What I want to know is where is some good old-fashioned feminist ire when you need it?
Somebody needs to take the chip off of some Lefty’s shoulder and hurl it down the aisle at Toys R Us and do a little damage. While we’ve all been distracted by big-ticket culture war skirmishes, like the recent Madonna-Britney kissing spectacle, toy manufacturers have been suavely working on another seduction of our pre-teen girls.
The weapon is the heir to the Barbie kingdom, a new doll line called “Bratz,” modelled on hooker chic. Nobody seems to have listened when Whoopi Goldberg warned, “White parents have no clue that their kids are being indoctrinated into ghetto values and culture.”
Apparently not, indeed. The delivery method for the “Bratz” line is even more direct, and dangerous, than MTV: it’s parents. The New York Times is reporting that the makers of Bratz dolls, MGA Entertainment, has racked up $1 billion in sales since the dolls’ introduction in 2001, and that their market research indicates that mothers of pre-teens are the prime customers.
With their glazed expressions, pumped lips and trampy clothes, these dolls are light years away from the American Girl dolls that too many little girls now consider “babyish.”
In these days of anorexia anxiety, some are celebrating the dolls’ “more realistic” body proportions. And true enough, these dolls don’t seem to have Barbie’s surgically enhanced chest. But is it any better to replace one advertisement for cosmetic surgery with another one? These Bratz dolls all obviously make regular trips to the plastic surgeon for collagen lip injections. And their makeup, on dolls targeted at 8 to 14-year-olds, would make a Broadway performer playing to the back of the hall feel underdone.
Still, there is a bright spot.
As the manufacturers emphasize, the dolls are multi-cultural and multi-racial. So I guess that makes it okay for them to look like streetwalkers. And, of course, the dolls come complete with the requisite post-modernist tongue-in-cheek cynicism: what you miss in press reports about the dolls is their logo hovering above the “Bratz” branding is a halo. The message is subtle but clear. Today’s angels are “bad girls” with a passion for hip-hop fashion.
There was a time when mothers were encouraged and supported in their efforts to teach their girls virtues, and to inculcate in them a passion for values beyond a keen eye for the cut of their blue jeans and the precise shade of their nail polish. Indeed, as Mrs. LaHaye and I argued in A Different Kind of Strength, a Biblically-based view of women that emphasizes humility and virtue is the only sure road to real feminine empowerment.
Happily, contrary to the reigning orthodoxy in Women’s Studies programs, we have the historical examples to prove it. And, mothers need to know that these stories still “sell” to impressionable young girls still searching for role models that inspire their idealism.
This is worth thinking about and emphasizing as Halloween approaches and legions of wannabe “bratz” hit the streets. Our three young granddaughters, ages 3, 6 and 10, are excited about the upcoming opportunity to dress up. They have been invited to a party this weekend to celebrate All Saint’s Day, for which they are encouraged to dress up as a saint. Hannah Ruth and Sarah Shaw, have obvious choices. The third, little Helena Gilbert, declared that she would dress as Mary, after observing sadly that everyone except her, including her brother John, has a name from a Biblical character.
Our daughter then told her that, actually, in addition to her Aunt Helen, for whom she was named, there is a saint named Helena. The historian Eusebius tells us that Saint Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, was a devout woman, committed to advancing the cause of Christ’s church. A very wealthy woman, Helena worked avidly in aiding the poor and destitute, and built several magnificent churches. She was granted the title “augusta” by her son the emperor, and coins inscribed nobilissima femina were minted in her honor, so Helena was certainly able to afford a “passion for fashion” herself. But apparently her sights were set elsewhere. Eusebius adds that Helena was “continually worshipping in church, humbly dressed among the women praying there.”
When our Helena, who is a devoted doll owner I might add, heard of her illustrious namesake, she sighed contentedly.
“This,” she said, “is the happiest day of my life.”
Even allowing for a little childish hyperbole, it was a significant victory for beauty, over bratz.