Imagine A Doll That Sends The Message Smart = Attractive...

i-1e58460101722b1c2e4d8ea936c6d026-New dora.jpg

The blogosphere is buzzing over the new middle school aged Dora The Explorer because of her recently released silhouette.

Over at Packaging Girlhood, Lynn and Sharon suggest:

If the original Dora grew up, she wouldn't be a fashion icon or a shopaholic. She'd develop her map reading skills and imagine the places she could go. She'd capitalize on those problem solving skills to design new ways to bring fresh water to communities in need around the world. Maybe she'd become a world class runner or follow her love of animals and become a wildlife preservationist or biologist.

Wait... what?! We've only seen her silhouette and have no idea what Dora's up to yet. And since when are brains and social consciousness defined by appearances? The notion is absolutely ridiculous. Further, I would love to see more messages to girls (and boys) that smart = attractive. Because it certainly does!

I hope that Dora remains curious, clever, self confident, and kind. And if she chooses to do so while wearing cute shoes, she's entitled. I could wax poetic on this one, but Isis has done a terrific job over at On Becoming A Domestic And Laboratory Goddess so go take a look. In short, we each have many dimensions that make us interesting and unique.  Let's not judge Dora's character based on an obscure image before we learn more about who she is. 

Of course, I hope she loses the monkey... Sends the wrong message to kids.

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Great post. Smart is most attractive! Consider the men and women on Scienceblogs :>

Looks to me like Dora has a gigantic head AND a mechanical claw for her left hand. But here's a thought: for a variety of reasons both cultural and evolutionary, females have, on average, better social reasoning skills than males. This is a perfectly respectable form of intelligence. So why not make such skills the object of admiration? Would we want to teach girls to ignore one of their great strengths and instead pursue just one dimension of intelligence?

By Erasmussimo (not verified) on 11 Mar 2009 #permalink

I'm still trying to figure out how making people look more gender-typified and more "pretty" by culturally norms actually sends the message "smart = attractive".
I don't think the problem is that we send the message "if you're smart, you must be dumb" (that message does exist, but it is so inane that at least we can mock it comfortably).
The trouble as I see it, is that we send people (but especially young girls) the message that being "pretty" is what matters. It's a much more pernicious message- because it's pretty darn hard to deny on factual grounds that being pretty is an asset. I'm not sure this Dora helps on that front.

Part of the problem with this though- is that we unconsciously perceive good looking women to be less competent. The same does not go for good looking men. I forget where I read this but it was probably in Virginia Valian's fine book.

I'm with Becca 100%, I do not want my 11 and 6 year old daughters to internalize the societal message that being 'pretty' is what matters or what makes them valuable as people. That's a big part of the reason why I despise this whole 'hotness' discussion. I have daughters and they are exactly at this vulnerable age- and they do not have the strength of an adult to resist this message.

Good luck fighting that one, becca; the elephant in the room is that men prefer beautiful women over ugly women. Trying to convince girls that beauty doesn't matter is like trying to convince teens that they should abstain from sex until they're married. Moreover, you'll never convince men to ignore physical appearance in selecting mates. You're up against a bulldozer called "SEX" and you will only be crushed by it. A more effective strategy, I think, would be to convince girls that it's even BETTER to be smart AND beautiful. That way, homely girls could feel greater confidence knowing that they're halfway there.

There's a TV show called "Bones" that my wife loves (and I occasionally watch along). It has a beautiful heroine who is also very smart, but her intelligence is the dominant factor, not her appearance. She comes off as a really smart woman who also happens to be beautiful. She's independent, fearless, aggressive, free of sexual shyness, can physically take down a man when necessary -- definitely a great role model. I think this kind of thing represents the approach we can take. Moreover, the writing is excellent, the character mix is colorful, and there's nothing blatantly feminist about it, so it doesn't touch off any defensive reactions from anybody.

By Erasmussimo (not verified) on 11 Mar 2009 #permalink

There are different ways to be 'smart' and being socially adept is part of it. Hygeine and looking one's best are often extensions of that. It's part of understanding culture which demonstrates intelligence through another lens.

If being pretty is a prerequisite for breeding - why are there so amny "ugly" people in the world?

At some point, people must decide that there are other factors besides physical beauty that make a mate attractive, otherwise where did YOU come from, dear readers?


Men strive to "be with" the most desirable women (defined any way you want). The MOST attractive females then have their pick of the male litter. Think of two overlapping bell curves. The net result is that even a not-really-very-attractive woman can get an average guy (Bink--that's where you must come from), but the worst drek of a guy is shit out of luck.

By Eric the Leaf (not verified) on 11 Mar 2009 #permalink

My daughter adores Dora so much, she's watching her everyday, good thing is she's learning a little spanish...I wonder what she would look like if she's grown up.

IIRC, at least according to statistical studies, intelligence increases the sexual success of women (happier sex life, more partners etc). For men it's just the opposite.

I think it might be partly explained by the differences in intelligence standard deviations. If we assume there is a flatter intelligence distribution for men, smart women are surrounded by many men that are their intellectual equals - whereas average women have less peer men to choose from. And the opposite for men - smart men have only a few smart women they have to fight over.

Of course reality is much more complicated, these are just thought experiments.

The above has a caveat: If the smart women see the less smart men as desirable (as opposed to the overabundance of smart men) but the less smart men see the smart women as a threat, then there is a problem for a woman being smart - ie it is a problem if you don't assume a striving toward finding an equal partner.

Of course, there are always easy ways of getting stupider, at least momentarily, like alcohol. :)

Thanks for writing about this Sheril. I really go weary of the compartmentalization of women and the fact that there is no positive message for young girls. No wonder adolescence is such a hard time.