Disability Doll Distaste: More Down Syndrome Douchebaggery

[Cross-posted at Shakesville.]

dollswithdisabilities

Why are some people so resistant to the idea of dolls with disabilities?

The Times Online ran an article last week on dolls that look like children with Down syndrome, or dolls with wheelchairs or physiotherapy equipment, or dolls with prosthetic limbs or leg braces or guide dogs.

Despite the glaring obviousness that is the fact that dolls should come in all sorts, and the clear evidence that such dolls are enjoyed by children and useful in therapeutic situations, some people are freaked right out at the thought that not all dolls exhibit Stepford eugenic homogeneity.

dollswithdisabilities1

Even a “psychologist” quoted in the Times Online article whined about how the dolls “emphasise” difference:

“Children who have disabilities, including children with Down’s syndrome, tend to see themselves as ‘like everyone else’ and to offer a toy that ‘looks like them’ may only emphasize the difference.”

I wonder whether the same psychologist would object so strenuously to dolls of colour? Dolls wearing clothing unlike that of most others in their environment? How about female dolls?

Disaboom talks about this article further:

She adds that, if a child has a temporary condition, such as a broken leg, which requires the use of a wheelchair, that child may feel an affiliation with Becky, who also needs a wheelchair. But those children who may have a lifelong condition such as cerebral palsy, which requires the long-term use of a wheelchair, “may wish to affiliate with a free-moving child and in fact see themselves as a normal, free-moving doll”. ”

So let me get this straight…A child who looks different EVERY day doesn’t realize? But a child who breaks their leg is welcome to play around with this little temporary fashion accessory if they please? IF children with disabilities wish to “affiliate themselves with a free-moving child” it’s because they don’t have positive models of how some in the world see them. Most recognize the importance of children of color to have access to dolls that resemble them. How is this different?

A person quoted in a Daily Mail article on the topic finds dolls with disabilities to be “disturbing and sinister”, and commenters find them “grotesque”, “sick and patronising”, and “disrespectful”.

A commenter at Fibrofog states point blank that giving a child a doll with the facial features of Down syndrome (or with a wheelchair) is just like giving a child a doll resembling an alcoholic, or simulating a drug overdose. A few weeks ago we had a major television show, All Saints, saying that Down syndrome is the result of sibling incest; now children with Down syndromes are just like heroin addicts.

What next? How did we get to this place of hate? How do we get out?



Categories: social justice

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21 replies

  1. The doll with the guide dog and white stick is fabulous! Why would any kid NOT want such a doll?

  2. I second Laurie’s comment! The doll with the guide dog and white stick is rad, and the guide dog has a hilarious expression on its face. 🙂

  3. I just love it when educated people, who really should know better, dress up their distaste with really faulty logic.
    Dropping off my kids at Daycare last week, my two old boy was very taken with pushing a doll in her little wheelchair. I would imagine that another point of dolls like this would be to socialise non-disabled kids into seeing and understanding how to interact with kids who have disabilities, so that they don’t grow up into douchebags like the psychologist quoted in the article.
    Rayedishs last blog post..It seems that people continue to go to extremes to ensure that they have a son

  4. I like the wheelchair and Down dolls, but my disquiet is other: am I alone in finding ‘douchebag’, used as an insult, offensive? It’s (a) very American (I am quite, quite sure that the majority of Australian men and boys who now use it habitually wouldn’t have a clue what a douche bag actually is) and (b) very suss feminist-wise, surely? Something used to over-clean a vagina (because, as we all know, vaginas are disgusting) is an insult? What logic makes this different from using ‘c*nt’ as an insult?

  5. I wish I could find the discussion at Shakesville that convinced me that “douchebag” and “douche” are perfectly cromulent feminist insults. There’s a brief allusion to it in their FAQ.
    Douches aren’t a lovely normal part of the female body like cunts are. They’re a harmful, misogynist artificial invention of the patriarchy. So the application of “douchebag” to people who want women (and other oppressed groups) to feel ashamed of themselves and their bodies is really quite apropos.

  6. They’re a harmful, misogynist artificial invention of the patriarchy. So the application of “douchebag” to people who want women (and other oppressed groups) to feel ashamed of themselves and their bodies is really quite apropos.

    Yes, I was starting to work through the logic of this for myself as I was writing the comment. I guess I’m just so appalled when I see it used in the usual way (ie mindlessly by misogynist boys) that my feminist knees just cain’t stop from jerkin’.

  7. I hear you PC – I did exactly the same thing, and am glad to have an opportunity to explain it.
    I now get a little frisson of seekrit feminist pleasure when misogynist men use it against each other. So there are unexpected side benefits!

  8. Repeat after me: “Different is Bad, different is wrong”
    This mantra will prevent you from ever needing to think, care or imagine and will ensure you remain a malcontented omniphobe.
    I find the dolls are a relief, finally toys that reflect reality.
    Grendels last blog post..Stocks at an all-time low

  9. I love (read: hate) how all of these commenters only assume that a disabled child would want/be given a doll with some sort of disability. Of course, it’s fantastic for kids with disability to have that option, but no one was even talking about the way that these dolls could help foster empathy and respect for disabled people in fully-abled children.

  10. Hell yes, Beppie. I mean, God forbid that a doll like the above could be played with and loved by a “normal” child, or give parents and caregivers a really awesome way of explaining that not everyone is an identical automaton!

  11. Great observation Lauredhel!

  12. no one was even talking about the way that these dolls could help foster empathy and respect for disabled people in fully-abled children.

    Word. And doll companies in general could do a lot more to help normalise the varieties of humans out there, rather than this sort of thing being relegated to a “specialist” (expensive++) niche.

  13. This is so very irritating. Oh noes! If we allow the existence of dolls that look like kids with disabilities, how will folks know that disabilities are something to be afraid of? We might be forced to stop treating PWD as though they are a horrible burden on society and they should be grateful all the damned time! Go us!
    Hey, did you get an email from the Creature Discomforts people? (link opens with sound) Looks like an interesting awareness campaign in the UK.
    Annas last blog post..Almost Like A "Real Person"

  14. no one was even talking about the way that these dolls could help foster empathy and respect for disabled people in fully-abled children.

    Including, I might add, children who already know friends, family members, or just acquaintances with disabilities. I grew up with a disabled brother and knew a lot of kids with disabilities who were friends/classmates/teammates of his, and I think it would have been cool to have had dolls with disabilities. I certainly remember liking the few dolls of color I had (who, sadly, were mostly billed as Barbie’s “exotic” friends) even though I’m white.
    Sweet Machines last blog post..Ask Aunt Fattie: What do I say when people compliment my weight loss?

  15. I certainly remember liking the few dolls of color I had (who, sadly, were mostly billed as Barbie’s “exotic” friends) even though I’m white.
    I was just going to say the same thing. At the height of the Cabbage Patch Kids craze, Christmas rolled around, and my parents had waited too long to find me a blonde one that looked like me, which would have been ideal in my mind. So I ended up with an African-American Cabbage Patch Kid, and it took me about 5 seconds to get over the disappointment that she didn’t look like me and go absolutely freakin’ nuts for that doll — I carried her everywhere for aaaaages, and I might have loved her even more than my dog for a while there.
    It sounds kind of dumb, but considering A) my age, and B) the fact that I was growing up in a super white town, where I rarely had the opportunity to interact with people of color, having an African-American doll that I was gaga for really was a meaningful step toward normalizing different skin colors for me. How many people generalize about and stereotype groups of people they’ve never encountered personally, then have a change of heart (to some extent, anyway) when they meet just one person from a given group and grok that that person is fully human? For a little kid, a doll can actually sort of be that person. (And of course there’s loads of work to come in terms of dismantling internalized isms after that first “A-ha” moment, but especially for children, simple exposure can make a big difference.) I’m sure that if they’d made a Cabbage Patch Kid with a disability, I would have fallen in love with that one just as quickly (especially if it came with a service dog). And the next time I saw a person with the same disability, I might have thought, “Hey, you’re like my awesome doll!” instead of “Hey, you’re not like me! What’s wrong with you?”

  16. I’ve been dabbling in (soft) doll making and never would have thought to make a doll in a wheelchair, or any of the other dolls featured in this blog post, to be honest. They’re all quite charming really, don’t see what the fuss is all about.
    Interestingly you can buy your Build-A-Bear a wheelchair!
    Also, really liked Beppie’s comment (#9).

  17. I am a differently-abled 22 year old woman and seeing dolls and other images that reflect who I am make me feel better, I cannot even imagine the self worth gained by differently-abled children with access to these toys. It must be amazing. Thank you for sharing this story, I’m so glad many feminists are realizing abled-bodism is an important issue for women.

  18. i think that these dolls are stupid and should not be made. All it is are some people wanting to make fun of other people with disabilities. you people who make these dolls you are going to pay for it someday. all im trying to say is it aint right to do that!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. Commentor at #18, did you even read the post?

    Kids who have disabilities are generally thrilled to be given dolls who share their disability. It is nothing to do with making fun of them and all about being open about disability and not trying to Other it into invisibility.

  20. How did we get here? Through fear.
    The -isms that are all about fear of the Other are vicious and difficult enough to eradicate, but I think in some ways the deepest-rooted are the ones– related to disability, sexual orientation, size, gender identity– that “could happen in any family.”

  21. When I was a little girl (and I’m about to show how well off my family was) my parents bought me an American Girl lookalike doll. Every Saturday I had to get 20, 30, sometimes up to 6o intramural allergy shots, and until my immune system normalized, they all swelled and turned bright red. Every Sunday I spent recovering, sick from all the antigens, and every Monday I wore long sleeves even in hot weather so that no one would see the neat little rows of welts with numbers beside them on my arms. My mom took that extremely expensive doll that I had barely been allowed to touch, and painted little pink circles on her arms with nail polish so they made little domes, and drew numbers beside them in ball point pen. you have no idea how much I loved that doll and how much it meant to me that she did that for me. Bring on the disabled dolls. It’s about time.

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