Will It Be A Tragedy If Girls Stop Playing With Dolls?S

Some people think so.

Sales figures show a decline in doll sales by almost 20 percent since 2005, and girls are abandoning dolls at an earlier age. This is clearly distressing news for doll manufacturers. But should anyone else actually be upset?

There is clearly some sense, somewhere, that something will be lost, judging by the handwringing tone of this Philadelphia Inquirer piece on the topic. The girls quoted in the story list everything from basketball to books to Club Penguin as their non-doll diversions of choice. Technology is the biggest culprit, with everything from an iPod touch to "nurturing pet monsters" on moshimonsters.com replacing baby dolls and Barbie dolls and even American Girl dolls.

For a reported piece that quotes tons of child psychologists and doll specialists, it is curiously devoid of even the remotest gender awareness. So let me provide a little dose: it can't be a bad thing that little girls are no longer so proscribed in their play choices, limited to dress-up and dolls. If they want to play with dolls, great. And if they want to nurture a monster, who's to say that's worse?

But muddled into these arguments are a few other, somewhat separate ideas. Several of the experts talk about how the invention of "tween" culture is speeding up the stages of development, making little girls grow up faster than ever:

Tween culture "is transforming the lives of girls," Leavy said, and often to the detriment of self-esteem, she argued, with its emphasis on idealized images of beauty.

To understand why this matters, consider the role of traditional doll play in socialization.

"When little girls play with dolls, they're practicing being a mommy, practicing tending and nurturing," said psychologist Yarrow.

The logic of that segue is lost on me — are idealized images of beauty really antithetical to playing out motherhood? But let's give these experts the benefit of the doubt and assume that what they were really trying to get at what this:

"I don't think I'm good at making up imaginary things," said [one girl]. "I didn't know what to do with dolls."

If she, as a momentary stand-in for little girls of her generation, doesn't know what to do with dolls because she isn't particularly interested in dress-up or playing mommy, fine. But if dolls are being taken here to mean all imaginative play, and interacting in the physical world is being entirely replaced by games in the virtual world (many of them dress-up and playing Mommy) — well, then I would be willing to believe that something is being lost.

Girls Abandon Dolls For Web-Based Toys [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Earlier: Think Pink: The Sexist Toys Of Our Youth