This year, my husband and I became first-time parents. We're fortunate to have a bright and beautiful baby girl to buy Christmas presents for, so when the usual holiday deluge of toy catalogs arrived, I eagerly paged through the biggest one from Toys R Us. Now this might sound strange, but within the brightly colored pages full of holiday cheer and happy children I crashed into the Kubler-Ross Model, also known as the five stages of grief:
Denial. I'm honestly having trouble digesting the amazing range of kickass toys kids have to play with these days. From the Smart Cycle, where a child pedals to steer a virtual car, and Lego's Monster Dino (walks, roars, a glow-in-the-dark spine!) to Moon Sand (space-age play-doh) and Fisher-Price digital arts and crafts studio. All of it left me yearning to be five-years-old again so I could relive my youth with them instead of Candy Land and Pong.
Anger. By the time I finished the girls' section, I'd worked myself into a feminist rage. It started as a quiet simmer while I checked out kid-sized kitchen ensembles, ginormous dollhouses, and doll babies that drank from a bottle, wiggled, peed and cried. I might be in the minority, but I don't think toys should mimic the boredom of domestic life. Too 1950s, if you get my drift. But I changed my tune by the time I got through the Princess Barbie crap. The frilly dresses, the vanity table with three mirrors. (Paperwork, not reflections, should come in triplicate.) It made me cringe. Not to mention that the princess narrative demands a prince who sometimes kisses her into life and always sweeps her away into Happily Ever After. Sound like reality to you?
Suddenly, cooking and diapers didn't look half bad.
When I got to the Bratz ad, I was like a bull seeing red -- and I wanted to spear me some matador ass. Now, I know I'm not the first mother to be critical of these dolls, but I've got to wonder: Who exactly is buying them? They are a mother's marketing nightmare. The name alone: Who wants to glamorize and encourage daughters to become brats? Plus, with their collagen-injected lips, heavy makeup and thong underwear, they look less like toys girls should play with and more like "toys" you'd find in a strip club. Not a surprise: They were created by Van Nuys, CA-based MGA Entertainment Inc. -- straight outta San Pornando Valley and into your daughter's bedroom. Thanks to Bratz, girls everywhere will know life's essentials: How to style hair, put on makeup, shop, and be a model or movie star. What's next? A fat doll with junk food accessories that sits on a toy couch and watches TV all day? Call it the Dreaming of Diabetes Doll. Tag line: "All the cool kids are getting it!"
Just because you like something doesn't mean it's good for you. Thank you, Stephen Colbert, for sticking a Bratz in the microwave.
Bargaining. I cheered up as I passed 10 pages filled with unisex toys: Tech, bikes, and games. Here's the bargain: If I'm careful and strategic about the toys I buy my daughter, she'll never want a Bratz doll. Then again, I could buy one, microwave it and tell her dolls that look like whores end up deformed. Or we could live on a farm, far from civilization where her only friends would be our barnyard animals. Yeah, I could nurture my own little psychopath; my own female Norman Bates if you will. Bargaining is now officially off the table.
Depression. Stage four. Now I'm back to hurting: I've reached the boys' section only to find my heart sinking at the realization that their codification is just way cooler. Fantastic imaginaries like Justice League, Transformers, Star Wars and onward, all masculine activity rather than feminine passivity, otherwise known as sitting in front of a mirror. Even the domestic toys for boys -- police officers, firefighters, the military -- are more appealing. They don't just strut down runways, they stop them from catching fire. They help people, save lives. The worst toys had to be the fake wrestling spectacles of WWF and WWE, but hey, they're still better than Bratz.
You don't see boys playing with 50 cent or Kid Rock dolls. Their popcult toys -- Force FX Lightsabers, Nerf Spiderman vs. Venom Dart Game and more -- are far more intriguing. Now I'm more than depressed. I'm bitter.
Acceptance. I feel a calm come over me as I reach the final pages, chock full of scientific games, musical instruments and -- yes! -- the wonderful world of Wii. I realize that there are enough interesting toys out there to prevent girls from living and breathing the lameness of Bratz, if you're willing to make the effort and shell out the cash. The inequity of toy coolness will probably never go away though, and I accept that as well.
But there's no rule that says girls can't play with the boys' toys.