Saturday, December 17

Dora the Domestic-Arts Explorer

Dora kitchen
Making sure your little bride-to-be will know her way around the kitchen

Look, I make no bones about how useless I am domestically. I can't cook; I hate cleaning; when things break, I let them stay broken, etc. And I grew up playing with dolls, playing house, pretending to cook, and being the good mini-mommy-micromanager. So I guess I can't exactly argue that a kid's toys alone will determine the kind of adult he or she will become; development is much more complex than that. But I'm positive that toys and the types of interactions they encourage (and the parental involvement and approval they foster) have a major effect on child development.

So tell me why Dora the Explorer -- the bright, cheeky, bilingual Nickelodeon character whose entire existence is based on the premise that she explores the world around her -- has a fucking kitchen. Wait, don't tell me.

Let's let the marketing department tell me:

Dora's Talking Kitchen brings Dora's adventures into kitchen role play. Children can go on Dora recipe adventures with the help of the 5 recipe adventure maps and 25 play pieces. It captures the unique Dora styling with a life-size Dora who will be cooking right along with the child. Also included are bilingual phrases, music and sound effects.

Yessss! The last great unexplored territory on this great Earth: the kitchen. I'll admit, the bilingual stuff is very cool, and that's always been part of why I have always really liked Dora. But "recipe adventures"? I know cooking is fun for people who like it, and it's quite the useful skill in life, but "recipe adventures" for your 4-year-old? What does that mean?

Pretend to go to the grocery story. Buy eggs, milk, flour, and vanilla extract. Freak out when you realize how expensive free-range eggs are. Buy them anyway and then feel a little guilty when you realize you were probably duped. Fail to enjoy your cake.

It just seems weird and wrong to take a character -- an immensely popular one, at that -- and remove her from her essential element and make a toy that doesn't seem to have anything to do with her or the skills she teaches.

From Nickelodeon's Dora page:

Dora The Explorer is designed to engage pre-schoolers in a play along adventure. Online, your kids can join Dora and her band of animal friends as she journeys through the Spooky Forest, Crocodile Lake, and other exciting places. It’s on these quests that Dora faces problems and needs your child’s help. Dora can’t continue her adventure without your child's input. The series is designed to actively encourage pre-schoolers in a play along adventure. Dora The Explorer builds on Nick Jr's promise to 'Play, Laugh and Learn.' Each day Dora and her monkey companion Boots go on a high stakes journey –- a quest filled with funny friends, puzzling problems and an arch villain fox ...

Dora is popular because she's different from most of the characters marketed to little girls. She's smart and adventurous (as are many heroines) but she's not a damsel in distress, as are most of the other characters on which so many toys are based. Plus, Dora has unisex appeal. So why is she just being marketed to little girls? And in such ways that pervert the message of her show?

I know what some of you are thinking. Lighten up, you grinch. It's just a kids' toy. Yes, exactly. Kids' toys are the last great unchallenged bastion of sexism. Okay, maybe not the last. But think about it. Dora the Explorer is a character who goes into the world and faces whatever obstacles she encounters with her wit, with a little help from her friends and the audience (hence the interactive learning).

The mini-kitchen market is pretty much covered already. Why did Dora's big contribution to the toy department this year (and it's a hot item) have to be a kitchen? Why not Dora's Talking Safari Kit, which comes with jars and stickers and a net and binoculars and and a Walkie-Talkie from which Dora can give instructions and an animal/plant guide, so that your little girl could wander around outside and learn something about the plants and animals and bugs in her yard (if she's lucky enough to have a yard)? Why not a Dora the Explorer Talking Sleuth Kit, which sets up a mystery scenerio (with parental involvement, if needed) to get your little girl thinking about certain clues and putting them together to solve a mystery? Or what about a Dora Talking Scavenger Hunt Kit, where your little girl (and her friends, if she wants), with help from Dora on video or on a little tape player or something, hunts for certain objects and tallies points according to each object's value?

Why a kitchen? Dora's an EXPLORER. Not a housewife, line cook, or chef*. Sure, she should have the option to be any of those things if that's what she wants. But maybe she could get to the kitchen work after some of her toys reflect her wanderlusting nature. Because right now, they, by and large, don't. A dollhouse and some pink furniture? Come on, Nickelodeon, Barbie's got that niche covered.

*Of course I don't mean to insult those fine professions. Being a homemaker is no small or easy task, and it is often underappreciated. But Dora's an explorer. Why don't her toys have more to do with exploring and less to do with piddling around the house, cooking and playing dress-up?


Blogger oskiesmom said...

Hi, I'm Dora. I've just got back from Tanzania, where I've been studying the family structure of the Hangbo tribe.
Interesting lot, the Hangbo. They send their women out to do the hunting while the men and boys stay domiciled to make new weapons, cook and look after the little ones.
There are damn few Hangbo left actually ...
I was just sitting here in my kitchen, in my pink fluffy slippers, drinking tea, wishing I had some grandchildren to bake cookies with and tell all my adventures to. But alas, I never even had children ... too much adventuring and exploring...
I think I'll spike that tea. Let's see ... ah! Absinthe from the Czech Republic ought to do nicely.

Sun Dec 18, 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger phallicpen said...

I've got something Dora can explore.

Sun Dec 18, 06:47:00 PM  
Blogger theogeo said...

Dora will totally drink Absinthe when she gets older.

Amber, I always read your comments and imagine Maevis saying them, and it cracks me up.

Mon Dec 19, 01:10:00 AM  

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