State lawmaker seeks legalization of bloody sport while seeking a ban on Barbie dolls

The Assistant Majority Whip for the West Virginia House of Delegates, Jeff Eldridge (D-Lincoln), is simultaneously seeking to legalize “the emerging full-contact – and often bloody – sport of mixed martial arts” while also pushing to make it “unlawful to sell Barbie and similar dolls ‘that promote or influence girls to place an undue importance on physical beauty to the detriment of their intellectual and emotional development.'” 

The background:

From an article in The Charleston Daily Mail, which also describes in great detail Eldridge’s upbringing and history with fighting:

[Eldridge’s] knack for and interest in competitive fighting has led Eldridge to introduce legislation that would allow mixed marital arts events in West Virginia.

In recent years, boxing has dropped in popularity, but the emerging full-contact – and often bloody – sport of mixed martial arts is gaining more fans.

Mixed martial arts is a one-on-one combat sport that allows various fighting techniques, from striking to grappling.

Kicking, punching, wrestling, kneeing, elbowing, slamming, twisting – it’s all allowed. Winners are determined by knockout, submission or referee’s decision.

The sport has come a long way since the 1990s, when U.S. Sen. John McCain dubbed it, “human cockfighting.”

“To my knowledge, no one has died in the UFC,” Eldridge said “There’s a referee and doctors on the scene. It’s professional.

“It’s aggressive, but I’ve seen bad fights in a game of marbles, too.”

Okay – take a deep breadth.  Because, although Eldridge has seen bad fights in a game of marbles too, and still wants to legalize mixed martial arts? He’s got his rationale for banning Barbie all worked out:

House Bill 2918 [a bill “relating to banning the sale of “Barbie” dolls and other dolls that influence girls to be beautiful], introduced Tuesday, would make it unlawful to sell Barbie and similar dolls “that promote or influence girls to place an undue importance on physical beauty to the detriment of their intellectual and emotional development.”

“That’s the image out there that’s the most impressionable on our younger children, especially our little girls — ‘I want to be like Barbie,'” said the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Jeff Eldridge, D-Lincoln. “If we had that other image of Barbie being smart, and beautiful as well, I think that would be a great image to send to our young kids. “

If the bill makes any headway in the Legislature, West Virginia’s government would not be the first to try to block Barbie from store shelves. Iran has tried to ban Barbie dolls in the past, in large part because of how they are dressed.

He is concerned about what could hurt girls’ self-images and said not all the blame should go to Barbie. There also is the image that parents and other family members or adults pass on to young girls that “You’re beautiful” or “You’re a princess,” instead of integrating images of both beauty and intelligence, he said.

The article says Mattel has yet to comment.

Did I mention that one of the committees to which he’s assigned is a Committee on Children, Juveniles and Other Issues?

Did I mention that the W.Va. House of Delegates has 100 members20 of whom are women?

Did I mention that Barbie’s official birthday, her 50th this year, is March 9? (Listen here to a great Diane Rehm show from Monday in which the panel debates the merits and demerits of Barbie.)

Did I mention that Barbie dolls and mixed martial arts are legal in Ohio?

Okay.

So, here are how some other folks are responding to Eldridge’s bills and/or react to the idea of Barbie:

Feminist Peace Network:

And I suppose he wants to ban Hello Kitty too?  And what about GI Joe, that guy has been  giving young boys the wrong idea for a really long time.  There really is no end to where this concept might lead us.  And seriously, in the state of West Virginia don’t the legislators have other stuff to worry about like mountaintop removal and rampant poverty?  Or not.

I sat down with one of my old Barbies and asked her what she thought.  Turns out growing up in the 60s as she did, she kinda liked the idea of going underground,  SDS Barbie perhaps.  But she really likes the idea of becoming Crone Barbie and tells me she has lots of exciting ideas  for future personas–I reminded her about the purple hair episode and she laughed and thought maybe she’d surprise us with a roots need a touchup model.  And absolutely it is time for Arthritic Barbie and Hot Flash Barbie.  As for Ken,  he recently retired and sadly has developed a pot belly, gone bald and don’t ask about  his prostate problems.

From a post in the Feministing.com community section:

While I appreciate the effort, I’m not for censorship, and I don’t think this bill will actually solve any problems. As a West Virginian, I wish my representatives would focus more on WV’s domestic violence issues , unfriendly LGBT policies , and poverty issues . Just sayin’.

Salon.com’s Broadsheet tackled the issue in January in a item titled, “Should parents ban Barbie?”  Here’s an excerpt:

Both “sides” conclude that banning Barbie would make the toy far more appealing. Sagera writes that “by not making it a big deal, we’ve managed to make Barbie no more special than her collection of Hess trucks or her art easel.” Adamick agrees: “Do I want to make such a big deal out of it that an issue heretofore unknown to her suddenly becomes a cause for serious familial discussion?”

If I were to have a daughter, I can’t imagine buying her a Barbie — but if someone gave her one as a present, I’d probably do just as these parents have. As a coworker with a young daughter told me, friends and family members give your child all sorts of gifts that you might find questionable. You let some of them pass … and hide the others.

But I wonder whether the criteria for whether a toy, particularly Barbie, ends up in the garbage bin might have more to do with its familiarity than its actual offensiveness. Both of us agreed that we would probably let Barbie stay — we both grew up playing with her and we turned out OK, right? Bratz dolls, however? Nu-uh, they would be thrown in with the coffee grounds and egg shells.

Finally, there are thousands more results to choose from if you google, “Barbie ban” in blogsearch or in news results.

Here are my issues:

1. Eldridge’s attempt to get Barbie consumption regulated by the government indicates his lack of trust in West Virginia parents to parent appropriately.  Now, if that’s the case, wouldn’t it make sense if, as a state legislator, he looked at what the state can do with the laws and powers it already has to help parents help themselves to be parents who can regulate Barbie usage?

2. On the other hand, he tries to make a dig at retailers: “Even if the bill fails, Eldridge believes it will send a message to retailers to “step it up to another level,” he is quoted as saying in the Daily Mail.  

Um, no, not really, it doesn’t send them a message  – not one other than that their marketing ploys are working so well at getting parents to succumb to what they sell that a state legislator feels a need to ban the item completely from his state.

3. Finally, he repeats a few times his desire that Barbie help foster education.  He wants the impression that Barbie gives not to be one that says, “be beautiful” but rather one that says, “be smart.”  And he believes that the state of West Virginia can achieve that by banning Barbie dolls and similar items.  

So – as I understand this, girls should not come to believe that they can be beautiful and smart, because Eldridge just does not want girls to place a value on beautiful at all. Seems to me this would result in pushing the impression that anyone who is beautiful, should not be trusted to also be smart.  Would that then be legally enforceable discrimination against the beautiful?

Did I mention that this is a man who wants to legalize the bloody contact sport of mixed martial arts but thinks that any doll that could lead to the impression that a girl might want to be beautiful should be banned?

Did I mention it’s past my bedtime?

I’m going to grab my 41 year old Barbie and tuck her under my pillow – I’m a little worried about her tonight.

What do you think? Legalize the bloody sport? Ban Barbie? Do nothing? What?

8 thoughts on “State lawmaker seeks legalization of bloody sport while seeking a ban on Barbie dolls

  1. Having grown up in Charleston WV, it pains me – as it does Jason – to see this kind of stuff. Check here to see what the locals have to say about it. I especially like the one from “Ken” who warned Elridge that “no one talks about my gal like that.” LOL

    A little backround – Lincoln County is adjacent to Kanawha County (Charleston) and is birthplace of one of our favorite sons – Chuck Yeager. It coal mining country, with a population 99% white, and the largest minority being Hispanic (there are 8 African-Americans living in Lincoln Cty; not 8%, just 8). The median household income is $23,000, and median home value $60,000.

    When Obama sneered about folks clinging to their religion and their guns, it was these folks he had in mind. They vote Democratic because of their deeply held pro-labor stance, but they are as socially conservative as it gets.

    I suspect there’s a ‘crazy like a fox’ thing going on here though. Eldridge has good credentials (BA & MA from Marshall), and a lifetime of working with kids as a teacher, counselor and social worker. He’s been in the trenches, and I expect has some sense of what it means to grow up in the sticks and in poverty. And because of that, he may mean exactly what he’s said.

    Or maybe he just wanted his 15 minutes of fame. Now the press can go back to the incessant coverage of Octomom.

    PL

  2. Let’s see … I had Barbies as a little girl and I’ still turned out OK — writer, lawyer, feminist, rabble-rouser and so much more! No, I’m not a big fan of them as a mother, but I’d rather have 9 y.o. PunditGirl pull out her Barbies every now and then over the possibility of having her see bloody violence in any form.

    It actually makes me wonder what’s up with Eldridge. Should we be concerned that we’re electing people to office who think this way?

  3. Oh let’s not throw stones. You know that these silly things happen in every state legislature, not just West Virginia. Unfortunately West Virginia is the whipping boy of all of our states. You might find this interesting to know, as I know that you are interested in educational issues like I am…

    W.V. offers its students something called the Promise Scholarship in which a student with a 3.0 average and I can’t remember the ACT score (maybe 21) is given a scholarship to pay for an in-state school for the entire four years. I wish other states, like Ohio, would be that progressive. Don’t you?

    The barbie thing is silly but we have probably both seen the effects that body image has on teenage girls. It isn’t just barbie, but I have had to deal with issues of anorexia by some high school students and it is so sad to think that they have such a distorted self-image.

  4. Thanks for the really reality-based comment.

    I completely understand people’s aversion to how the doll can be made out to be this über symbol of female physical perfection. But you know what, I think, after 50 years, we really do understand more than ever that that is a TOY, it is NOT what we really strive for, that physical appearance has no causal connection to intelligence and that it is, as you point out, primarily a parenting issue.

    The fact is, if you get rid of the Barbies and other dolls that influence girls to be beautiful, as he writes in the bill, what about the magazines? What about the satelitte and cable shows and infomercials? What about the ads at busstops and on buses, on billboards?

    I agree – as a parent with a daughter and a woman who as a girl went through five Barbies (and a Midge) that her brothers tortured in the most typical and predictable ways, I do not want state legislators putting time into this.

    I can’t believe that W. Virginia’s economy is much better than Ohio – there has got to be a better use of this skills. :)

  5. This is very silly and I’m happy to see you’ve made some good critique of it, Jill. All of your points are spot on from a free market perspective. Get the state out of such busy-ness!

    I will say that, after growing up in a very conservative household with all-boy siblings, I have two preschool girls of my own. I do cringe a little with how much emphasis is placed on beauty. But, based on their low media input, it comes from their hearts.

    I think trying to remove the desire for radiance and beauty from little girls is about as silly as trying to get 10 year old boys to slow down! Not good parenting OR governance.

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