The controversy brewing over a new breastfeeding doll soon to be sold in the United States reminds me of the bru-ha-ha about Teletubbies when Jerry Falwell accused Tinky Winky of being gay. People rightfully upset about homophobia came to the support of the show, misguidedly defending the goodness of Teletubbies—which was being marketed, falsely, as educational for babies.
Public discourse about Breast Milk Baby is following the same lines. Arguments over the doll are centered on culture wars—whether it is appropriate for young children to witness breastfeeding, imitate it, or even know what it is.
Fox News Pundit Bill O’Reilly worries that it will make kids grow up to soon. The American rep for Berjuan Toys, the Spanish Company making the doll, claims to have God on his side, saying "We’re being called perverts and pedophiles for promoting feeding our babies the way God intended? Churches all over the world are filled with images of Mary nursing baby Jesus. . ." Dr. Logan Levkoff, a sexologist writing for the Huffington Post, is mixed about the doll. “How are kids supposed to make sense of Breast Milk Baby,” she asks, “if the majority of their dolls are missing genitals a la Barbie and Ken?” She’s concerned that without proper education, introducing the doll will fixate children on breasts.
It’s the wrong argument.
The real trouble with Breast Milk Baby is not that it promotes breastfeeding. It’s that it undermines creative play. Like any toy that talks, sucks, walks or what have you—thanks to the wonders of modern technology—the doll robs children of opportunities to exercise their imagination, to truly interact with their toys, and to make their play personally meaningful.
Here’s where I come down: Of course we should, along with the World Health Organization, Michelle Obama, the AAP, and myriad public health organizations, support breastfeeding. Of course children should be allowed to see breast feeding if they encounter it naturally. And of course children should be allowed to pretend that their baby dolls are breast feeding. But they don’t need an expensive doll (suggested retail price: $69.99) specially designed for electronic sucking and sold with a special halter to play about nursing. The toys most useful for children, and the ones that generate the most fun, just lie there until children invest them with life or transform them into something else.
This is World Breastfeeding Week. Let’s celebrate, and speak out all year round for the benefits of breastfeeding. And let’s discourage parents from buying this ridiculous doll. It benefits the toy industry, not children.