My two young daughters have several dolls, and I have to say, I take issue with all of them. It's not the comb-able hair or all the outfits and accessories or the whippet-like and over-sexualized Barbies. I don't approve of those either, but in the end they're the lesser evil.
It's that their dolls don't move. There are no knee or elbow joints. These dolls are immobile and helpless compared to boy's action figures, that, even when I was young, could move in 500 different directions. The girl dolls can't be configured to run, jump, kick, climb — to do, really, anything other than model clothes. Even the Dora the Explorer doll's knees and elbows are fused and unmoving, undermining everything Dora herself stands for.
Worst of all, they all seem uncomfortable in their own bodies. Barbie seems almost paralyzed with the fear of embarrassing herself with an ungraceful move, her face frozen in a mock smile. She can't even sit down properly.
When I was a teenager, my dad pointed out an aspect of girls' fashion at that time, which was to wear over-sized sweatshirts. The girls retracted their hands into, and clenched the ends of, the sleeves from the inside. They became essentially handless and at that moment appeared completely unable or unwilling to do anything but stand there. It was an affected helplessness and after he pointed it out to me, I saw it everywhere.
This concerns me, because after teaching 6-9 graders for several years through a summer program I saw many girls on the first day of class that were mortified of saying or doing anything embarrassing, to the point of simply remaining silent. The boys cavorted around like a pack of dogs, oblivious. The girls looked worried that someone would stab them if they did anything unseemly. It's that same terrified paralysis.
I'm on the lookout for dolls that move like my daughters move, that can scale trees, jump on trampolines or sprint like gazelles. I don't want my daughters growing up horrified by their own bodies, their limbs rigid and bound as the Bride of Frankenstein's.
With a Perspective, this is Mike Newland.
Mike Newland is an archaeologist with the Anthropological Studies Center at Sonoma State University.