Sometimes an issue arises that just perfectly encapsulates what is SO UTTERLY MESSED UP about American culture. This apparently controversial doll from Spain (Bebe Gloton–the doll who breastfeeds) is just that issue. See Fox “News” coverage here, where, not surprisingly, they had a quote or two about how breastfeeding is good and healthy, but then made sure to bring it home in that old “family values” way by quoting this gem of a paragraph comparing teaching girls about breastfeeding to teaching them about alcoholism, erectile dysfunction, and going to jail:

“What’s next?” wrote Eric Ruhalter, a parenting columnist for New Jersey’s Star Ledger. “Bebe Sot — the doll who has a problem with a different kind of bottle, and loses his family, job and feelings of self-worth? Bebe Limp — the male doll who experiences erectile dysfunction? Bebe Cell Mate — a weak, unimposing doll that experiences all the indignation and humiliation of life in prison?

Really, there are just no words. Although apparently this guy describes himself as an off-the-cuff parenting blogger, NOT a parenting columnist as Fox would have it, and he did post an apology not long after that article. And really, it’s not his fault that aside from the relatively small and vocal breastfeeding activist community, probably a large chunk of America feels the way he does (or did, until he was firmly reprimanded by some of those ladies at La Leche-DO NOT MESS WITH THEM!) about this toy. The following are all actual quotes I heard around my otherwise forward-thinking workplace when the issue first started buzzing about: “Ew!” “That’s disgusting!” “That’s so inappropriate.” “That toy should be banned.”

Why do so many people have such a visceral, negative reaction to this toy? Let’s take a step back for just a minute and UNPACK this issue, shall we?

The main arguments I’ve heard against this doll so far are that it’s developmentally inappropriate because of the “sexual” nature of breastfeeding, and that encouraging girls to play with this doll will give them too-early maternal urges and turn them into unwed teenage mothers. (I know, the latter seems laughable, but I’ll address it as if it’s serious in a minute.)

To the first argument: Sometimes I think other people have a really weird and incongruent sense of what is appropriate/inappropriate. For instance, it is likely that many of the same people who told me that the doll was disgusting would think these bikini-cut undies for 5 year olds are “SO CUTE” and that this video is “ADORABLE”. (For the record, I also think the video is adorable, just really, really disturbing at the same time.) To me there is such a disconnect here–it’s okay to “sexualize” girls at a very young age in the “I’m so cute and sexy” sense, but it’s disgusting and sick to “sexualize” them in the “Here’s the biology behind how you will someday feed your child” sense?

To the second argument: If you really, honestly believe that THIS doll will encourage girls to have babies too soon, then you must also be in favor of not letting them play with ANY dolls, since little girls (and boys–omg, can you IMAGINE what Fox would do if they got their hands on a picture of a little boy playing with the breastfeeding doll?!) are already spending large quantities of time playing house, changing diapers, and otherwise caring for imaginary children–even, dare I say it–PRETENDING TO BREASTFEED THEM. I fail to see what the developmental difference is between a baby doll marketed to “drink” from a bottle by moving her mouth and a baby doll marketed to “drink” from a flower-petal breast. In fact, the only real difference is that one of those dolls sends a message to our girls that there is an ideal and completely UNshameful way to nourish a baby that we hope they choose if circumstances allow someday.

What are ignored in any of the discussions I’ve seen so far are the consequences of our misogynistic over-sexualizing of boobies in the “men want to grab them” sense and our prudish under-sexualizing of boobies in the “babies should be allowed to suck them” sense. When it was finally time for me to try my hand at the breastfeeding thing, I was struck by the fact that I was thirty years old and fairly well educated, yet one of the most complicated but necessary bodily functions women have was a complete mystery to me. Because breastfeeding is a hidden, taboo topic, individual women are left to figure it out on their own, for the first time ever, IN THE MOMENT while they are completely exhausted/overwhelmed by the new little creatures that have suddenly popped into and forever changed their lives–new little creature who are chomping their nipples to bloody bits on an hourly basis. Unless they have the wherewithal to reach out to somewhat intimidating strangers for help, many of them are going it ALONE (or worse, going it with an older female relative saying, “You’re not still trying to do THAT, are you?”). No wonder more women than we’d like give up or are too scared to try at all!

Imagine instead a society where young girls routinely watched their mothers and relatives and friends breastfeed as they grew up. Where they discussed the ins and outs of what could go wrong. Where they saw women openly supporting and encouraging each other through the process. Where they *gasp* had seen lots of different kinds of boobies and lots of different kinds of babies drinking from them. Where they already had a meaningful vocabulary of technical terms that they had heard used and seen applied in their daily lives. Where they understood a breast’s primary purpose to be what it actually is–an everyday tool for nourishing their children, rather than what we’ve allowed it to become–a “naughty” toy for fulfilling men’s sexual desires.

When it came time to breastfeed their own children, it would be like second nature. No big whoop. How is that a bad thing?

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