Mother of All Surprises Is Birthing in Toyland
A mini-fuss is gestating in child development circles over the introduction of some new playthings. You’d think we’d be beyond shock in the toy department. Once you’ve broached canned ooze (thanks to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), what, precisely, is left?
How about a new crop of toys that simulate pregnancy?
This summer, Mattel will introduce My Bundle Baby, which allows little girls to pretend they are pregnant. It looks like a book bag, but is meant to be worn on the front of the body. Inside is a soft baby doll.
When a heart-shaped button on the bundle is pressed, the baby kicks and its heartbeat is audible. An opening on the top allows her to birth the baby bloodlessly. (I rather like this idea, as I suspect most women of childbearing age would.)
The young customer/mommy won’t know the baby’s sex until she opens the bundle. And if she is very lucky (or very unlucky, depending on her financial situation), she will have twins.
My Bundle Baby, the latest in a best-selling line introduced by Mattel in 1990, will cost about $35. Its predecessors, Tiny Wonders, are swaddled dolls whose genders are unknown until they are unwrapped. Little girls seem to love the element of surprise.
Another company is already selling a $20 doll by mail order. Judy, a Barbie-esque babe with a bouffant blond ‘do and nary a hint of varicose veins or stretch marks, is nine months pregnant. Little girls can remove her tummy, and voila, the bun pops out of the oven!
Judy comes with some accessories that are sold separately. Like her husband, Charlie. Judy is a modern woman.
I have two problems with these toys.
First: Why teach our children that they have to wait until birth to know the sex of the child? I think My Bundle Baby should be accessorized with some kind of amniocentesis kit. Adults are entitled to this kind of instant gratification. Why not kids? All it takes is a syringe and a Petri dish.
Second: How dare we foist the lie on our little girls that their stomachs will go flat as soon as their babies are born? Judy should be modified with saggy stomach muscles. And she should wipe that carefree smile off her face; she’s a mother now.
Apart from those minor quibbles, why shouldn’t little girls have such dolls? After all, little boys get decapitatable crash dummies, tanks, guns and grenades. They do say that childbirth is the female equivalent of combat.
This generation of dolls is merely the logical evolution of what already sits on toy store shelves. Some aisles already resemble neonatal units: Quints, Real Sounds Newborn, Preemies, Newborn Baby Shivers, Drink and Wet Baby Doll, etc.
I’ll start worrying when they introduce a baby doll that breast-feeds.
Still, some child development experts think the maternity dolls are a little too graphic for small children.
Pediatric guru Dr. T. Berry Brazelton has been quoted as saying that My Bundle Baby is “a real invasion of a parent’s opportunity to share something precious with a child.”
Just what precious thing the parents are supposed to share is unclear. Conception? Childbirth?
One psychologist wondered what would happen if My Bundle Baby’s batteries dwindled: “Is the baby dead?”
Hmmm, I wonder what his childhood was like.
In truth, the dolls aren’t all that fascinating. It’s the fuss surrounding them that is.
Adults who oppose the toys are overreacting, says Brian Sutton-Smith, a psychologist whose expertise is children’s play. He has consulted for Mattel on My Bundle Baby.
“I keep trying to understand the phenomenon of why adults are so literal when children are so imaginative,” he says. “Toys are a caricature of reality.”
He suspects, and I agree, that it is our overwhelming ambivalence to sex and sexuality that makes us respond so strongly to these new dolls.
“We are a very sex-inhibited culture,” says Sutton-Smith, whose four granddaughters were delighted with My Bundle Baby. “One of the good things about these dolls is that you can talk openly about these things on a mild level, which is where you want to begin anyway. You don’t tell little kids everything. They’re not ready for the whole thing.”
As soon as consumers become accustomed to them, he says, we’ll accept them as part of the playscape.
Twenty years ago, it was Barbie the Glam Queen that was under attack, says Sutton-Smith.
“People were saying, ‘Why can’t children be satisfied with baby dolls? Now you have this strange historical reversal where the Barbie is regarded as OK, and ‘Why do we have to have this baby stuff?’ ”
That’s easy to answer.
Because it sells.