Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

16 March 2009

Why Mattel & Nick have it wrong

Mattel finally let us in on how the new Dora will look. I have to admit that she doesn't look as bad as I thought she would.

She looks like almost any 10-year-old you would see running around this world. If this was the image for a new cartoon with a smart and adventurous Latina as the lead, I think we'd have a party to celebrate. But it's not. It's our dear beloved Dora the Explorer.

Mattel & Nick are upset at us moms for attacking the tweening of Dora:

"I think there was just a misconception in terms of where we were going with this," Gina Sirard, vice president of marketing at Mattel, says. "Pretty much the moms who are petitioning aging Dora up certainly don't understand. ... I think they're going to be pleasantly happy once this is available in October, and once they understand this certainly isn't what they are conjuring up."

But even with a nice drawing of New Dora, I'm still not happy with this move.

First, New Dora will be computerized and one of the options will be to change her eye color. As the #1 Latina role model for girls, I think that it's inappropriate for the doll to be able to change its eye color. The dominant standard for beauty is still blond with blue eyes. There is a classic race experiment that was recreated in 2006 where black girls preferred white dolls. Is there a chance we are sending a message to the Latinas playing with New Dora that they should also want to change their eye color? (Yes, I know not all Latinas have cafe brown eyes, but Dora does.)

Second, Boots gets the boot. Dora has grown up and ditched her childhood friends for a gaggle of tween girls. Up until now most of Dora's friends have been boys - Boots, Tico, Bennie and even Swiper, who displays classic crush signs by always annoying Dora - but once she hits tweenage, she's all about the girls? Why couldn't Dora at least keep Boots as her BFF and add a few new girls to the picture? Why not Isa at least? I also admit that the first thought of Dora & gals is gossipy, mall-going-gals. Hopefully Dora & gang will be more Traveling Pants than Gossip Girl.

Third, the shoes. Yes, they are cute, but they are not adventurous shoes. Nancy Drew wore loafers. Sally Brown wore tennis shoes.

I freely admit that I'm making all these assumptions by taking in the world around our daughters and leaping. The same world that pushes our girls to rip out their pubic hair before it's fully grown in, the same world that is helping to push eating disorders from high school to grade school, the same world that says that 10 is the new 15, which is the new 22. The sexualization of our daughters can not be ignored. We must be on guard.

Nickelodeon and Mattel say that as part of unrelated research, they found parents wanted a way to keep Dora in their children's lives and have their daughters move on to a toy that was age appropriate.

What Mattel & Nick are doing is feeding our need to keep our girls as young as possible with the theory that our 6-year-olds will want an older Dora. I'm sure some will. Heck, I'm almost certain mine will.

But the real question is why do we want our kids to clutch to Dora until college? Well because we see what lurks in the other parts of the toy aisles. The dolls-we-don't-mention-and-walk-fast-past. We see how even girl clothes are snug and form fitting. That their clothes don't seem to be made for playing, rather posing.

And that's what Mattel and Nick don't get.

The outrage is not just about Dora, it is because we know that Dora is the safe one. The good girl. The toy and cartoon that we haven't had to monitor. Any tampering with our Dora rocks our world. If Dora isnt' safe, what the hell will we do?

The outrage is powered by pent up outrage over the sexualization of our daughters, of their dolls and their clothing.

The outrage is far more than just tween-ifying Dora. It is about all the other small things that inch our daughters closer to 90210 and further away from cuddling with us on the couch with the Backyardigans. It'll happen in its own time...if society let it happen in its own time.

Thanks to The Unexpected Twists & Turns, Feministing, Boston.com, Greg Laden's Blog, Alas, a blog & Metafilter for the linky love. Welcome new readers! I've also added a Dora tag to all my Dora posts for easy access to all my other Dora rantings.

10 comments:

Wonderful post. I don't have a problem with Dora growing up, but I agree that she shouldn't forget her roots and adopt all of society's stereotypes instead.

I grew up with the comic strip For Better or for Worse. I started reading it as soon as I could read and I still read it to this day. I enjoyed growing up with Michael and Elizabeth and I appreciated the reality and the diversity presented in that comic strip.

We don't need to turn Dora into another version of Barbie. Just let her be a kid.

wow! I hadn't heard about this! even dora isn't safe - we're doomed!!

I don't see what the big deal is about, she doesn't look sexualized to me. And they said they weren't changing the show or replacing the old Dora, and that this is just an extension for kids 5-8 who give up Dora. They aren't changing your precious Dora, this is just another version of it.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090316/ap_on_en_tv/dora_for_tweens

But how is she supposed to explore in that outfit? That's what I don't get...

I don't know, it seems like they are trying to mirror the developmental things that girls go through. Sexualization is one of them. Girls need to be taught to manage that, not pretend it isnt happening.
Also, spending more time with girls than boys is normal for that age. At any age, we base our perceptions of self on the people we spend our time with. Mattel didn't create socialization of male and female stereotypes, and they can't be attacked for perpetuating them. I think many mothers continue to buy pink and frilly for their daughters and encourage them to wear makeup before their first period- The only thing to do is to work with daughters and sons to look at this critically. They will be bombarded with stereotypes for the rest of their life and they need to understand how to manage their responses.

I thought it was nice that Dora was a girl without being a girly girl. Yes, it's probably better marketing to make her look like a girly girl, because statistically more girls want to identify with this look. But some don't, and though I'm just guessing, I bet a lot of "tomboys" will be sad to have the change, and feel once again like they just don't fit in. And some girly girls still can - and probably should, I think - identify with a wider range of "girl" - and Dora's girl-ness was just one part of her, rather than the sole defining thing. And I don't think her eye color should be changeable. Other characters don't have changeable eye color. And Dora is very positioned as Hispanic - a rare Hispanic girl role model, and the biggest cartoon one by far, I dare say. I don't have a girl, but my 3-year old boy watches Dora. I'll bet he won't want to watch the new Dora.

Thanks everyone!

One point of clarification, from what I have read, the change will only for in doll form. The cartoon will be Dora not Tween Dora. Which I actually think is even worse. If you're gonna age Dora, let's go all the way!

adrian-ilo - I'm not at all sure that a toy for young girls needs to work through the predatory experiences of premature sexualising that she may be encountering or about to encounter. Surely it is not too much to ask that her toys offer her some respite from that exploitation.