I noticed something a while ago and it’s got me thinking about our daughters and the messages we’re letting the world send them, and the examples we’re setting. It started as a casual (if annoyed) observation and led to a pondering.
I’d seen some time ago that Dora the Explorer was removed from Netflix. Don’t know why, contract ended or whatever. All Nickelodeon content is gone and replaced with Cartoon Network, which doesn’t even bother with semi-educational programs for kids. Not their niche, fine. But I live in a house with a little girl who loves Dora and is desperately in love with Diego. Her heart beats for Diego. No kidding. She’s learned to live without her love and their TV trysts. She just pretends he’s still there. (Sounds kind of like me from the age of thirteen onward.)
Today the kids found the Bratz cartoon. Seriously? We went from Dora to Bratz, with no second look? It makes me cringe. I’m pretty sure ‘Bratz’ is shorthand for ‘baby hoodrats,’ and they’re certainly not models for any child I want to share a house with. Goodbye Dora, a smart, helpful, friendly girl whose passions included polyglossary and blueberries, who could look past her best friend’s freakish physical defects and boot fetish and love him for his deeper character. Instead of that model for our girls to admire, we have Bratz. Makeup-wearing, pouting, catty hooker-hatchlings in skimpy clothes. Those characters for whom the most admirable nobility is to be cool, look hot, be the prettiest, rather than to be a faithful, honorable friend wherever one is needed.
Then I thought, How did we get here? How did we get to a place where the dolls made for little girls to play with were such nauseating springboards for pretend play?
But it’s demand, of course. Little girls want to be big girls. Little girls want to look like the women influences they admire–their big sisters, their moms and aunts, the women they see their women influences influenced by. Little girls want to look and act grown-up, and right now, grown-up means sex. So we have Bratz dolls, with bedroom eyes and pouty lips. We get Victoria’s Secret marketing for teens and pre-teens, with little product change (girls’ panties that read “Call me” on the crotch?)
Thinking more on this I realized that it’s nothing new. Little girls have always modeled older girls and women. It isn’t the girls who have changed and become more sexual at an earlier age, it’s the women who have changed and are modeling something very different than little girls used to imitate. What did little girls used to play with? What did they pretend, in the not-so-long-ago?
They pretended they were mommies. They had babies and nurtured them. They modeled care and love and tenderness. Little girls walked their baby dolls in strollers, fed them from magical bottles with disappearing mystery juice, even changed their diapers. They pretended to change diapers, for Pete’s sake! You could get dolls that pooped! Little girls wanted to model their mommies so much they made up ways to clean poop. That’s how much little girls want to be like their grown-up role models.
There was Barbie, of course, but even in her ridiculous, impossible proportions she was a woman girls could safely look up to. She had one boyfriend for, what, sixty years? She was faithful (except for flings with GI Joe, but those were fantasies sold separately). She had a little sister she took care of (like my sister! thinks the little girl playing Barbies). She cared for and nurtured her family. I don’t think she ever had children of her own, but she was always very young. But she had a career! Dozens of careers! She was an educated, skilled young woman with ambition, with goals, and determination to achieve them. Even the most ditzy, air-headed blonde bimbo of the doll world let girls aspire to greatness (I can be a veterinarian! Or a mermaid!)
So even in the eighties when the big deal was women overtaking the workplace and breaking the glass ceiling and looking like hair-helmeted linebackers and damned if they needed a man, at least the girls had something to copy. They had babies, or they had careers. Now they have party girls.
What do little girls see their mother doing nowadays? What are they copying? Apparently nurturing and caring for babies and children is a long way down the priorities list (although still hanging on as some of us insist on seeing pregnancy and childbirth not as life-ruining debilitating diseases, but sort of a higher calling, a mission from God). Makeup and looking sexy and being fun and ready to party, being cool and desired by all the boys are what they’re copying now. Their value derived not from their loving life-giving to other people but their desirability, their wantedness as a commodity.
Does Mom read Cosmo for sex tips (The Same Fifty Lame Ideas We Had Last Month! With More Puns! Innuendo! Be Selfish!) or catch up on celebrity gossip (she may not look like a Kardashian but even little girls can see whom Mommy idolizes)? Is her time spent on going out with friends whenever she can, or at home cheerfully serving and loving her family? Is there a healthy scad of drunk poses on Mommy’s FaceBook page? To whom does she talk on the phone, and about what? Daughter dear is listening. She is absorbing. She is repeating, in her playroom, with her dolls. She is learning that there’s no amount of thigh that’s inappropriate to show. She’s learning that boys must want her, for what she’s not exactly sure but is quickly learning because Mom watches her shows.
We’re teaching our girls. They’ve always modeled Mommy, but Mommy has changed over the last couple decades. Mommy doesn’t primarily take care of children, they’re a side effect of her exciting party life.
I admit, I didn’t play with babies when I was a little girl. I was the youngest and never saw my mother with babies until I was past the age of playing with dolls. My mother wasn’t a party girl, but she was a lot of things. Maybe she was too many things for me to model accurately, too many essences to distill down to one role. She was a student, a nurse, a mother, a tutor. She was an artist and an expert of the symbols of grave markers. She sculpted and painted and drew and cut the portraits of the departed into granite. She worked and taught and snuggled and lost her temper (things I’m learning about now) and said funny things when she was half-asleep. I played my own games, my animals exploring, getting married, doing what they dreamed. I ‘arted,’ and still do, and am teaching my children to art now too. I learned what I loved and I played in cemeteries and brought home baby mice named after the headstones under which they were found, or adopted nests of cemetery bunnies and returned them, very much deceased, back to their cemetery nests.
I think there were maybe too many things my mother did for me to consciously imitate (I’m a mommy, too!). But the more I think of it, the more I think maybe it was ingrained, just the same. The imitation was so deep and multifaceted I perhaps never attributed it to being ‘just like Mommy.’ But I do now so much of what she did then. What money I make is as an artist. I teach my children and work in my home and lose my temper with my children and hold them on my lap and just love them.
Even with vague, or perhaps rather very complex, roles of role models, girls imitate. They copy their older women. Now we, as the older women, as the grown-ups, the mothers and aunts, have to give them something worth imitating, or God help their daughters who will be imitating them.