When I wrote the articles, The Gender Politics of Toys Part I and The Gender Politics of Toys Part II, I had not envisioned the need for a three part series. However, despite my advocacy for true gender equality and my bringing attention to society ignoring the suffering and needs of boys while championing girls, the media has not brought attention to this problem. In fact, in the latest toy news, the powerful mainstream media has been assisting a Pittsburg artist, Nickolay Lamm, in stimulating the crowd funding for a new alternative to the Barbie doll: Lammily, with the slogan, “Average is Beautiful”.
Although this is a very positive development, it doesn’t take a thinking, socially conscious person long to realize that this female doll has no male counterpart. Buying into the myth that girls and women suffer more pressure (and thus more angst) to look a certain way, the Lammily doll ignores that boys, also, need an action figure doll that looks more proportionally human. Would the mainstream media had spread this story had Lamm created a male doll instead of a female doll?
Male action figure dolls are often far more drastic than Barbie in their unattainable body proportions. Yet parents, researchers and society as a whole does not seem at all concerned with how these dolls affect their sons’ self esteem or body image. It seems as if parents don’t concern themselves at all with the often secret angst boys feel about their bodies and body image, being trained by the media to believe that only girls feel pressure to meet a certain standard of physical beauty. I wonder, how many parents of sons have ever wondered if their sons feel they are beautiful? How many mothers and fathers actually tell their sons they are beautiful?
My son and I watched a news interview with Lamm and in response, I sent him the following email:
I am a researcher, mental health counselor, author and mother of a 20 year old son. I have been working with youth for two decades. I have been trusted with the angst of thousands of boys and girls as young as toddlers and as old as college age. I am disheartened that your attempt at making more realistic dolls has excluded boys, seeming to cater to what is politically correct in society: A focus on girls while ignoring boys.
My son and I cringed at a comment you made in a news story, “If I can feel inadequate at times, I can’t imagine what women have to go through who are subject to much higher beauty standards than us men”.
We disagree and we discussed this prior to me writing. As a woman myself, as the mother of a son and as a child and adolescent mental health counselor, I want you to be aware that boys and young men suffer incredible pressure to live up to impossible standards of physical attractiveness, all while they get the message their entire lives that “boys can’t be beautiful” and “girls are more beautiful than boys”.
As a woman and when I was a girl, I suffered no more pressures or insecurities than my male friends or partners suffered; in fact I bore far less burden because I am female- As an adult, I was able to heal from those youthful insecurities with supports and affirmations that men are not provided in this society. While our society is set up to remind girls and women how beautiful they are, boys are rarely told they are beautiful. They are only told they aren’t desirable unless they have the bodies of ripped body builders.
Have you looked at Barbie’s Ken doll or any of the action figure dolls for boys? The musculature, groin and body proportions on the male dolls are just as impossible as Barbie. It perplexes me when I see people in our society, especially men, who are in a position to stand up for both girls and boys and their suffering, but who instead present gender issues in a false “female victim”/”male privilege” manner, ignoring the equal (or in many cases worse) suffering of males in our society.
If you had focused your entire project on an “average is beautiful” male action figure doll, not a female doll, you would not have received the attention of the powerful media outlets that you received. They are politically motivated and politically charged and focusing on boys as victims is not something they accept.
Why not work for true gender equality and put out an “average is beautiful” (and yes, use the word “beautiful”) male action figure doll?
-Laurie A. Couture