Sunday, September 14, 2008

mina muses innocence, and the loss of it

yesterday i was talking to Clever A who is going off to college in england and we got to talking about childhood toys and things (i think it led off from the fact that we were all watching spongebob with the twins), and the Evolution of Barbie- from only homemaker or teacher barbie, she now does everything. barbie is emancipated so that little girls don't get the wrong idea about what women can or cannot do. which makes sense- but from a grown-up perspective, no? this is what i began thinking: we grew up blissfully unaware of any subtext running through any of the toys we played with or the books we read, only to grow up and discover/be informed (because there is a difference) that enid blyton was a colonialist, racist writer and that barbie is the anti-christ of feminism for being an insipid, disproportionate representation of womanhood. does the average six year old know about that, or care if one explained?
"baby, barbies are bad because nobody's hips are that slender and nobody has that many clothes. and you can do ANYTHING you want in your life- that kitchen set is just a toy, although if you want to be a chef that's totally fine too"
of course, there is a lot to be said for the environment in which you bring up a child, and their perceptions of men and women and social roles have a lot to do with what they see their caregivers doing and behaving like. but at the same time, they're probably going to squirm and want to run off and resume dressing barbie for the oscars and brushing her hair into a big foofy mass with the annoying little plastic brush that never brushed their hair smoothly.

take golliwog in the amelia jane stories. i never, ever thought golliwog was anything but a very intelligent little black dolly with curly hair. of course, in retrospect i am faintly horrified that there were little black sambo dollies like that, but golliwog wasn't nasty (except for i think once, when another golliwog comes to the nursery and he was quite a mean thing) and he was always the one who came up with the intelligent and reasonable ideas to Save the Day. he was the Boss of the Nursery usually. what a bad name though- golliwog. wog. haw hai.

but again the point is: at age seven, i didn't know about any of that, and i don't know if it made a difference to my sensibilities as an adult. if anything, i'm a little put out that a cherished childhood story will never be the same any more because of some grown-up theory slapped onto it. i think kids should just be left alone to play and not fuss about whether little red riding hood is actually a story to discourage young women from leaving the house unsupervised lest some predatory man 'attack' them and just let the story BE. there's plenty of time when the grow up to be disabused of all notions of fantasy and make-believe. i know that one cannot, after a certain point, ignore subtexts and the connection of any story to a point in social history but i also know that one can sometimes just have a story or a toy for the pleasure of what one can make of it, and not have to tie it down to one thing or the other.

Mina at 2:29 PM