COLUMN: Bratz dolls and purity balls send dangerous, mixed messages
Dayton Clark, The Oklahoma Daily
- Yes 57%
- No 43%
14 total votes.
So there I was: 18 years old, sitting timidly on a plastic-covered couch next to my 17-year-old date in her family's apartment. Across the coffee table sat her father with a shotgun leaning against the plastic wood paneling behind his La-Z-Boy and an 82nd Airborne tattoo menacingly displayed on his forearm.
His words were sharp, his eyes were piercing and his threats of violence should sexual activity occur were taken to heart — at least by me — for about 20 minutes thereafter. But the first question she asked me once we pulled out of the apartment complex was, "Did you remember to bring condoms?"
Now, my date wasn't a bad person. She wasn't spiting her father or acting out of confusion or in response to some trauma. She was 17 and motivated by hormones stronger than social stigma, her father's ideas about who she was or my complete lack of attractiveness. The fact that she was sexually active should have nothing to do with her worth as a person, but to her dad, it seemed like it did.
Now, I have a daughter. She's only 6, so I have a few years before I'm on the other side of the coffee table, but I must at some point address the question of what I'll be doing when I'm there. I'd rather not be brandishing hunting-weapons and chain smoking, so I should probably come up with a more contemporary game plan.
At the moment, Bratz dolls are thankfully the extent of my fatherly concerns regarding sexuality. My daughter wants them because friends at school have them, but I don't think it's a good idea to let her play with dolls that represent femininity as exclusively "sexy."
If you've never encountered MGA Entertainment's Bratz franchise, you haven't really thrown up in your mouth before. By all means, Google them and prepare to have your cheeks filled.
Marketed to girls aged 4 and up, the dolls and cartoons present young women in a way that seems more appropriately marketed to boys aged 16-18. Fishnet leggings, 6-inch platform heels, mini-skirts, feather boas and catsuits (fully represented in the Bratz wardrobe) are articles of clothing that are meant to be sexy, and I don't understand why a 6-year-old needs to look sexy or play with dolls that do.
The movies I watched and the toys I played with as a child shaped my imagination and certainly influenced my ideas and aspirations as an adolescent. If Barbie can contribute to body-image problems, I'd prefer not to take any chances with dolls that look like the entertainment at Ken's bachelor party.
I've found The American Psychological Association agrees with me on this one. In their 2007 report, they boldly say, "Although these dolls may present no more sexualization of girls or women than is seen in MTV videos, it is worrisome when dolls designed specifically for 4- to 8-year-olds are associated with an objectified adult sexuality."
When one considers that the people designing, producing and marketing these toys and shows are almost exclusively male and are not concerned with the healthy psychological development of the young girls who will receive their products from their careless parents, one could get justifiably mad.
While this kind of sexual objectification in children's toys and media is disturbing to me, it pales in comparison to the opposite extreme: the Purity Ball.
With the Purity Ball, we return to Airborne dad and the plastic-covered couch.
At a Purity Ball, tuxedo-clad fathers and fully-gowned teenage daughters eat cake, dance and make pledges of purity. The father's pledge is to be the "authority and protector" of their daughter's "purity." In this context, purity is a strictly a code word for sexual abstinence until marriage for the daughters and faithfulness for the fathers. It's not a moral code or standard that pertains to anything other than the general crotch region of both parties.
The message here is that once you become sexually active prior to marriage, you are impure, unholy, unclean and most certainly a disappointment to your father. In addition, it also implies that the sum of a woman — what makes her ultimately good or bad — is her marital status as it relates to her vagina.
This was the vibe I got from Airborne dad: If his daughter had sex with me, her academic achievement, her moral worth, her love for him and her future plans would all be tarnished, and he would have failed as a parent.
I want many things for my daughter, but an idealized notion of purity isn't one of them. I want her to go to college someday and learn about the world, the sciences, her fellow human beings and, yes, sex. It seems that in this social climate of scholastic decline and the worship of the most shallow and useless among us on television, we could use less misguided abstinence-pledging and more interaction with reality.
I'd like to see an "Academic Achievement Ball," where fathers pledge to take an active role in their daughters' educations, or a "Self-Esteem Ball," where fathers pledge to block MTV through their cable providers.
When I'm in Airborne dad's shoes, I'll try to remember that she is 17, that I've taught her she can say "no" if she wants to and that I hid condoms (and maybe a knife) in her purse. I'll still make the kid taking her out sit and sweat, but I don't think a shotgun will be necessary.
Besides, even if I point it at him from the second he walks in the door, he'll have forgotten all about me when she asks, "Did you remember to bring a condom?"
Trent Cason is a literature and cultural studies senior.