The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Barbie Kicks The Bratz Out Of The Dollhouse

Posted by Clem Bastow on December 5, 2008

ABC News Americas take on the prize fight

Good Morning America's take on the fracas

After a lengthy court case (Mattell successfully sued the makers of Bratz, alleging that MGA Entertainment’s Carter Bryant was still working at Mattell when he came up with the Bratz concept; Bratz have been Barbie’s major competitor since their 2001 debut), MGA Entertainment have been ordered to cease production of Bratz dolls. Once the Christmas sales are over, shelves must be cleared, and the copyright for the bobble-headed fashion dolls (so often raised in conversations about the apparent “sexualisation” of children and teens) will ‘return’ to Mattell, who have not indicated whether or not they will begin their own production of the Bratz line.

Barbie has long been a lightning rod for feminist debate, but at least she’s had a job (well, many, though her recent return to Princessdom is a little played out); to me, Bratz’ raison d’etre seemed to be fashion, consumerism and sex (even if it was only implied, but you can’t tell me the ‘Formal Funk’ prom night playset didn’t look geared to take it back to the hotel suite after the afterparty).

Of course, Barbie’s body and face remains ridiculously idealised to the point of surrealism, but surely it says something about the doll market’s evolution that putting a Bratz playset or two next to Barbie makes the latter look like a hopeless nerd. It’s hard to imagine Bratz letting Share A Smile Becky in on their fashion sprees.

What do you think? Are Barbie and Bratz one and the same, or would you rather play Barbies over Bratz? I’d also be very interested to hear from some parent Chorus members – do you steer clear of both dolls, or do you see Barbie as the lesser of two evils?

17 Responses to “Barbie Kicks The Bratz Out Of The Dollhouse”

  1. caitlinate said

    If I had a kid I probably wouldn’t want them to be playing with either of the dolls but I’d be definitely banning Bratz from their hands – I wouldn’t want my kids getting the idea that the way they were dressed and the storylines around them were something to aspire to! At the same time I played with Barbie as a kid and – as an only child – I remember having a lot of imaginative fun with them and my various other dolls and toys. I don’t think I’d be stopping kids from playing with Barbie but I’d certainly be harping on a lot more about how unreal the image that comes with is…

  2. Clem Bastow said

    Totally. The other thing that strikes me about Barbie (though whether or not Mattell are aware of it is another question) is that, generally speaking, “she” seems to end up being a part of much more free play – i.e. kids cutting Barbie’s hair, or making movies with her, or attaching a parachute to her arms and throwing her off the roof (guilty as charged). So, even though the playsets and official accessories are available, and regardless of the theme of the doll itself, the majority of kids seem to just absorb whichever doll they get into their own toys and world. Hence Barbie has lunch with the Transformers, etc etc.

    Bratz always seemed geared towards being a toy that could only play within its own constructed world (i.e. the old ‘each sold separately’) and with its own “kind”.

  3. oh that’s really interesting – although i’m sure that it won’t be long before we see the Bratz dolls renamed, repackaged and back on the shelves.

    my 6yo has both Barbie and Bratz dolls, but i have to say that the Bratz are rarely played with. i don’t know why that is – possibly she prefers Barbie’s wardrobe, which has more princess-y type leanings!

    i struggled with the decision to get those Bratz dolls, i really can’t stand them – but she was given them as presents – so what can you do?

    i have such fond memories of playing with my Barbie dolls as a child, it’s funny to see my daughter playing those same games. Barbie often runs her own shop, drives to parties in her flash car and has sleepovers with her friends. We’re Australian, but my daughter always puts on the funniest American voice when she ‘talks’ for her dolls. Hilarious!

  4. tina_sparkle said

    bratz are ugly. aside from that I’m so pleased they’re being removed from the shelves (event though it was for breach of copyright, nothing to do with the fact that they’re the antithesis of what a quality doll should be).

    I’d rather have my daughter playing with an out of proportion blonde haired institution any day, over a doll which looks like a transsexual sex worker.

  5. bri said

    Personally I would prefer to avoid both but my 2 year old was given a generic Barbie doll and she loves it. Then she found a box of my old Barbies from when I was a child and she adopted them. We now have a host of naked (and often headless or legless) Barbies around the house. I figure I played with Barbies constantly until I was about 12 and I still embrace feminism so there is hope for my daughter… I just try to balance the Barbies out with other toys and concepts.

  6. Kat said

    I’m curious, what in the prom night playset suggests something more than going to a dance?

    I am also cautious in condemnation of Bratz as I do think that there is may be some underlying sexist/racist views which come into play.

    Why are the Bratz dolls often described as ugly and more overtly sexual than Barbie? Aren’t these historically comments which have been directed at Latino and Black women?. The transsexual sexworker comment I think was uncalled for.

    The truth is Barbie is just as gross and out of proportion as the brats dolls are. Maybe we are just more use to seeing that vacant plastic face so it doesn’t bother us as much.

    Still, it’s not so much what the toy is, but how it is played with. It is the rampant consumerism and importance of having the right accessories which both dolls promote which really bothers me!

  7. As a Mum, I tried to steer my seven year old daughter to Barbie but Bratz won out every time. ALL her friends had them and the sluttier the better it seemed.
    Most of my Mum friends would stand around in the school carpark and bemoan the fact our children only wanted to play dress ups Bratz dolls with latex black pants, ripped boob tubes and knee hi boots.
    Then they brought out “baby bratz” which were mini-sluts in nappies. Just lovely.

    Thankfully by about nine my girl didn’t want to play with her twenty bratz and so generously donated them to a six year old down the road. yay!

  8. Gena said

    http://blogs.news.com.au/jackmarxlive/index.php/news/comments/the_constitutional_feminist/

    thats what I call bratz!!

  9. scal said

    Kat, you may well be right about Barbie’s ridiculous figure and face having been “normalised” over the years, but I don’t think the concerns about Bratz are racially-motivated. They have half-shut, averted eyes and pouty lips, and their clothes include things like fishnet stockings and hotpants. Barbie is gross for all kinds of reasons, but hers is more of an infantalised “wholesome” look (the pale pink lips, pink cheeks etc) than the pouty, raunchy look of Bratz.

    Hey, the Bratz website is HI-larious. “[Jade’s] favorite means of working out is to put on some cool electronic music and show off her new wave dance skills. And she likes to incorporate that music into her homemade fashion shows, too!”

  10. Bearded Lady said

    Let’s not forget that Mattel’s Barbie was modelled on the Bild Lilli doll (itself based on a bawdy, gold-digging German cartoon character) and marketed to adult men in bars and tobacconists. Eventually Lilli became popular among children but parents of the 1950s had similar reservations about the doll’s sexualized appearance that parents do about Bratz dolls today.

    Barbie is ‘wholesome’ in the same way that cheesecake is now empowering or ‘ironic’.

  11. Nico said

    I can forsee battles with my as yet to be conceived daughter. I find Bratz and Barbies horrifying – altho I agree with many of the comments decrying the excessive sexualisation of the Bratz. It’s a shame that line of dolls has made Barbies seem acceptable/harmless in comparison.

  12. Kat said

    Scal, what I was suggesting is that the eyes and the lips and the skin tones of Bratz do look more racially diverse, and to call those ugly and sexual (rather than concentrating on the clothes and attitudes) does imply that being white apple pie (even huge breasted and constantly in high heels) is less sexual and more normal.

    I think all we can do is have age appropriate conversations about advertising and marketing with children and provide variation and alternatives.

    I’m not cheering Bratz being taken off shelves when it is Barbie who is benefiting, rather than social attitudes changing.

  13. Jaa said

    My mum made a decision not to buy Barbies for me and no gun toys for my brother. This just made me always want to play with my friend’s Barbies at their houses, but at home I happily played with lego, other dolls and homemade swords.

  14. scal said

    Cheesecake is empowering? Well, I suppose it does contain a lot of energy.

    If you look at what I wrote, I wasn’t actually agreeing that Barbie is wholesome; I was merely pointing out that her infantalised look was grotesque in a different way to Bratz’ sulky, pouty sexuality.

    Bild Lili had heavy eye makeup and red lipstick. Yeah, maybe Barbie was modelled on her, but Barbie’s pink and blue makeup is much more in line with that American “apply pie” kind of beauty. Which they regard as “wholesome”.

  15. Bearded Lady said

    @ Scal

    My point was that the Bratz of today is the Barbie of tomorrow.

  16. kenly said

    I love Bratz! I love MGA! I love bratz clothes and makeup! I hate Mattel for sue-ing bratz! If Mattel does not sell more bratz i will sue THEM!

  17. I am a bratz fan! i worship bratz and i strongly agree with Kenly!!! im not joking but all together i have 78 bratz and a limo,jet,convey van,passion for fashion dream house,bratz world house, motor bike, convertible, horses! i even made a web site about bratz. i dont give a shit that bratz dress like sluts so dont sue them for it they can just change the clothers. but mum told me that the not suing it just for that. its because a guy from barbie made bratz and copied some. barbie is an ugly doll. their ideas are crap. im 11 and i still play with bratz cause their the best and more grown up. im not gonna play with barbie. its kiddish and babyish. i hate mattel and i hate barbie and i will turn people on barbie cause i hate barbie and i will kill all the barbies i have(witch is only 2 cause i hate their guts) I HATE MATTEL AND BARBIE JERKS (TEARS)

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