Monday, December 23, 2002

Mattel Hammers One More Nail Into Childhood’s Coffin

In the Outlook section of the Sunday Dec. 22 Washington Post, outraged Baltimore school teacher Deborah Roffman protests yet another example of the seemingly endless trend in popular American culture to sexualize childhood.

In the past, Roffman points out, the culprits have been the recording and fashion industries: Witness, for example, the influence of pop singer Britney Spears’ increasingly risqué “fashion” sense on the ways adolescent, and even prepubescent, girls dress in public. Witness also, says Roffman, the rapidly lowering age of more and more kids getting caught up in sexual activities:

Those of us in the business of education have been worried about middle- and high-school students for a while. The stories of the past few years are harrowing ….[But] [t]he litany of stories I'm hearing now involving young children are even more disturbing: "freak" dancing or "grinding" at fifth-grade graduation parties in public school buildings, with adults as passive onlookers; 8-year-olds being taken to see R-rated movies such as "American Pie II"; elementary school children posting sexual jokes and messages online, even on school networks; mothers finding pornographic passages in their fifth-grade daughters' diaries; fourth-grade boys turning to fourth-grade girls in the cafeteria line and asking, "Do you spit or swallow?"

In too many cases, Roffman argues, adults have been not only willfully blind to these dangerous phenomena, but even complicit in them, at least psychologically. Including adults in positions of great influence in children’s lives, up to and including toymakers. This is where Mattel comes in according to Roffman:

Still seeking that perfect gift for a special young girl in your life? …For a mere $45, you can surprise and delight her with a Lingerie Barbie. And what a Barbie Babe she is, decked out in her sexy black (or, if you prefer, pink) garters, stockings and obligatory stiletto heels. Even her PR is PG, giving the phrase "sex toy" a whole new level of meaning: "Barbie exudes a flirtatious attitude in her heavenly merry widow bustier ensemble accented with intricate lace and matching peekaboo peignoir." …Mattel [also] plans a February launch for its sixth "limited edition" Lingerie Barbie, promising she'll be "simply sassy in a short pearl-grey satin slip trimmed in black lace" and "thigh-high stockings" that "add a hint of flair."

Yep, now Mattel, it seems, is moving its famous “teen fashion model” out of the fashion business and into the soft porn business –and targeting children as its key market. Oh, yes: Forget about Mattel’s “disclaimer” that Lingerie Barbie is for “age 14 and up.” As any parent can tell you, Barbie’s chief market is the 6 to 12 year-old set. “Get real,” one adolescent student puts it, "No 14-year-old girl would be caught dead playing with a Barbie Doll, 'lingerie' or otherwise. Who do they think they're kidding?"

Who indeed!

Happily, says Roffman, both the teachers and parents of young girls –and in many instances, young girls themselves—are up in arms about Mattel’s shamelessly shameful new strategy of making a buck off kids:

Teachers and parents (even among Barbie fans) can't believe their ears when they hear about this one: Disgusting! How dare they! Don't they have little girls of their own? Where will it all end? Enough!!

Many teens I know, and even younger children, have been equally outraged. High school students at one all-girls school in Tennessee where I recently spoke were moved to start a national letter-writing campaign to chastise Mattel for this brazen sexualization of children.

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