I find the controversy in recent years surrounding public breastfeeding in the United States to be indicative of American over-saturation of the male view of breasts as a sexual object instead of something that serve the function of nurturing a child. Despite breast milk being the healthiest (and cheapest!) way to feed a baby while providing numerous short- and long-term benefits for the child (better immune system, higher intelligence, less likelihood of developing allergic diseases) and mother (reduction of uterine bleeding, natural postpartum contraception, reduced risk of several cancers and heart disease), many Americans still can’t get past the part of the medium of delivery being a pair of engorged tits.
In the mid-1950s, breastfeeding in the US dropped to nearly 20% and a group of concerned women stepped up to bat for the benefits of breastmilk; that group was La Leche League. These days that rate has nearly flipped with three-quarters of American women initiating breastfeeding at birth, but this number slowly declines to just 25% a year after the child’s birth. Evidence that we might not have come as far as we think.
Perhaps it’s this equating of the breast as a solely sexual object that has gotten Spanish dollmaker Berjuan’s Bebé Glotón (Baby Glutton) so much American media attention over the past few days. Despite the doll not being sold in the States (yet), the US media has run 165 articles compared to only 14 in Spain, which tells me this controvery is more about American culture than it is about consumerism.
Two somewhat conflicting feminist arguments can be made about the doll: 1) it promotes little girls playing the role of “mommy” for a newborn baby and reinforces motherhood as expected and ideal and 2) it reinforces breastfeeding as a natural element of child rearing, decreasing the culture of shame surrounding this women’s issue.
Though some have raised these issues, these aren’t the arguments several journalists and television personalities are making against the Bebé.
On the Today Show, Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford exchanged comments of incredulity: “Why would you want a suckling doll for an 8-year-old?” asks Kotb. “It’s got a little creep factor,” says Gifford.
NJ.com’s Eric Ruhalter was made to apologize for his comparisons of Bebé Glotón to an alcoholic doll, one that has erectile dysfunction, or a doll that is the victim of prison rape.
And in Fox News’ typical outrageous style, the network suggests Bebé Glotón “may even promote early pregnancy” by “speed[ing] up maternal urges in the little girls who play it.” Their health editor goes so far as to compare playing with the doll to “introducing sex education in first grade” and says “it could inadvertently lead little girls to become traumatized.”
Am I the only one who thinks it’s unbelievable that Ruhalter’s article made it past his editor? And I dunno about you, but the idea of girls being traumatized by a breastfeeding doll seems more than a little extreme. (Berjuan did consult with psychologists and teachers in developing the toy.) The bulk of the objections seem to revolve around Bebé Glotón not being age-appropriate, but this completely disregards the difference between adults’ and children’s sexual comprehension. There are also few indications given as to why people believe the doll may not be age-appropriate (save for Fox’s ridiculous exaggeration) leaving much to be desired in the way of explanation; the statement is simply taken as “the truth”–and that’s that.
But that, quite frankly, isn’t good enough. It’s irresponsible journalism to present something as “fact” having no evidence except opinion to back it up. This is especially conspicuous when considering the implications these types of stories have in furthering the notion that breastfeeding is a sexual act, particularly when the faux-feeder is a five-year-old girl. You see, the US media can’t talk about what is really bothering them because then they’d have to admit that our culture sexualizes children. And if they admit that’s the case, then they’re slipping down a slope they don’t want to be on. Because that slope is the staunchly the intellectual property of feminism.
So instead of engaging in an active debate, these media folks continue to stick to the status quo: Bratz in fishnets, short skirts, and stilettos are okay for little girls to play with because that’s just make believe, but a breastfeeding doll isn’t good for them because that’s too “adult”. I like that Bebé Glotón is encouraging some Americans to take an introspective look at their hangups about breasts and sexuality, but I can’t say I’m enamored with our shoddy media analysis.