On the Map: Breastfeeding is Best for Baby... But for Babydolls?

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.

by Mandy Van Deven
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15 Comments Have Been Posted

Fatcs are irrelevant to the media

<i>It's irresponsible journalism to present something as "fact" having no evidence except opinion to back it up.</i>

Sadly, the media long, long ago gave up any need for "facts" in anything they produce. It's more about attracting readers and viewers these days. Facts are merely obstacles in the presentation of titillating (no pun intended) and salacious ratings boosting material.

The social stigma in North

The social stigma in North America regarding breastfeeding is as strong as ever. Though we are making some strides in normalising breastfeeding and undoing some of the harm caused by the hyepr-sexualisation of breasts and young girls we still have so very far to go....On behalf of my daughters and myself, thank you for continuing to keep this issue in the fore.

Before we go pouncing on

See, when I first heard

See, when I first heard about all of this, I thought "that's ridiculous! Why on earth is it more problematic to feed a baby doll with a tank top (fake breast feeding) than it is to feed a baby with a bottle (fake bottle feeding)?"

I still think that, but I'll admit to a visceral double take when I saw the video; I think that because we almost never see breast feeding in real life, the only context we have for a (slightly creepy) moving mouth near a chest is sexual. Unless you're very close to someone who breastfeeds, regular breastfeeding, not hidden under a blanket, just isn't a sight that we see regularly.

So, while I can *understand* some of the initial responses, it's still truly screwed up that we've marginalized breast feeding to the point where it's not a visual point of reference. So long as breasts=sex, any kids' toy that involves breast feeding is going to set people off.

there must be better ways ...

... than corporations selling dolls to "teach" children the importance of breast-feeding and that breasts are meant to feed and nourish than just be male-gaze objectified and religious-right condemned (Let's not overlook the fact that there are also people that are downright offended by the sight of naked breasts, period). I am not sure this doll is the solution to a broader problem. It looks rather tacky. The breast-feeding moms I know prefer to teach their children by example rather than give them a toy that they might lose interest in 5 minutes later. I just think there can be better ways to teach lessons that are never too early to be taught that we, as feminists and breast-feeding advocates, need to brainstorm and come up with, collectively. What do you suggest we should teach children and society in-general about breast feeding? I also should point out that breast feeding, as healthy as it is, is unfortunately, not for everyone. Some women just cannot breast-feed for various medical reasons. It's a choice as personal as everything else is.


"religious-right condemned"

What about all those paintings of Mary breastfeeding baby Jesus?

"I also should point out that breast feeding, as healthy as it is, is unfortunately, not for everyone. Some women just cannot breast-feed for various medical reasons."

Also, you sound like you're saying we shouldn't have breastfeeding dolls because "some women can't breastfeed." Well some can't bottle feed but we have fake baby bottles, don't we? Just because some women can't or don't breastfeed doesn't mean that everyone who does has to pretend they don't. Bottle feeding moms need to get over it.

To be quite honest, my first

To be quite honest, my first reaction to the video, as well as the idea of the toy, is to be repulsed. I'm not sure where this reaction comes from. Perhaps it is simply a negative response to the very fact that the little girl is being videotaped during all this. It seems somehow dirty, voyeuristic, fetishistic. I don't think that was the intention of the admakers, but it comes across that way. I don't object to little girls pretending to breastfeed a baby. In fact, that seems like a very natural thing for a child to do - I probably pretended to breastfeed something when I was little, too. But something about the video creeps me out. Hm.

Actually, I found the video

Actually, I found the video rather charming, and I'm not "into" babies in any way; even as I child I didn't much like playing mommy.

I'm not sure why it needs to be seen as a teaching tool, though. It's just a child emulating an adult. In countries where adults see the feeding of children as what it is (instead of some reflection of their own discomforts), it makes sense for dolls to do what babies do. No one objects to dolls who pee.

The doll itself emphasizes the motherhood role, not the breastfeeding. Once the doll exists, do its additional features make that much of a difference?

sort of

A doll, in general, could be interpreted as emphasizing motherhood and fatherhood, as both parents in theory participate child rearing. This doll, however, emphasizes the motherhood role because it centers on breastfeeding. I know there are contraptions that allow for fathers to breastfeed these days, but I think we can agree that breastfeeding is generally thought of as being something a woman does.

i have never understood

i have never understood these toys in general. as soon as the wailing baby noise started my head felt like exploding. even when i was a kid i really didn't like my toys requiring anything of me ... like changing faux-poop mess was going to be a real great time or something. my little brother had enough real poop mess going on, thanks.

but really, this doesn't seem much different than babies that poop, pee, need to be burped, or whatever. the anger is clearly directed at the fact that something is sucking at her nipple region. i don't think that toys like this are particularly helping breastfeeding, though. kids are going to play with a baby doll at some point and they're going to mimic the behavior they see around them. if they don't see breastfeeding, they won't be exposed to this doll; if they do see it, they'll more than likely put their baby doll to their chest anyhow (i remember seeing a picture in a parenting magazine of a little boy "feeding" his baby doll at the breast), whether the baby participates or not.

i really think the best thing for kids is a plain baby doll that doesn't do anything and is not particularly realistic looking. and i think it's a good toy for all kids to have, because pretending to nurture and care for someone else is good for empathy building. if they choose to pretend it's their baby, their little brother or sister, an orphan they adopt, or just their little buddy... most kids will come up with something that works for them. it's best not to shove the concept down their throat.

The only problem I have with

The only problem I have with this toy is the same problem I have with children's toys now-a-days. They don't require any imagination. The toys do all the playing for the children. Like the old saying goes, forget the toy, give the kid the box. Children (boys and girls) have been pretending to breast feed for as long as mothers have been breast feeding. Children will play out their experiences. (As an aside, I’m a clinical social worker who practices family therapy and an interesting trend I am seeing are boys breast feeding their dinosaurs and trucks. Personally, I love when it happens)

As far as the claim that it reinforces expectations of the motherhood role, that can go either way. As children grow, they are trying to figure out the world around them, including that humans change as they grow. Socially, baby doll play has become about gender reinforcement. Developmentally, they have figured out that they were once babies and are beginning to move out of the first person perspective that children have and see what it is like to reverse the role. And really, it is about power and control to some extent, as one can see that being a child can be disempowering.

I think the fear surrounding a toy like this is that it brings to light our worst fears as a society. We don't have realistic developmental expectations of our children and have been made to feel shameful of sex. Seriously, bodies are not solely made for sex.

I gave up the media as a bad

I gave up the media as a bad job a long time ago. We don't have news anymore we have entertainment.

My older daughter started kindergarten when my younger was six months old. I was breastfeeding, and around our house that was just a normal part of the day. Imagine my surprise when my daughter came home in tears with a "red light" note from her teacher because she had said "boobs" while talking to one of her little friends. She got in trouble with the teacher, and I got a stern note informing me that I needed to "speak" to my daughter about appropriate language in the classroom. I very politely wrote back that in the future my daughter would use the word "breasts" when conversing in the classroom. Even though I talked to my daughter about the incident at length, she still took away the idea that boobs and breasts are bad words because the Teacher said so. So frustrating. So I don't really have a problem with a doll that works toward normalizing breastfeeding as just another part of motherhood like changing diapers or giving bottles. As for the argument against toys that promote motherhood (usually 50's style motherhood at that) to little girls, I don't see the answer as getting rid these types of toys. Instead why not mix up the toy sections so that instead of hearing "That's the BOY aisle" and then being dragged down a nightmarishly pink and sexy row of plastic boobs, butts, and babies, Batman's cape and tool belt sits next to Baby Glutton on the shelf and my kids can throw a fit for one this trip and the other the next...

The Way Kids Play

My sister and I are two years apart. When we were little back in the late 80's, we each had our "Baby Alive". She really ate and you could really change her diapers. When you pressed the spoon to her mouth, her mouth would move in a suckling-type motion. Eventually, my sister and I took to pretending to breastfeed these two little white babies. We would remove our shirts, press their mouths, and hold them to us. We said, "Look Mommy!" She laughed her ass off.

I say this because I like the idea of a breastfeeding doll, but believe me, young children are already using their imaginations. So a doll specifically engineered for "breast-feeding play" isn't really necessary. We also used to distend our stomachs or stuff pillows under our shirts and tell our mother and each other that we were pregnant. After we saw "Look Who's Talking", we took turns pretending to go into labor and giving natural birth (I'm crying with laughter right now). My mother found all this hilarious.

I think that we don't have to worry about these kinds of toys conditioning young girls to fetishize motherhood at an early age. I'm about to be 27, and despite all the years that I've played with Barbies and Kens and baby dolls, I definitely didn't drink the Kool-Aid, and neither did my sister (she has a son now, he's so sweet!). Breast-feeding baby dolls for every girl!

Breastfeeding Baby Doll

As a mother of three who breastfed them all far into toddler hood I am pleased to see a doll that encourages breastfeeding. I may have been radical, but I never allowed baby bottles in the house real or toy so my children, even the boys when they were tiny "breastfed" their dolls. Yes my boys had dolls. It is always "age appropriate" for children to model nurturing and caring.
It is amazing that breastfeeding can cause so much uproar, while playing with what my daughter refers to as "Little Hooker' dolls seems appropriate to the same people who are concerned about girls being encouraged to grow up too fast.

Breastfeeding activity is good or not to see many childrens.

Summary breastfeeding is made of natural mother in the world, because the baby must obtain care from their mother. If a child who was aged six or seven years to see this activity breastfeeding, and try it on his toy dolls, parents must provide guidance and telling what gives meaning to the breastfeeding between mother and her baby, breastfeeding, so the activity is not in use by one child on the toy dolls they cause so that breastfeeding is sexsual that activity should not do it on.

Frankly speaking, I get

Frankly speaking, I get really annoyed when I hear women are asked to leave a restaurant for feeding their babies. If they don't feed the baby, it will cry and piss everyone off. If they do feed the baby, we can all enjoy our meals .
I think any way a woman chooses to feed should be treated properly. It should be ignored.
A blanket or curtain over the shoulders can make this process ordinary.

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