Sisterhood Blog

But Can You Breast-Feed a Baby Doll in Shul?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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Just in time for those who like to stock up early on weird and controversial Hanukkah presents for their young relatives comes news of a baby doll which simulates breast feeding.

On so many levels this doll strikes me as disturbing in the extreme.

The name alone astounds: Bebe Gloton, which translated from its native Spanish apparently means Baby Glutton. Its maker says that it is designed to promote breastfeeding as a natural part of life. The (presumably) little girl “mommy” puts on a bib-like thingy with flowers where in real life her nipples would be, and then puts Baby Glutton to her flowers. The doll simulates sucking and needs burping.

Some commenters on this blog say that Bebe Gloton has tripped “gross out” alarms because of the way American culture has sexualized breast feeding.

I beg to differ.

This grosses me out the same way advertisements for toy vacuums and toy mops do.

But wait, there’s more! Here’s a toy Miele vacuum so that we can teach our children to covet $1,200 vacuum cleaners even as we allow them to sit in front of a television and veg out when they’re not in school.

There’s something perverse about buying children “aspirational” brand toy vacuums even as so many parents fail to give children chores or ever expect them to be able to wield a real vacuum.

Then again, perhaps my distaste is rooted in my aversion to housecleaning overall, let alone mock-housecleaning for kiddies.

But back to Baby Glutton.

What kind of name is that for a doll? Does the manufacturer mean to suggest that a hungry baby is a gluttonous baby? Are we instilling dieting-consciousness into our toddlers now through the names of their baby dolls? Does Bebe Gloton come with mini-candy bars for when it is ready to move onto solids?

I find the flower-nipple thingys a little disturbing too. If this is all about realism, why not put more realistic-looking nipples on the bib? Surely that wouldn’t fly because breasts, not breast-feeding, are sexualized.

This issue came up in a Jewish context a few years ago when a question was put to the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly about whether a woman is permitted to nurse her baby in synagogue.

Here is an article I wrote about it, and here is the teshuva, or religious opinion in its entirety.

I don’t know if I’d want to see a little girl – or little boy, for that matter – “nursing” a baby doll inside or outside of a house of worship.

I mean, my daughters both pretend-nursed their baby dolls by just holding them up to their own little-girl chests. I don’t need to train them for the real thing at such a young age. What’s next, giving our little ones purple nurples so they can get a “taste” of what a cracked nipple feels like?

Baby Glutton is spurring so much traffic to the manufacturer’s website that it was crashed, at least when I tried accessing it.

Well, let’s at least hope that some enterprising Israeli doesn’t come out with a Jewish version and call it Tinok Zolelani (Hebrew for Gluttonous Baby).

Leah Berkenwald Tue. Aug 11, 2009

I first heard about this doll on some feminist websites, which took the "what's the big deal, breastfeeding is natural" approach. I appreciate that sentiment, but something about this doll still didn't feel right. Thank you for putting my gut reaction into words, and reconciling my feminist concerns as well!

I've included your post in today's link roundup at Jewesses With Attitude!

Aurora Mendelsohn Wed. Aug 12, 2009

I don't find this doll any more disturbing than dolls that pee and come with diapers and a potty, which did not generate nearly as much of a fuss. There is a "yuck --why can't we just use our imagination" factor that most adults have when they see these toys because they make us uncomfortable ( bodily functions and all) but the truth is kids love that stuff.

My daughters ( and several of their male friends) also pretend-nursed their dolls and stuffed toys by just holding them close.

I have no more problem with the doll than I do with any doll that takes batteries and makes noise-- and for that reason I wouldn't buy it for my kids or use it in shul.

But as a general toy that promotes a positive image of breast-feeding sound good to me.

I think equating the chore of breast-feeding with vacuuming is a false dichotomy. One is a truly nurturing and relationship- build activity the other is housework.

I agree that the name is really awful! I am hoping that it is just some sort of cultural nuance that is lost in translation from the Spanish.

As for nursing in shul and Jewish texts that support it ( midrash not halachic analysis, see my Lilith article from 2002. (I didn't write the insert, which I disagree with...)

I love your blog - it is always interesting


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