their identity … and teaching that so young makes it easy to sexualize toddler girls and kindergarten-age girls.
“I’m not a boy; I’m not a girl; I’m a BABY!”
Thanks to Lynn Kendall for pointers to both products.