The Lil’ Hos Go Down

Knowing my utter loathing for the whorelicious line of dolls known as Bratz, the entire concept of which seems to be to show little girls just how good life will be if only they will turn themselves into vapid pre-teen mall sluts, several people have forwarded me stories of how a judge has ordered Bratz dolls — all of them — off the shelf after the company that made them lost a copyright suit to Mattel, maker of Barbie. Their expectation is that I would be greeting this news with something close to joy.

But actually, I’m somewhat less than enthused about the ruling. In a legal sense, I think the ruling is a bit much; from what I know of the case I think Mattel is probably due some compensation from the Bratz maker, but forcing the entire product line off the shelf seems unduly punitative and tastes to me vaguely like restraint of trade. I haven’t been following the case all that closely, mind you, so I fully acknowledge there may be complexities to the decision I don’t get. Nevertheless, on first blush, yanking the entire line seems excessive to me.

But more to the point to my moral disgust of Bratz dolls, the Bratz going off the market because of a copyright dispute is like Al Capone going to prison for tax evasion. Maybe it achieves the desired result, but it misses the point along the way. I don’t want Bratz to disappear because the purveyor of a separate doll that gives young girls an entirely different suite of body and self-esteem issues has used the legal system to force its primary competitor off the market. I want the Bratz to disappear because parents look at them, decide they’re seriously screwed up, and bar them from their homes.

Which is what we’ve done here. We’re a Bratz-free home because we don’t buy them for Athena, and when one of the line makes an exploratory excursion into the home, it gets “disappeared” as soon as Athena gets distracted by some other toy. This has the side of effect of my daughter taunting me with Bratz commercials when they appear on the televisions, because she knows how much I loathe them, and it amuses her to see me fume. But on the other hand she also knows why I loathe them. I don’t claim to be a perfect parent, but inasmuch as my kid understands why I might not want her to play with inappropriately sexualized noseless dolls wearing more facepaint than an entire clown college, I’m winning that particular war.

In any event, it’s not just that I want the Bratz dolls to die; I want them to die for the right reason. That’s not happening, whether Mattel agrees with me or not.

139 thoughts on “The Lil’ Hos Go Down

  1. Now if only Al Capone had gone to jail for making Bratz barbie knockoffs we could have had a win-win. Hmm, I wonder if Karl Rove has any shares of MGA…

  2. I haven’t read the decision, and it’s been years since I did anything in the copyright/trademark area, but my recollection is that one of the primary remedies for infringement is pulling the products off the shelves. For example, if I were to put a new cover on Old Man’s War, print up a million copies, and start selling them in Borders and B&Ns across the country, you would quite appropriately sue me for copyright infringement and ask — nay, demand — that all of my infringing copies be pulled off the shelves and pulped, and that I pay you damages for every copy already sold; you wouldn’t ask the judge to let me keep selling the book but make me pay you a royalty. Keeping in mind that I haven’t looked at this for a while, I don’t think the court can order the copyright holder to grant the infringer a license to produce the infringing work.

    That said, the right result here is probably for Mattel at the Bratz manufacturer to work out some kind of deal, but maybe the folks at Mattel hate Bratz as much as you (and I) do and want them off the shelves not because Barbie sales are slumping but because pre-teen hooker dolls offend them.

  3. I’m inclined to agree with you on this, John.

    I am not a parent, but my wife and I are equally disgusted at the tween sexualization that the Bratz dolls represent. That aside, I would really like to find out more about the specifics of the case as well as the rationale for having the whole line tossed in the can. It does have a ring of being excessively punitive.

  4. With you 100%.

    Every time I even see an advert for one of those toys, my stomach twists, my eyes narrow, and I clench my fists in anger, disappointment and frustration.

    But…

    I take them to be a sign of what we’ve become. I choose not to participate in this phenomenon, and I lament its advent, but handing down laws isn’t going to show people the reasons why Bratz® Dollz™ are a very, very bad toy idea for young girls. It’s a utilitarian move at best, and something that smacks of a kind of cultural-authoritarianism at worst.

    Granted, I don’t think I’m going to miss the things, assuming that the decision holds up under appeal.

    I’m also glad you mention that the instigators of this recall are just as guilty themselves of affecting women’s esteem in an adverse manner, and have been doing so for far longer than their more brazen competitors…

  5. I’m glad I’m not the only person who thinks that the Bratz dolls are doing their part to help create a new generation of brainless, shallow women.

  6. Could not agree more. Despite a three-girl household, the partental filter has managed to screen these disgusting baby-paris hiltons out of the house. Yet I still struck dumb when otherwise intelligent, good parents who are friends seem to have no problem with them. It is a head scratcher. Agree that the solution is not banning them since “Galz” will just show up offering the same garbage.

  7. I think my brain experienced a serious *sproing* when I saw “Bratz Furry” in store.

    Man what

    Bratz. Furry. It was a Bratz doll wearing a fursuit.

    I’m not making this up! I have a witness! And a photo somewhere, too!

  8. I’m curious how the hell Bratz dolls are considered copyright infringement. Can no one but Mattel make a plastic doll now? Seriously, Bratz don’t look like Barbie, and while having the same target audience, aren’t marketed like Barbie. The only thing they have in common is being a 12″ plastic doll. That’s a little broad for copyright, I’m thinking. That’d be like Stephen King suing Dean Koontz for copyright infringement because they both write horror novels.

  9. Bratz lost a copyright infringement suit because the creator of the Bratz line was working on an exclusive contract with Mattel (owner of Barbie) at the time he came up with the Bratz concept. This has NOTHING to do with Bratz looking like Barbie or being plastic girl dolls. It was a contract issue that caused MGA to lose the suit.

  10. I agree entirely, John! We’ve just ‘disappeared’ a Slutz doll (for so we name them) our five-year-old got for her last birthday. As soon as she’s fully distracted by nifty Xmas toys it will go wherever it is a plastic ho goes to die . . .

    Still, I’d rather they were taken off sale because they’re horribly inappropriate than because the manufacturer of another horribly inappropriate plastic slapper got jealous.

  11. My admittedly limited knowledge of the law (which seems, this week to far exceed that of Judicial Watch, but then I don’t have an agenda to cloud my judgment) tells me an appeals court is going to stick this ruling in the shredder, which will make this case even more complicated than it needs to be.

    Microsoft, anyone?

  12. @Jamie: As I understand it, the designer who came up with the idea for the Bratz dolls was a Mattel employee, who sold the idea to someone else. It may have been one of those “anything you invent on company time belongs to the company” situations.

  13. Actually the judge’s order is a little more complicated than that; for example, Bratz dolls will stay on sale through the holidays because the judge stayed enforcement of the order until February, in order to allow time to argue a motion to set aside the jury’s verdict. I don’t see anything wrong with the order itself; if the jury found that MGA ripped off another company to sell these dolls, why allow it to keep selling them?

    Jamie, if you are curious, you can find out what copyright law actually says and why there was a finding that the dolls violated Mattel’s copyright. In this case, apparently the jury agreedbecause Bratz’s developer created the dolls while he was under contract with Mattel, the design belonged to Mattel. The issue isn’t “your dolls look like ours,” but “that was our design you stole.”

  14. eviljwinter, the “ruling” here was the jury’s verdict. Unless there was a legal error (say, the judge gave them the wrong laws to use) or there was some real, super-egregious, can’t-have-been-fair shenanigans going on with the jury, an appeals court is not going to overturn the jury’s decision. Also, the reason the judge stayed enforcing his order is to allow MGA to ask the court to hear what I assume is a JNOV motion, i.e. to ask the court to throw out the jury’s verdict and enter one in the opposite direction.

    I’ll note that it sure didn’t help that the Bratz designer apparently scrambled all the data on his computer so that the other side’s lawyers couldn’t read it. That’s a big no-no, and it often leads to a legal instruction to the jury along the lines of “since Mr. X destroyed this evidence, you may assume whatever it was, it would have been very harmful to Mr. X’s case.”

  15. I haven’t paid enough attention to this case, as I thought it was a “look and feel” thing that Bratz should easily win. (They remind me of the troll dolls of the sixties, except not cute, and at first that’s what I thought they were!)

    The concept of “he scrambled his disc so we couldn’t read it” seems to me to be approaching “prove that you are innocent”, and it’s definitely compelling testimony against yourself. Now if he encrypted the disk after the fuss started, I can see — although I’m not sure that I’d agree with — the point that he was concealing evidence. If he was doing so before the suit started, I’d say it was a good business (and personal) practice.

  16. Tangentially related: Club Libby Lu, which carries similiar ideas to the Bratz dolls (girls dress up in skimpy clothes as either princesses or rockstars), has apparently all closed down. Some good blog posts on that linked here.

  17. The sad thing about the hypersexualization of young western women is that it appears to be *what they want*. Whatever combination of nature and nurture that sets their mindset, they seem to find “ho chic” a much more appealing lifestyle than any other. Consider acceptable female public dress vs. female equality across culture and history, and it is fairly obvious.

    This generally infuriates parents of girls, especially fathers such as myself. *Our* combination of nature and nurture says that “hoz outside family good, hoz inside family bad.”

  18. While I thank the heavens for the demise of the ProstiTots ™ line of dolls before my daughter reaches the playing-with-dolls age bracket, I’m pretty sure there’ll be another line of vapid, shallow, consumption- and clique-oriented line of objectionable dolls to take their place before too long.

  19. I have to wonder if maybe the decision to pull everything was partially based on distaste for the item. #2 had it right in that this is, from what I understand, the way things would be done but the utter distruction of everything does seem a bit drastic; maybe the jurors felt as you did and decided to nuke everything from orbit just to be sure.

  20. Good points–also gets me thinking how when getting together with friends you’ve grown up with (revert to 17 year old male brain) how the lewdness factor of your friends can depend if they have daughters. Or how I notice it more now.

  21. martini, that’s known as “you can’t have it both ways”. Teenage girls want power and they want male attention. They also tend to notice when, say, dad otherwise enjoys a world where women’s main value is to be sexually attractive to men. I’m not saying that you personally do this, but speaking as a former teenage girl, a dad who then turns around says “But not YOU, honey” is going to get the big eye-rollling Shyeah Right, Dad with both barrels.

  22. (And it should be noted above that obviously that’s a big generalization; there are plenty of teenage girls who want female attention, and plenty who are kind of scared of sex and want to be a chaste wife and mother all their lives. Speaking of the group that likes Ho Chic here.)

  23. I’m glad to hear someone else I respect has banned them from their home. My five year old also mocks my loathing of these monsters, but she understands why she can’t have them. When she was younger, her mom and I just told her they were ugly.

  24. My 12 year daughter has never shown any interest in Bratz. I’d explain what wonderful parenting techniques we used to achieve that, but I have no idea! Actually, I suspect it has a lot more to do with her general nature than it does anything we did as parents.

  25. Thank you, thank you, thank you for making me feel like a responsible parent again and not like some Grinch. Of course, as a parent I make my own choices about what’s best for my kids, and others’ opinions be damned, however … I’ve had a lot of disapproval about my overly-precious moral sense over the years when I denied my daughter any Bratz (or actually Barbies either). Like Athena, she wasn’t happy to start with but now understands and approves of my decision. This year, she’s diligently saving up for (not knowing that it will arrive at Christmas) a ‘healthy’ doll, one whose clothing covers the salient features and who has interests beyond make-up, boyfriends and being a star. For an eight-year-old, I think that’s appropriate. As a new reader to your blog, Mr. Scalzi, thank you for being intelligent, entertaining and sheltering all us poor witless geeks from the harsh world out there :) As a parent, thanks for being willing to point out some of the absurdities we parents have to deal with and for supporting books as gifts.

  26. Martinl:

    Re: Mythago: Also, I disagree that all girls want to be hypersexualized. I think all girls want to be treated seriously (i.e., as adults), and they key off the signals they get as to what is “adult” or at least more mature. The Bratz dolls are meant to be just slightly older than the girls that play with them, so in a sense they’re aspirational, maturity-wise.

    This is of course where a parent steps in and says to their daughter, this is not the way to go in your quest for maturity and being taken seriously.

  27. As a few post-ers said, the ruling isn’t about Bratz being too Barbie-like, it’s about them being developed by a Mattel employee on company time.

    Looks to me like Mattel will own the Bratz dolls and could go ahead and make them itself. I wouldn’t be suprised if they reappear as Barbie’s cousins. Or pets.

    “C’mon Barbie, let’s go party
    Oh oh oh….”
    (Didn’t Mattel have a lawsuit against that song?)

  28. Yikes. Not having any children, I hadn’t been aware of these dolls. My first thought on seeing them was that it is now a little more clear why my best friend, who is a middle school teacher, has to deal with some of the issues she does with her students.

    But, in reality, they are just a little bit more blatant than the marketing to little girls back in the 1960s, when I was growing up, of toy makeup and toy high-heels. It is all part of socialization, which still in our culture includes the Madison Avenue types trying to tell little girls that their most important concern should be to ornament themselves to attract a man while at the same time trying to tell little boys that only properly ornamented females are worthy of their attention. It’s just that the ornamentation expected is more extreme now.

  29. Bratz. Gag. I have yet to meet a parent or a professional woman who does not hate and loathe these dolls with a passion.

    Alas, I agree with everyone who has said that tackling Bratz via courts is a bass-ackwards way to go about it.

    Bratz only exist because parents and adults buy them for children.

    If more parents and adults PULLED THEIR HEADS FROM THEIR FOURTH POINT OF CONTACT then Bratz would die the Little Death of poor sales, and we’d be able to wash our hands of this pox on the toy world.

    Alas, Bratz was (as far as I know) a hit. Which is a sad indictment of our commercialized, slut-i-fied culture.

  30. We have a similar position on the Bratz. On the macro level, I’d prefer they didn’t exist.

    But on the micro level we haven’t dealt with it in such a cut and dry manner. Our main goal is to raise a daughter who doesn’t want them because she thinks they are trashy, not because I do. We’ve taken the opportunity to discuss whether she should look at them for fashion ideas or as role models.

    All her life she’s going to run into influences that she’ll have to deal with based on her own values and taste. Exposure to things like Bratz give her practice in considering things thoughtfully and making good decisions. So far, so good. The few Bratz that have made it through the filters languish in a box somewhere because she decided they are stupid. It’s one of the many ways she rocks.

  31. I despise the dolls. But, playing devil’s advocate, I know that you’re also a gamer. And the portrayal of women in video games is hyper-sexualized. Doesn’t that bother you? (I’m not being sarcastic, I’m curious.)

  32. A friend who is a father had a conversation about Bratz dolls that centered around their lack of noses and how ugly noses were. When he pointed out that she had a nose, the tear ducts opened and the daughter ran to the mother saying that the father had called her ugly.

    There’s something wrong when a toy has that much influence.

  33. One item of note: my 5 year old daughter has never shown any interest in Barbie-type dolls of any description. She likes her Muzzy plush doll, and several other take-it-to-bed-and-hug-it soft toys, and has not (so far as I can remember) ever asked for a Bratz or a Barbie, even though she’s seen the commercials aplenty.

    Really, my daughter’s interests — when it comes to play time — trend towards the various entertainments on PBSKIDS.ORG, the NOGGIN web site, and the Playhouse Disney web site. She also loves Wii Sports, and would sooner play with blocks or do something artsy with glue, glitter, markers, etc, than do the doll thing.

    Much to the relief of my wife and I. You can’t dictate your child’s innate interests, you can only influence them. So far, we’ve not had to say “NO” to the Bratz crap, because it’s not come up. I hope this holds true from age 6 through 12.

  34. I’ve got to start reading what I write before I submit.

    The father had a conversation with his daughter about Bratz dolls.

    There.

  35. AliceB:

    One, the games Athena plays and which are designed for her age group rarely have hypersexualized women in them, and if they do, they don’t get into the house. Two, in the games we have that have hypersexualized women, we tend to mock the outfits.

  36. So glad to see all of the like thoughts on those horrible dolls. Being a brat isn’t something I want any young woman I know want to be. Again tho, it’s the parents that don’t teach that are the problem, not the kids.

  37. I wish it all originated with Bratz and would end with Bratz but they’re just a piece of it all. Since you have a daughter you know how hard it can be to find clothes that don’t fall into the Bratz-like category.

  38. Thanks John, I was hoping they lost that suit. (Mattel v. the Barbie song)

    I just noticed the double meaning in your title for this thread. *Accidental* double entrendre doesn’t seem to be your style, but I’m hoping anyway.

  39. I’m curious about is what will happen to the “cachet” of the doll line once it goes off the market. Will it become a collector’s item? Does that only further their damage as symbols of hypersexuality in young girls, or will the trend be short lived enough to end up as a “you know you were born in the 2000’s” punchline?

  40. For what it’s worth, when I was growing up my favorite way to play with Barbie was to load her, Ken and all my other pint sized dolls in the barbie converible and drive them down the stairs, prending they had just drove their car off a cliff and all perished in fiery doom.

    Somehow I managed to grow up to be a good driver and not a sociopath and not a hypersexualized, vapid, attention-whore nitwit.

  41. Jess,

    I think you symbolically murdered your hypersexual vapid whore leanings. (Or you were acting out a country ballad.)

  42. @Martini

    I disagree that women *want* a hypersexualized chic ho persona for themselves. I think that for young girls, this image of adult women is shoved down their throat in terms of bratz dolls, MTV videos, fashion magazines, etc. And also by fathers who thing ho’s outside of the family equals good, inside the family, bad. That’s fucked up.

    But when young girls see the ho chic image as the aspiring step in maturity that will get them men, money, admiration, stuff, etc. (and it isn’t as if that is so far off from the truth, unfortunately. There are built in societal advantages-at least on an overt, material level-that sexed up girls get. Compared to a shy, mousy girl or a heavy-set girl that are pretty much ostracized.) So, you can’t blame young girls and young women for possibly thinking that this is the way to go. They are slammed with that image practically from birth.

    Fortunately, the vast majority of women see through this after a while and actually want to be treated as a human being. Then most of them drop the ho chic persona, eventually.

  43. Solved the Ken being a dweeb (and other things I didn’t know about back then) by having my Barbies date my brother’s GI Joe.

    NOW there was a manly dude doll.

    AND I could piss of the little brother unit all at the same time…Bonus!!

  44. The Bratz phenomenon, loathsome as it is, is no isolated freakshow. Does anyone remember Jon-Benet Ramsay? The pictures of her that were circulating? The makeup and costumes that she, like any other child beauty contestant, wore routinely? That’s been going on for a long time, and it’s still going on today, and it’s way more shocking and distasteful to me than anything a toy manufacturer could come up with. How about tween jazz dance contestants, with their skimpy costumes and sexualized dance moves?

    My daughter likes Barbies, and enjoys playing with them at her friends’ houses. If I remember correctly, she saw some Bratz at her cousins’ house, and liked them, too. In my role as decider, however, I have banned all such dolls from our house. I take it as a sign of my good parenting and excellent communication skills that no one has ever even given her one as a present. She gets to play with Groovy Girls, soft dolls with fun clothes and cool accessories, but a wholesome attitude. If she wants to dress dolls up in fancy clothes with sparkly fabric, that’s fine with me, but she doesn’t need a doll with a huge chest and wasp waist permeating her subconscious, much less one with glam makeup and no nose.

    I’m not the ice queen/dragon/evil witch mom that I sound like here. It’s just that protecting my children’s childhood is incredibly important to me. They’re only young once, and for such a short time, that it seems criminal to tilt them into the adult world while they’re so little.

  45. I never liked playing with Barbies, though I played with other dolls, especially action figures, and I also had a set of Little Women dolls (yes, the Alcott book). Also, I adored playing dress up — as anything. A Princess, an Egyptian Mummy — you name it. Didn’t have to be “pretty” or traditionally feminine.

    I’m not familiar with these dolls. Is the problem that they focus solely on fashion? Isn’t that the point of dolls? I had paper dolls where the whole point was changing their outfits. I still love clothes, did a lot of costume designing in high school and college, and now knit and sew. I don’t necessarily see why building outfits for dolls is any less worthy than building castles out of blocks. You still learn aesthetics, spatial reasoning, color coordination, etc.

    Or is the problem that their outfits are trashy and inappropriate? That I can see being a bad influence on little girls. But I fail to see anything wrong with a toy about costumes.

    Regarding the women in video games — yes, they look ridiculous and barbie-like, but in the games where you can play a female (I’m thinking WOW or similar rather than, say, GTA, where they are just hos you drive around and you can’t actually make them your character), they look silly, but they play just as well as the boy avatars, who also all look like bodybuilders or Fabio (i.e., similarly ridiculous).

  46. John, it sounds like you might enjoy a specific Second City (a Chicago Improv Group) sketch in which a Bratz doll attempts to seduce her owner’s dad. He is scared and disturbed and it is hilarious. For example, the doll keeps calling the guy “daddy” in a very hypersexualized way. It ends with the dolls destruction appropriately enough.

  47. AliceB:

    We do laugh at the Bratz dolls. I also don’t let them in the house. Again, the issue is at whom the hypersexualization is aimed. When it’s at me (or at someone old enough to buy an M or T-rated game) it’s one thing. When it’s at my nine-year-old daughter, it’s another thing entirely.

    One may see this as a double standard, to which I say, it certainly is, because what’s appropriate for a 39-year-old man is very often not appropriate for a nine-year-old girl.

  48. I know it’s tempting to blame Bratz for EVERY misogynist message that is being peddled to your daughters, but it’s actually one of many and the symptom of a larger culture out there. (Not that that makes it right, mind you.) It’s also tempting to blame video games, television shows, music videos, Britney and Paris, The Girls Next Door, and so on, but it’s all part of this horrible cocktail that every woman swims in from the time she’s old enough to tell that people treat mommy differently than daddy. Or her differently than her brother. And a lot of it has to do with the messages we, as a culture, send to boys, just as much as the ones we send to girls. Bratz, as one of these messages, doesn’t just hurt your daughters, it hurts your sons too. Both genders are receiving the “You need to fit this template of beauty in order to succeed,” and the “Hey, it’s okay to commodify your sexuality to get power” messages loud and clear.

    I think that’s why Scalzi’s point about axing Bratz for the wrong reasons makes sense to me. Bratz is just one message–and technically more of a symptom than disease itself. Just because Bratz is off the shelves, Mattel isn’t going to magically make a line of Barbies that has proportional breasts and hips, is age appropriate, and touts concerns besides looks. (I think they tried once before and it didn’t sell. Sadly.) Somebody, having noticed the success of Bratz, is still trying to figure out how to catch that lightning in a bottle again AND they don’t care about the messages it will send, as long as people still buy the toys for their kids. That means that an awful lot of people have been not just swimming in the sexism cocktail but drinking it and seeing nothing wrong with it AND there are retailers who will see nothing wrong with perpetuating that if it makes them a buck.

    Point: Getting rid of Bratz isn’t going to innoculate your daughters and sons against the notions that barrage them every day. Doing what Scalzi and some of the other parents in this thread are doing…ie…sitting down and discussing and engaging and turning a healthy contempt of materialist and sexist values into the family dialogue is what will give your kids a chance. Maintaining that is what will give your kids a chance. Catching the more insidious messages will give your kids a chance. Praising your kids for effort they expend instead of how cute they look (although noting it now and again won’t make them mirror-addicts). Giving your kids more options to express themselves, so they won’t have to do it by showing their iliac crest to their high school with their low-rider jeans. (That iliac crest!) Building up the aspects of the culture you’d like to see your kids grow up in. Now…occasionally your kids will come home with something you find horrible and reprehensible. Instead of succumbing to the “Throw that out right now” instinct, perhaps you should look it over with the child. For one thing, it might not be as horrible as all that. There’s a comic strip I like right now that my parents might be wibbling over because kids don’t dress like they did in their day, but the actions of the kids in the strip are still moral and ethical. There are of course, some other kids in this comic who are less ethical, but their behaviour comes with realistic consequences that set up good points for parental discussion. Also, sometimes the media that your kids consume may more accurately reflect the challenges of their life instead of the idealised life you wish they had. You can use that as a point of discussion, instead of taking it away from them…..because when you do that, it says to the kid, “Hey, you really don’t get that my life is very different than how you want it to be.” If your child’s friends are dressing up at a young age, you don’t want to deny that it happens, but you want to address WHY would my kid want to do that? What perceived benefit does she see from that? Is there something we can figure out that will get her that benefit but in a healthy way.

    Of course, I say this not as a parent, but as a person who remembers the example of her own parents. Dad would often go on about not revering Hollywood and both parents hated Barbie in the same way people here hate Bratz, but they let my sisters keep the Barbies people gave them after a discussion about why they didn’t like the dolls. (I turned the Barbies into Klingons with Silly Putty.) My sisters, incidentally, didn’t turn into teenage fashion plates. I think the Barbies were cursorily played with, but abandoned for blocks and Legos, because….well, there’s a lot more you can do with blocks and Legos than you can do with a Barbie that has exactly TWO outfits. My niece requested a Barbie for Xmas, and while I hate to pull an Easy Bake Oven, I had already planned on getting her some science toys and art kits to appeal to her budding artist nature. (I think I might suggest to my sister that they get my niece a Barbie with one outfit….because really, with just the one outfit, there is nothing much you can do with a Barbie. Except make her a palace and a unicorn out of Legos, and by then you’ve figured out that Legos are much more entertaining.)

    I digress.

  49. My little sister asked me for a Bratz’s doll for Christmas about three years ago, and I had no idea what they were at the time. I went in, and my jaw literally dropped. I mean… I felt like it was a joke. How did this idea pass the pitch meeting?

    “Man, I’ve got this great idea for a toy. It’s like Barbie for ten year old sluts!”

    I bought my little sister Martina McBride barbie instead. I figured that’d teach her.

  50. @ folks who point out this is not universal

    Yes, of course. I didn’t think I needed to say that, but I was obviously wrong. To be clear: this is a trend of groups, not a universal behavior of individuals.

    @ folks who point out that this is strongly culturally influenced

    Almost certainly. That’s why I said it was some combination of nature and *nuture*. Nurture is much wider than parents.

    @ folks who point out that the “hoz outside family good, inside family bad” is hypocritical

    Yes again. I’m not proud of this part of my psyche, but I cannot deny it is there. I would like to blame intense socialization for this, but I sometimes wonder how much is raw exploitive male evolutionary strategy? (Have females you are related to raise children in a commited relationship with maximal support, have those you aren’t related to engage in uncommited sex and raise resulting kids at no cost to you.)

    Similarly, while I applaud efforts to properly socialize children to value their nonsexual strengths rather than their sexual ones, to some extent this is going to stumble on straightforward power issues, as mentioned by Lexie@51. An attractive female tease gains significant instant power over most men past puberty. More teasy than others -> more power. Cue race to the bottom. Cue sighs and headaches amongst parents like me.

    To a large extent, changing this will require massive changes to male attitudes, nature and nurture. Really massive. I don’t see that level of change as likely in my lifetime.

    I hope that in the future my daughter will not *choose* to resort to sexual power poltics for cheap and easy social advantage. I’m not sure how realistic that is.

  51. By the by, I’m slightly amazed that thus far no one has commented on the title of this post:

    “The Lil’ Hos Go Down”

    Was that an intended double entendre, or did it just come out like that?

  52. Actually, someone did comment about it in the comment thread. And yes, it was entirely intentional; it seems unlikely Whatever is a hotspot destination for the pre-teen set.

  53. Also, I disagree that all girls want to be hypersexualized

    I don’t think they specifically want to be hypersexualized. I think they want to be attractive and loved, and if they see that a ho persona is the best way (or at least a very reliable way) to be attractive and loved, then they will want to be hypersexualized – but as a means to an end, not because girls have an innate desire to be treated as nothing more than T&A.

    I don’t let Bratz et al in the house either, and fortunately my kids have had about zero interest. It helps that their dad doesn’t subscribe to the “all women ought to be whores, except my daughters” philosophy.

  54. Regarding portrayal of women in video games:

    Video games, like comics, are not JUST for kids. As a result, they are (unlike comics and books) rated for maturity levels. There are a lot of games that certainly do feature busty women running around levels in high heels and a mini skirt while toting a shock rifle, but those video games are generally rated for older ages. (Not that age inures people to sexism, mind you. Sadly, for some it seems to entrench it further. Also, it is my not-so-secret fantasy to make a bunch of game developers run an obstacle course in the costumes of their characters. I would pay good money to see a guy with two watermelons strapped to his chest dodging waterballoons while wearing stripper heels.)

    That said, there are a lot of video game companies that have figured out that having women portrayed in a more realistic manner (or more importantly, a manner which allows the player to customise according to their own tastes) is one way to lure female gamers in. Many gamers, like me, find it hard to identify with RocketSkank, but adore the chance to make a character their own. Hence the appeal of a game like World of Warcraft, where you have ten races, seven or eight classes, and any number of details to pick and choose from to make a more unique character. Phantasy Star Online also was pretty good at that as well, as is Rock Band. My Rock Band character looks almost EXACTLY like me, minus thirty pounds. Short, red haired, black glasses, green t-shirt, etc. She might be an idealised representation of me, but she’s still recognisably me. In World of Warcraft, I think it’s notable that I didn’t play Bloodelf for a long time because they reminded me TOO MUCH of Paris Hilton–instead I went with Trolls and Taurens, which are as non-human and non-typical beauty as you can get. I mean, hello, a cow’s body????

    The point is: The games where you can CHOOSE what you look like, instead of having somebody else’s ideal forced on you….those are the games that have been the biggest cross-gender hits in gamedom lately. It may be finally penetrating the skulls of certain people that women are a demographic to be reckoned with and to get a game as widely loved as WoW, you need to attract female players.

  55. What a completely calm expression of an entirely reasonable view about two things you disagree with. Is this even allowed on the Internet?

    Wait, cats, bacon, black velvet painting of Wil Wheaton. Never mind, you’re cool.

    But yeah, to be clear, I’m in the same boat; I find a lot of this stuff stupid and obnoxious, but think that a ruling to ban these figures is not the right way to go.

  56. Mattel and MGA have been fighting over this for awhile, and MGA had agreed earlier on to stop selling the original characters to try and settle the case. Mattel believed (and apparently convinced the jury) that the redesigned characters were still too close to the original infringing design. The trial verdict is making all the news, but there was actually several years worth of legal wrangling and attempts at arbitration before the case ever went to trial.

    I feel that Mattel tried to be reasonable but MGA gave them no choice. So I won’t be shedding any tears for MGA or worrying about any precedent this may set.

  57. “One may see this as a double standard, to which I say, it certainly is, because what’s appropriate for a 39-year-old man is very often not appropriate for a nine-year-old girl.”

    Ah. But my totally (not-so) sneaky point is that maybe it shouldn’t be appropriate for a 39-year-old man.

    (And no, I’m not talking about censorship. I’m talking about our culture thinking that, you know, all women want oversized breasts, wasp waists, and to be wearing sting bikinis while kicking ass.)

  58. AliceB:

    “Ah. But my totally (not-so) sneaky point is that maybe it shouldn’t be appropriate for a 39-year-old man.”

    Eh. As a 39-year-old man, I can decide what’s appropriate for me on my own, thanks.

  59. I have two boys, no girls, so I’ve been able to ignore Bratz for the most part. But in terms of videogames, my oldest (15) is really, really into violent games. I make a point of discussing with him what he likes about the games and what he’s taking out of them (it’s primarily the strategy elements). And he’s a pretty solid, non-aggressive kid.

    For both of my kids, when they make a comment that reflects a TV or videogame attitude or response, I say “you do realize this is real-life, not TV (or videogame), right?” They roll their eyes at me and make some sarcastic comment, but it really does work to reinforce that real-life and entertainment have different rules and realities. As my 15 year old is learning to drive, he is critical of people he sees driving recklessly — “don’t they know this isn’t a movie?” So I know it’s had the influence that I wanted it to have.

  60. Re: the comparison of this verdict to Al Capone’s tax evasion verdict — the reason they went after Capone for tax evasion was because it was the only charge they could get to stick. They did it because they wanted him gone and this was literally the only way to do it.

    Somehow I don’t think Mattel’s intentions are quite so noble — they didn’t go after MGA in some righteous bid to keep smutty toys from being peddled to impressionable kids; they wanted to take down a competitor that was profiting illegally from Mattel’s designs. I have no doubt if Mattel can find a way to revive these obnoxious dolls under their own label they will do so in a heartbeat…

  61. Odd tangential thought:

    Part of what is happening is a result of women having roughly equal freedom but not roughly equal power. Some of this is due to generational lag, and will go away.

    Optimistically assume that 60 years from now power is ~equally held by men and women. Will young men be hoing it up too? Will our descendents deplore “Studz?” Or will “not attracted” disapproval of hoz neutralize the whole thing?

    One can hope.

  62. The Bratz doll that really pushed me over the edge (my almost-14-year-old had, I believe, a Bratz doll way-back-when, but she was never a Barbie/Bratz/whatever kind of kid, even as a 6 or 7 year old) was one of the “bratz babies” that were supposed to be toddlers, but were just as tarted up and weird, riding a little riding toy. Like, you know, with wheels?

    It was a BANANA.

    Yeahno.

  63. Htom @18: My understanding is that the designer destroyed the electronic data after the lawsuit was filed (or clearly coming), which is a big no-no under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and allows an the court to direct an adverse inference or other sanction against the party found to have destroyed the data. Second, the Constitutional right against self-incrimination only applies in criminal cases, not civil cases. If you are called to testify in a civil matter and take the Fifth, the finder of fact (judge or jury, depending on the case) is entitled to assume that your testimony would, in fact, incriminate you.

  64. I’ve got a six-year old daughter and have a funny story about her and Bratz dolls.

    She started asking for Bratz when she was four and I’ve maintained an absolute prohibition of them. I was careful to explain why. “I don’t believe that is a good doll for you.” “Those dolls promote the wrong way to live.” “I just don’t like them.”

    I also try to constantly reinforce with her what I value about her. I admire her beauty and cuteness, but I take pains to admire her intelligence, maturity, and growing competencies even more. I reinforce that she should be kind and caring and that what is inside is more important than what is on the outside. She shouldn’t be mean or judge people based on how they look. Try to be a friend to all and if someone isn’t friendly back, don’t take retribution.

    At four years old, she accepted my reasoning (if somewhat petulantly). However, when she was five, we were shopping for shoes and she found some Bratz shoes that she really wanted. The conversation is still fresh in my memory:

    Her: But WHY can’t I have them?

    Me: Because I don’t approve of Bratz and I don’t think you should have them.

    Her: But WHY don’t you `prove of them?

    Me: Because the way they look isn’t appropriate for girls of your age. They’re mean.

    Her: But, Daddy! These aren’t BAD Bratz. They’re nice on the inside. You shouldn’t judge just because of how they look.

    Me: They’re nice?

    Her: Yes!

    Me: Well, I guess you’re right. Okay, you can have them as long as they’re “nice” Bratz.

    I’m not sure whether to be proud or ashamed that she won.

  65. This may just be the perfect time to roll out my line of “Geekz” and “Nerdz” dolls to fill the void with more emulation-worthy role models.

  66. That said, there are a lot of video game companies that have figured out that having women portrayed in a more realistic manner (or more importantly, a manner which allows the player to customise according to their own tastes) is one way to lure female gamers in.

    This is one of the reasons I have a great deal of respect for the folks at Turbine. All of the female characters in their games (Asheron’s Call, LOTRO, etc.) get full-body clothing and armor–just like the guys. They’re still generally of unrealistic proportions (just like the guys) but they’re at least not running around in leather bikinis as if that’s real armor.

    As regards the topic…

    One of the things that’s so insidious and awful about the Bratz line is that they were promoted in part as a way to be more “diverse” a line than the Barbies. They copied an aesthetic found most commonly in lower-income communities, primarily black and Latino, but didn’t understand that the real origins of that aesthetic.

    It’s almost as if the idea was, “hey, let’s build a line of dolls that look like the young women low-income girls see in their lives so they don’t feel intimidated by Barbie’s rich lifestyle!” And didn’t grok that that aesthetic was almost entirely developed out of poverty and a sense of desperation from women who have few life prospects that don’t involve being grossly objectified by men.

    I suppose some of it may well have been a deliberate attempt to groom young girls into objectifying themselves (and thus feeding the cosmetic and fashion industries) as they grew up, but I think most of it was just a clumsy attempt at being “streetwise” to appeal to a different market, and missing the fact that “streetwise” in that aesthetic is code for “desperate crack ho.”

  67. This may just be the perfect time to roll out my line of “Geekz” and “Nerdz” dolls to fill the void with more emulation-worthy role models.

    I would totally buy those. I want a chubby nerdette doll who comes with Chucks, a laptop, a badge from some tech company and a t-shirt from ThinkGeek.

  68. I was just tossing around a few more good doll ideas with some friends via Twitter. We came up with the “Writerz” line of dolls. Accessories include cheap bourbon, laptop, and a stack of overdue bills. They do *not* come with good clothes, health insurance, or normal social skillz.

  69. I remember seeing a trailer for the Bratz movie and thinking that it was a parody a la Teen Girl Squad. Then I realized with horror that it was meant to be taken seriously. (At least I fear it was being serious.)

  70. @ folks who point out that the “hoz outside family good, inside family bad” is hypocritical

    Yes again. I’m not proud of this part of my psyche, but I cannot deny it is there. I would like to blame intense socialization for this, but I sometimes wonder how much is raw exploitive male evolutionary strategy?

    Ah, yes. The old ev psych excuse. I’m only a man! It’s in my DNA to be an ass! I can’t help it!

    True or not, (and really, it is shaping up to be not. Unless you are John Grey and want to make a lot of money off of men and women coming from different planets. We are actually all from earth and not that different at all DNA-wise) it doesn’t mean you get out of having to be a respectful human being.

  71. [snip]…all women want oversized breasts, wasp waists, and to be wearing sting bikinis while kicking ass.

    On the flip side, there is a growing movement to ‘normalize’ being overweight or obese. My wife and I both agree that this is disturbing because having a spare tire around the middle is just as unhealthy as being a too-skinny ‘wasp waist.’

    Being fat and dumpy isn’t much better than being a skinny slut.

    In an ideal world, our young girls would grow up with fitness as a primary emphasis. Not the size of their boobs. Not how skimpy they can dress. But rather, how healthy and/or athletic they are? Do they do aerobic training? Muscle strength training? Cross-fit? Sports?

    If we as a society can get our young women interested in fitness and having a fit, healthy body, I think we will be doing them — and ourselves — a big favor.

  72. Lexie @ 89

    There’s probably a lot of bad stuff in my DNA, and a equal or larger amount in my upbringing, but I generally *can* help it. The DNA is suffering from “no-longer even remotely a small tribal a hunter-gatherer” whiplash and the scciety isn’t really up to date either, as much as my parents tried to be foreward looking. Denying these things would be foolish. Giving into them more so.

    Do you have a good link for the “ev psych is wrong?”

  73. I guess I am the odd parent out in having little feeling one way or the other about Bratz. Both of my daughters have played with them and kind of liked them, but it was never important. As a child I also played with Barbies and was surprised as an adult to hear people bemoaning the idea that Barbie offered a distorted view of the female body. It never occurred to me that my body should be like Barbie, so maybe I’m just clueless.

    And incidentally, the thing that I find the strangest about Bratz dolls is that the entire foot comes off to allow the clothes to be changed because the feet are too large to get pant legs over. I wonder if any children have cried because they can’t remove their feet? :)

  74. Sub-Odeon: The movement you describe is not about normalising fat. It’s about shape-acceptance. (Or perhaps Respect Regardless of Shape.) Frankly, no matter how much some people exercise–and many can’t because of disease, age, handicaps, and other pre-existing conditions–some people will have bodies that don’t currently conform to societal standards. There’s a definite trend by society to Other these folks. And current media perceptions being what they are, a lot of people don’t know the difference between being plump and obese. Britney Spears was savaged for a live performance where you could see a few small love handles. Amanda Palmer recently was not promoted by her record label because you could see her (not-fat-at-all) belly in a music video and she refused to let her label airbrush her down to a stick. Kate Winslet was refered to as the reason the Titanic sank by Joan Rivers…and so on.

    The movement isn’t to normalise fat. It’s to get people to treat people with basic respect, and you know, make their own choices about their health and looks. It demeans fat people to assume that they have no will power, or that they just can’t control themselves. Some people have glandular issues, some people have a broken metabolism, some people are naturally getting older (I’ve gained thirty pounds in the last year, and yes, I’m trying to lose it, but guess what, it’s holding steady, and I certainly don’t gorge every day) and for some people, their bone structure and muscle disposition is such that they look fatter than they are. Furthermore, BMI and weight not a reliable indicator of health issues. You have to look at a person’s health holistically. For me, I know I’m overweight because A) I can’t do what I used to do and B) I get sick easier, but there are people at my height and weight who carry it better, have more muscle, and so on.

    Anyway, as I said before, it’s about respecting people regardless of what they look like. Too many people still think it’s okay to make fun of the fat kid or that fatness in and of itself denotes some kind of flaw. (I grant you health issues, but you know what…every person’s health is their own damn business. Maybe they know they aren’t healthy, but they don’t need YOU to tell them.)

  75. Sub-Odeon: I do agree with you, btw, on the fit-and-healthy, but it’s important to understand that people’s bodies come in an amazing array of possibilities, and again, not everybody has the same template to draw from. Many fat folks I know watch what they eat more than many a skinny person. I ate like SHIT when I was a teenager and 100 pounds dripping wet. I eat way better now, but surprise, I weigh more.

  76. I posted about this on Facebook, actually. It went something along the lines of: Much as I hate Bratz dolls, this case stinks of monopoly, and I don’t mean the game.

    I dunno, I think the fact that the founder came up with the idea at Mattel but left to start her own company (at least, that’s the situation as I understand it) DOES NOT GIVE MATTEL THE RIGHT TO THE IDEA. You don’t own my brainpower, nor my right to compete in the free market!

    Perhaps I should do more research into the laws pertaining to this case.

  77. “I think the fact that the founder came up with the idea at Mattel but left to start her own company (at least, that’s the situation as I understand it) DOES NOT GIVE MATTEL THE RIGHT TO THE IDEA. You don’t own my brainpower, nor my right to compete in the free market! ”

    Well, unless the person signed a contract to that effect, which in fact often happens, particularly if some of the initial work was done on the former company’s time/resources. I do believe that’s the argument here.

  78. Sara: As a graphic designer, I don’t have to sign away all graphic design to work I do while working for a company, but I do have to relinquish the rights to work developed on company tools, using company time, and particularly if the work I developed was based on the prior work of the company I am working for or in the same competitive market. And I’ve had to sign contracts to that effect.

    As far as I can tell, the person who went off to MGA was under an exclusive contract with Mattel at the time Bratz was discovered. Which meant that any toys or toy concepts they came up with and created with a concrete expression of that design, ie concept art, pitches, etc. would belong to Mattel. Also, if they utilised any of Mattel’s tools or trademarked ways of creating a toy, or if their toy concept is predicated on knowledge gained while working at Mattel. (If for example, that designer had access to a Mattel-commissioned white paper on little girl demographics and what focus groups had said, and their design utilised all those points. Granted, you can’t get rid of knowledge from your brain, but you can choose how you deploy it, and if it was Mattel who got that info for the designer, hoping that they would utilise it to come up with a toy that would sell like hot cakes…welll…)

    Also, it’s worth noting that rejected designs committed under exclusive contract are usually considered part of the employer’s property, because they may want to use it later, and you are still being paid for your time and brainpower.

    This is all based on my own experiences as a graphic designer, mind you, and there are some things that employers can’t copyright. (Like your style. Because if they did, that would make you unemployable once you’d left.)

  79. As an aside in the “normalizing fat” discussion: You can be fat and also fit. My 200-pound self does an hour of Tae-Bo each day, gardens like a mad fiend, chases a toddler, and jumps rope for half an hour three times a week. Amazingly, being “dumpy” has not precluded me from also being healthy. This “normalizing fat” movement is, as has already been stated, more about “treating all people as normal, no matter what they weigh,” and I don’t believe that’s an unhealthy standard of behavior.

    I’d like to see a Fatz doll, actually. She can come with a jump rope, a salad, an ice cream cone, a book, and a doctor’s note certifying that her health is nobody’s business but her own — in other words, she can just be a person.

  80. @Sara

    Actually, they do have that right.

    Disney, for instance, is known for hiring and training new animators and artists but under a contract where anything they create from the duration of their contract (and create means to put down on paper or describe in this case) is owned by Disney.

    Similarly, with my company, anything made while I’m working is owned by the company.

    The creator of Bratz pitched it while working for Mattel and if they were under such a contract at that time then they were violating it.

  81. I realize the discussion of fat vs. thin is a very tricky subject for many people. Especially with women, who have had to deal with a tremendous amount of societal warping, in terms of body image.

    I’ll disclose here and say that my wife has battled weight problems — in combination with asthma problems — all her adult life, having fluctuated wildly in size and poundage. And I don’t just mean a few pounds. I mean hundreds of pounds.

    What bothers me (and my wife) about the whole “person of size” movement is that it attempts to turn being overweight and being obese into something akin to ethnicity: something that can neither be controlled nor decided by someone, and which is no more or less harmful to the individual than skin pigment.

    I agree that society as a whole treats fat people like dirt — especially fat women, who become invisible in our world, or are otherwise treated like crap because being fat is considered a moral failure, in addition to being unattractive.

    Do I excuse any of this poor treatment? No. And I do hope that people can learn to treat each other better regardless of how much they weigh or how much body fat they might have.

    Having said this, fatness is a health issue. Bottom line. And it is in the best interest of every overweight and obese person to work on controlling their diet and exercising such that they can lose fat and achieve and maintain an optimal weight. Otherwise, they’re risking a range of health problems — especially as they get older — and I don’t think we do overweight people any favors by “normalizing” obesity and deluding them into thinking that being fat is not a problem.

    Because it is.

    sarawr, if 200 pounds is your optimal weight, and your blood work shows you’re in no danger of high blood pressure or cholesterol problems, and you’re getting enough muscle and cardio exercise every week to stay healthy, more power to you. To my mind, the poundage has nothing to do with a person being “dumpy,” it’s whether or not they’re actively doing anything to combat being overweight, in terms of diet, and how they carry themselves.

    Too many overweight people spiral into what I call the Schlep Cycle: they get big, don’t exercise, keep eating badly, get bigger, have a harder time moving as a result, find it difficult to dress in anything beyond basics (the proverbial sweat pants and large t-shirt), resist changing their diet, keep not exercising, keep getting bigger… That to me is “dumpy” and I resist any effort by the Person Of Size movement to normalize this spiral or say that it’s A-OK, because I have seen up close how this spiral can literally destroy people.

    PixelFish, that’s a great point, in that body forms come in an astounding variety. This is why I reject the supermodel image as a template for women, because only a tiny percentage of women will ever be tall and naturally rail-thin in the way supermodels are expected to be; and even then, the supermodel usually has to distort her eating habits to such an extent that she becomes unhealthy. And I am as opposed to unhealth that is of the “skinny” variety, as I am opposed to unhealth that is of the “fat” variety. Both extremes are not good IMHO, which is why I think *FITNESS* is the best thing I can hope for, in terms of society learning to adopt a healthier body image model — especially for girls and women.

    One thing that kills me is how we have a double-standard. Fat guys still get stigma, but it’s nowhere close to the way women are shunned when they gain weight. In a certain sense, fat men have already enjoyed normalization for years, and I always shake my head at how many fat guys I have ever met who say they’d refuse to be with a fat woman, or who are with a skinny woman because they think fay women are gross.

    Talk about hypocrisy.

  82. Sub_Odeon, I’m bowing out of taking this further here because I think we’re getting into way off-topic territory (as opposed to slightly off-topic), but if you’d like to go over this more you can hit me up via email — pocketfulofsky at gmail — or whatever. Also, thanks for stating your points rationally and kindly, because this is a hot-button topic that generally garners only “LOL FATTIEZ” when I bring it up.

  83. @Sara

    ” You don’t own my brainpower, nor my right to compete in the free market! ”

    I think this is where this particular court decision is dangerous. I hate the Bratz like everyone else here but, this ruling says that your employer does own your brainpower and can keep you from competeing. I can see a lot more cases usuing this as a precedent. Pretty soon we wont even own our own thoughts.

  84. Justin,

    you’re missing the point. The court decision (read it; it’s interesting) says that Brats are the intellectual property of Mattel because the guy who created them did so when he a.) was working for Mattel, and b.) had a clause in his contract that said anything he creates while on the job for Mattel is the property of Mattel.

    This is quite simply a contractual issue, not a freedom of speech/thought one. If he didn’t like that clause, he could have declined signing the contract.

  85. You would think some one would have clued in during the pitches,

    “Wait a minute; don’t you work for Mattel? Why are you trying to sell us what they would own by default?”

  86. Adela@107: I would say most companies operate that way — they might still hire the person, but will make it clear that the new employee is not to violate any IP clause from their former employer.

    But then there are the less scrupulous companies that believe the rewards (profits) outweigh the risks (damages) they’re likely to suffer.

  87. sarawr, agreed. This probably is too far afield from the original discussion.

    Though I think it’s an important topic just the same. Thanks for the e-mail. I’ll probably send something, if only to just say hello.

  88. Regarding the IP issue:

    There is a probably an argument to be made that overly restrictive IP contracts are a social ill. It is beneficial to encourage people to try out their ideas, and this very common sort of contract strongly restricts that.

    “Don’t like it? Don’t sign the contract then!” is an easy argument to make as long as one doesn’t consider the commoness of the practice or the power disparity between employers and employees.

  89. Regarding brain power and who owns it, I vaguely recall a similar case that I remember reading back in the early 00’s. Someone at IBM came up with a brilliant algorithm/application/concept (sorry, my recollection’s hazy) that he tried to patent and start his own company with, and of course IBM (or whichever company, again apologies for the haze) took umbrage. His argument was that he had the idea while sitting in traffic on the way to work, which sparked a fairly interesting lawsuit that was closely watched by the entire tech industry, for obvious reasons.

    Of course, if anyone can recall the exact case, please chime in. I just remembered it when reading the details of this case. Anyone with more information or direct knowledge (such a good thing, direct knowledge) please feel free to set me straight on the details.

    I guess Lessig could probably care less about this case since it involves such a vapid product, though the implications are sobering to say the least.

    As a side note, I have a six-year-old daughter, and the understanding my daughter and I have is that Bratz are a ‘do not pass go’ type situation. She’s in complete agreement, I’m happy to report.

  90. My first thought was about the resource waste involved in trashing/pulping/destroying all that Bratz-ware.

    I’d be happier if they allowed what’s in the distribution pipeline to sell through, but stopped any additional production.

  91. Why any parent would buy a toy for his or her daughter that advocates being a BRAT is beyond me… I’m glad they’re going away. Wouldn’t want any of my [hypothetical] future kids to be lusting after toys like that.

  92. Salutations,

    It should be mentioned that the toy industry in the USA is basically a dual duopoly – two manufacturers, Mattel and Hasbro, and two retailers, ToysRUs and Walmart. Everybody else in the toy business is _very_ minor league.

    I don’t know what the ‘market share’ of MGA is, but certainly Mattel has now eliminated one of its few competitors with an identifiable ‘brand’.

    For discussion of ‘Hasborg’s’ effect on the US boardgame market, check http://www.boardgamegeek.com, or the gameroom of any SF convention.

    Yours, John Desmond

  93. I’m not American and while I have seen those dolls on the shelf, they don’t seem to be overly popular here. At any rate, I have never seen a commercial for them.

    However, can anyone try to tell me just why those dolls are so hated among US parents? Because while they’re certainly ugly, I don’t see them doing anything that Mattel and even a premium manufacturer like Madame Alexander haven’t done in the past.

    Barbie was, at least initially, supposed to be a teenager, even though she never looked it. As early as 1959/60 Barbie was sold wearing a baby-doll pyjama and dressed as a nightclub singer (not really risque now, but definitely then). Over the years, Barbie was sold wearing micro-minis and fishnet stocking, Barbie was a rock star (as well as a nurse, doctor, vet, stewardess, airline pilot, office worker, babysitter, etc…), Barbie frequently dressed up like a hooker. She promotes a problematic body image. In short, she did everything these Bratz dolls seem to be doing.

    Sindy, the British Barbie equivalent, and Petra, the German one, actually did have child-like faces, as did Japanese Barbies, and they occasionally dressed like hookers, too. Yet no one seemed to mind in the 1970s/1980s.

    Besides, for years US premium manufacturers like Madame Alexander have been making dolls with large child-like faces dressed as adults. Of course, Madame Alexander dolls did not use to be dressed in mini-skirts or as rock stars, they were more likely to be dressed as Scarlett O’Hara or in mini-versions of 1950s couture gowns. Still, these dolls were essentially children dressed as adults.

    My Mom never liked Barbie, which is probably why I started collecting vintage Barbies as a teenager. In fact, my Mom never even liked my Madame Alexander dolls. However, she never got her head in a tizzy as many parents seem to be doing over those Bratz dolls.

    So is there something which makes those dolls inherently worse than Barbie and her ilk or are contemporary parents just more troubled about the sexualization of young kids that these dolls seem to represent?

  94. Cora,
    Just because it was ok then does not make it ok now would be the best way of putting it. Awareness has grown. Choices are expanding. Parents tolerance to just let marketing walk all over them through their kids is declining. No one seemed to mind a lot of things in previous decades but that doesn’t make then acceptable. Parents are not so much more troubled now as they are more educated and so much less sheep.

  95. What a delight to read this aloud at 1:00am on a Saturday night to my wife (as she’s nearly drifting off with her sleep mask on). I think Athena’s a tiny bit older than our Vivian but you’ve hit everything exactly on the head here, as far as we’re concerned–the ho-ishness, the sneaky household disappearances, and the sub-satisfying reasons that got the Trampz off the shelf.

    Nice title, too. I’d like to see the top ten list of search terms linking to this post.

  96. @Cora,

    Actually, I grew up in the early 60s, and I was not allowed to have a Barbie. It was my total OKness with that then that makes me so OK with outlawing both Barbies and Bratz in my own home now. Can we all say “Inappropriate?”

  97. @Cora: I grew up mostly in the 90’s, so Barbie meant something different to me. The Barbie I grew up with didn’t promote sexual promiscuity. I had a Doctor Barbie, a Hairdresser Barbie, Mommy Barbie (complete with twins!), Flight Attendant Barbie, and a Park Ranger Barbie. The dolls basically promoted professions that are perfectly acceptable to today’s parents. (She also was überly and unrealistically skinny, but body image is a whole different issue. Bratz and Barbie are equally guilty here.)

    Bratz, which came about long after I was done playing with dolls, promoted snobbery, self-centeredness, and basically being a brat! The name itself, combined with the “everybody’s doing it” commercials imply that it’s somehow cool and hip to be a brat. And children just don’t need to be given that subliminal message!

    So, at least in our family, the “tizzy” is not so much about sexuality as it is about the implications behind each doll’s theme and name.

    Off topic: One other thing that I think puts Barbie above the Bratz is her clothing. Bratz are clunky and their clothes are changed by “snapping” them on and off. Barbie’s clothes had to be put on just like normal people’s clothing. So, as I slowly grew out of the “playing with dolls” phase, I grew into the “sewing clothing for dolls” phase. I came up with some pretty creative outfits that I never could have made for any of the Bratz!

  98. John @#77: And you’ll find out how effective your admonitions have actually been once Athena gets her driver’s license.

    One double standard I see here is people who say, in effect, Barbies are OK, but Bratz are sluts. I forget if it was Twain or Churchill, but I think a relevant quote is “We’ve already established what you are madam, now all we’re doing is negotiating the price.” Barbies seem to have gotten sleazier in response to the Bratz success, but they both promote an attitude toward consumerism/fashion/sexuality that I find crass at best. OTOH, I have to confess that I wasn’t able to keep either product line out of my daughter’s hands completely. She’s pretty much outgrown them now, so we’ll see how much damage they did when she hits 13 or 14.

    Once you get beyond the consumerism and sexualization, the two product lines each have some redeeming features: Bratz were more racially diverse (assuming a race was discernible), until Mattel got a clue. Barbies have a least a few token professional role models like doctors and veterinarians, where Bratz are exclusively (AFAIK) “spokesperson-models”.

    And no, Bratz will not be disappearing from the shelves on a permanent basis. The rights to the product line will be sold, or royalties will be paid, and production will resume.

  99. My daughter’s 13 – and was never interested in the weirdly deformed slutz. She did have a few Barbies – but lost interest (at about the same time she started buying Mcfly albums – which makes sense).

    OTOH: I must stop referring to my daughter’s friends as “jailbait”. Micro-skirts are the in thing at school since they just scrape through the uniform regulations (for once we are glad our daughter doesn’t like dresses, and doesn’t even own one).

    From the law-suit aspect. As I understand it the designer had signed one of those “all you think of are belong to us” type contracts with Mattel and then left to join the new company. As far as I’m aware Mattel’s case is that he had the idea for the dolls whilst working for them – but how the heck you prove what is happening in someone’s head is problematical.

    Hence there is actually quite a high probability of the ruling being struck down. The whole thing rests on when the guy had the idea and whether those “all you think of etc” contracts actually stand up since he never actually worked on the dolls whilst at Mattel in company time (i.e. no designs, drawings, notes, etc).

    These sorts of contracts seem to usually pop-up as generic “close every loophole” type things which I’ve only ever seen used by American companies (never seen one from a UK company, I’m pretty sure they’d never stand up under British law).

    Every time I’ve been presented with one, that’s one of the clauses I’ve had struck out along with “engaging in any other business”, etc, etc. Those clauses always struck me as a form of slavery since no company has ever yet offered me enough to cover both my work output for them and anything else I might create in my own time with my own equipment.

    Bottom line – don’t write off the little Ho’s yet – that area of law is by no means set in stone.

  100. but how the heck you prove what is happening in someone’s head is problematical

    Not very. You prove that he produced the designs while under contract. Also, if he is required to turn over evidence about his designs and he ruins that evidence first, it makes your job a lot easier. Bottom line – this is not an unsettled or bizarre area of law.

    I grew up at a time when I could take my Wonder Woman and Bionic Woman dolls next door to play with my best friend, whose parents bought him all the GI Joe dolls. We saved the world for you people I don’t know how many times and we never even got a freaking thank-you card.

  101. Mythago @124: Sorry. At the time I was probably high on Super Elastic Bubble Plastic, or insensible from a surfeit of Incredible Edibles and Easy Bake cookies. Thank you.

  102. As I understand it, the Bratz dolls were originally conceptualized and developed by a Mattel employee as part of her work-for-hire at Mattel. After fleshing out the concept, she pitched it to the company’s decision makers and they decided not to produce the dolls. She then took the dolls elsewhere for production, which was a fairly direct violation of her employment agreement with Mattel.

    It isn’t just that the dolls were “in her head.” It’s that she created and developed the dolls during her paid work-time for Mattel. As an industrial designer, I work in a similar situation to her, and I would be in a lot of trouble if I tried to do something similar.

  103. Yeah, Product Fail because Product is Crap: Win. Dollar Vote for theWin.

    Product Withdrawn because someone else has the corner on hyperidealised plastic-surgery girl? Fail. Epic, epic fail.

  104. @ytimynona

    I’m probably a bit older than you, because I clearly remember things like Rock Star Barbie from the mid to late 1980s who really did look like hookers. They became tamer in the 1990s, when the focus shifted towards the doctors, vets, family Barbies and the like. Nowadays, the focus of Barbie seems to be mainly fairytale princesses and the like with a Bratz-like big-head line called MyScene.

    Come to think of it, those hooker style Barbies never seemed to sell all that well back in the day, because those were the dolls that were inevitably marked down by the end of the year, while all those pink and pretty princess Barbies were sold out. Because I also liked to sew my own Barbie clothes, I frequently bought the marked down dolls and replaced the hooker outfits with something classier.

    Also thanks for letting me know how the dressing/undressing part works with the Bratz dolls, because I have been wondering. So those things are not only ugly, apparently they’re also badly designed.

    Though my point still stands that fashion dolls have been around for a long time now. Bratz are only the latest incarnation. Barbie will turn 50 next year and predecessors can be traced back to the mid 19th century if not further. So apparently those toys appeal to some deep-seated impulse in many children, probably related to the same impulse that makes little girls (and some little boys) play dress-up with Mom’s clothes and make-up.

    I can understand why parents are uncomfortable with those dolls (and many parents don’t like playing dress-up either). If I had children, I wouldn’t be particularly happy to find them playing with Bratz dolls either, if only because those things really are butt-ugly. But fashion dolls won’t go away, because they do seem to fulfill a need in many children. We can only hope that the next incarnation of the phenomenon will be less ugly and less fraught with problematic messages.

  105. [quote]As a result, they are (unlike comics and books) rated for maturity levels.[/quote]

    Actually, Marvel does rate their comics and it is clearly marked to the cover of the comic book.

    Quote from their website:

    ALL AGES
    Appropriate for readers of all ages.

    A
    Appropriate for ages 9 and up.

    T+ TEENS & UP
    Appropriate for most readers 13 and up, parents are advised that they may want to read before or with younger children.

    PARENTAL ADVISORY
    15+ years old similar to T+ but featuring more mature themes and/or more graphic imagery. Recommended for teen and adult readers.

    MAX: EXPLICIT CONTENT
    18+ years old Most Mature Readers books will fall under the MAX Comics banner, (created specifically for mature content titles) MAX and Mature-themed titles will continue to be designed to appear distinct from mainline Marvel titles, with the “MAX: Explicit Content” label very prominently displayed on the cover. MAX titles will NOT be sold on the newsstand, and they will NOT be marketed to younger readers.

  106. Product Withdrawn because someone else has the corner on hyperidealised plastic-surgery girl? Fail. Epic, epic fail.

    Absolute failure to understand copyright and contract law and the difference between “inventing Bratz” and “stealing Bratz”? So fail that it comes all way around and crashes into itself, creating enough fail to rupture the space-time continuum.

  107. @Scalzi, @PixelFish, @MattRenthere: Thanks for the clarification – being a college student, I have no idea how these things work! :D

  108. @mythago etc.

    I think it comes down to what the situation actually is (as opposed to what has been reported).

    My information was that no designs were produced when the designer was at Mattel (so no evidence, etc) – whereas others are saying the designer was specifically hired by Mattel to produce the designs (in which case it’s pretty cut and dried!)

  109. if i were a parent, i would probably ban bratz form my home as well, but i just hope that anyone who makes “lil hos” “trampz” “slutz” “prostitots” jokes etc. does it way, *way* out of the hearing of their daughters. or sons, for that matter.

    because in some ways, “women who wear less than x amount of clothing deserve to be mocked, stereotyped & ultimately dehumanized”, is just as evil a lesson as “this is what all girls should dress & act like.”

  110. This is HILARIOUS!!…”noseless lil ho’s”…HA!

    I just found you. I was randomly viewing blogs (just starting mine on WordPress) and stopped because your layout is so clean, and the content is awesome, so I’ll be back! Great Blog!

    @Zara Green on Twitter

  111. My daughter, aged 7, threw out all her Barbies. When asked why, she declared that they were “cheesy”, and added that “no-one” actually looks like that in real life.

    That’s my girl. She now (aged 9) wants a chemistry set for Christmas.

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