Dora the Explorer: The Power of a Petition

Early in March, toy maker Mattel released a silhouette of its 10-year-old version of Dora the Explorer, a hugely popular pre-school cartoon character known around the world. Some parents were outraged to see the outline of what appeared to be a tween Dora with long flowing hair and a short skirt, emphasizing a pair of long shapely legs. The prototype was originally to be unveiled in October of 2009; however, there was a change in plans after a flurry of negative press and a petition.

This "tweening" of Dora caused Lyn Mikel Brown and Sharon Lamb, the authors of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketing Schemes, to start a Let's Go: No Makeover for Dora petition to show Mattel that parents, educators, activists and girls did not want to see Dora without her compass, backpack, sneakers or shorts. In their book, psychologists Lamb and Brown write about Dora as a positive role model for girls because of her inquisitive, adventurous and courageous spirit. Their concern was that the tween Dora would be little more than a "fashionista, excited about secrets and crushes, and going shopping." The authors believe that this type of role model leads young girls to believe that their outward appearance is more important than developing other skills and interests.

In the end, this petition and message resonated with many people, and 13,413 signatures later, Mattel decided to unveil its doll early, six months before the initial date in fact. As it turned out, the much maligned mini-skirt was a tunic. Her hair was indeed long and flowing, but she wasn't wearing any make-up, and there were no heels. She was wearing ballet slipper flats.

Now would she be jumping into any mud puddles with these flats? Nope. Would she be trekking through the woods or "exploring" the back country in that tunic and leggings? Very much doubt it. Wouldn't the necklace and bracelet get caught on branches, or just get in the way? Yep. Ditto for the hairband. Smells to me like there will be a line of Dora accessories. Too bad it won't include a compass, map or some hiking boots. You know, something useful.

Okay, so at least she doesn't look like a Bratz doll or Barbie. But nor does she look Explorer.

In my heart of hearts, I can't help thinking that Dora would have looked much more like her competition, the Bratz, if there hadn't been so much negative press or this petition. It just goes to show that blogs and e-petitions have a lot more influence than we might think.

For the perspective of another blogger who has written extensively about Dora visit Viva La Feminista. She also addresses the issue of Mattel's delatina-izing of Dora.

To find out what Petitionists Lamb and Brown think about Mattel's final product, visit their blog Packaging Girlhood. They break it down into four compelling points.

A Yahoo news report also mentions the e-petition in its coverage of Mattel's tweening of Dora, but I was surprised to see the headline,"After Dora uproar, Nick and Mattel soothe moms." I, for one, was not soothed by tween Dora.


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