The Mommy Vortex: Does the Breastfeeding Doll Sexualize Girls?
During the summer of 2011, I was searching various toy store websites to find a birthday gift for a seven year old girl. I came across an advertisement for the Breastfeeding Baby doll, which teaches young girls how to breastfeed their dolls by having them simulate nursing using a t-shirt equipped with sensors. Girls put on the t-shirt, and when they place the Breast Feeding Baby to their breast, the doll mimics a suckling sound. At the time, the doll was not yet available in America.
But having breastfed both of my children, I was intrigued by this new toy. I did a quick Internet search, and I stumbled across some articles and editorials that were increasingly critical of the doll. One author went so far as to accuse the toy makers of “sexualizing” toddlers; the author feared that pedophiles would watch young girls use this toy in the park.
That extreme image creeped me out, too. But I wasn’t (and am not) opposed to this doll. What I am opposed to is the accusation that teaching girls how to breastfeed somehow “sexualizes” them too early. Isn’t giving young girls – toddlers even – a positive, natural reason for the existence of their breasts an important tool in raising them with strong, healthy body images?
We, as a society, are not comfortable with breastfeeding. We seem to have no problem with scantily clad women modeling barely-there lingerie on super-sized billboards, but we are suddenly squirming in our seats when a woman offers her breast to her baby.
I remember when I was in a large suburban shopping mall, I asked if there was a place I could nurse my infant son in private, as although I had the legal right to nurse publicly, I knew it would make others uncomfortable. I was told to nurse him in the bathroom. After asking the sales associate if she, herself, would ever eat in the bathroom, I was directed to a private room.
My experience was a hard lesson in how our society truly feels about our breasts: it’s fine to expose them as sexual objects, but it’s not okay to use them for their intended, natural purpose. And there is something unnatural about that.
As the mother of a little girl, I want her to understand her body, not be embarrassed by it. Having her learn the purpose of her breasts will give her confidence and perspective. What three year old could ever understand that breasts represent something sexual? These little girls understand feeding their dolls with bottles, nourishing them with milk. Why should they not be taught this most basic, natural and oldest form of feeding babies?
I think if we don’t share this toy with our girls, we are teaching them that their breasts are primarily sexual objects, or at the very worst, something to be embarrassed about. We need, as a society, to teach our girls what their bodies are made for so that they grow up with confidence in themselves, and so that society can’t condition them to believe their breasts are solely intended for a sexual purpose. These girls are worth so much more than that.
Our young girls are worth so much more than that.
Rosemarie Coppola-Baldwin is a practicing attorney and a dedicated mother of a two children. A Georgetown University graduate, Rosemarie has practiced law at a major New York City law firm and for the City of New York. Rosemarie has been a guest lecturer on women’s civil rights and related legal issues at St. John’s University (New York), and offers pro bono legal services to a variety of entities.