by Mary Harrington
Saturday, 5
February 2022
Spotted
07:00

What ‘sexy’ childrens’ toys reveal about adults

Build-A-Bear's new range is really about the infantilisation of adults
by Mary Harrington
Build-A-Bear’s sexy stuffed toy

The children’s toy franchise ‘Build-A-Bear’ has launched a range of ‘sexy’ stuffed toys, one complete with satin dressing gown and toy bottle of champagne.

It’s easy to rant at the commerce-driven sexualisation of childhood, a phenomenon now so pervasive even the Government has opinions. But I think the best way to view this is from the other end of the same telescope: not the pornification of childhood, but the infantilisation of adults.

This extends well beyond the sexual domain: consider the profoundly cringe term ‘adulting’, where performing any basic task is associated with ordinary adult self-reliance. So popular is the term that it now has its own reward chart stickers; those who wish to recreate the primary-school thrill of getting a sticker can now do so in exchange for managing elementary features of being a functioning adult such as turning up on time, doing the laundry or wearing trousers.

It doesn’t stop at adult reward charts, though. The collapsing cultural distinction between the assumed subjectivity of children and adults is, inevitably, sexualised as well, in the growing popularity of ‘age play’ BDSM scenarios, in which one or more participants adopt a child-like persona.

It’s hard to say definitively what’s triggered this converging sexualisation of infancy, and infantilisation of sexuality. Two possible (and related) factors spring to mind: firstly, the cultural reimagining of sex as principally a leisure activity, driven by birth control and ubiquitous porn, and secondly rising rates of childlessness.

I’m willing to bet roleplaying as ‘little’ is less common in adults who are themselves parents. I’m also willing to bet that for adults who themselves have young children, the idea of a ‘kinky’ version of the Build-a-Bear ritual, where children queue to put a ‘heart’ into their chosen bear so it ‘comes to life’, is likely to seem less edgy or amusing than just icky. And, more generally, nothing cures one more briskly of the twee fantasy that doing the laundry merits a sticker for ‘adulting’ than becoming a parent and realising that a newborn baby is utterly dependent on you getting your act together.

I don’t know if childlessness is creating infantile adults, or infantilised adults are refusing to become parents, but the two are connected. And the resulting subculture of sterile perpetual tweens is actively blurring the lines between childhood and adult sexuality, seemingly oblivious to the potential knock-on effects on actual children.

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Sue Whorton
Sue Whorton
3 months ago

When you see anything on previous generations in wartime, those of 24 are called so young. When you here veterans talk , 24 was regarded as ancient as it probably meant 5 years of survival. My Uncle was a 2nd officer of a merchant vessel on the Atlantic Convoys at 18. By 20 he was a first officer and a sole survivor, being torpedoed and brought ashore at Madeira after 72 hrs in the water. The level of responsibility was normal at the time. My contemporaries who trained as nurses were in charge of wards at night as students by 20. I am not sure what has happened. I am obviously a dinosaur.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
3 months ago
Reply to  Sue Whorton

The main issue is the amount of time that people spend in full-time education now; there is no way you can become a mature adult at university, you’re not working or mixing with others, you’re only responsibiliy (in most cases) is getting your next assignment in on time. I don’t mean to imply that higher education is not needed or useful (although I do question the way some things that used to be taught “on the job” now seem to require a university degree) however, I believe that being a student does delay emotional, mental, and practical maturity.

You’re right about past generations, my mother was manning anti-aircraft guns at 19, my father was on convoy protection in the Atlantic as a PO at 22. I was rather heartened, though, when I watched an episode of “Warship: Life at Sea” and saw a young woman, I think she was about 20, who was, as it was put on the programme, “driving” the ship and training in submarine hunting, and she wasn’t unique on the ship.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 months ago

Have you watched much on Malta WWII? One of the most amazing stories of the war – the most bombed place on earth – the major relief convoy had 50 ships – 3 aircraft carriers, battle ships, Cruisers, Destroyers, Mine Sweepers – just to guard 14 cargo ships across the Mediterranean to relieve Malta. They figured is half the Navy ships were lost it would be worth it if just 2 cargo ships survived the passage. 2 Aircraft carriers were lost, and almost all the cargo ships and a great number of the Navy ships. The most amazing relief trip of all time. But it was a success – the ship Ohio was the most amazing transit ever… a must watch, old footage (Malta air base was what stopped the Germans taking all North Africa.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yh63H6UaVHs

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
3 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Actually I have, it was an amazing achievement, I remember seeing some photos of its entry into the harbour and the people greeting it. You’re right about the importance of Malta, it was a very important base for British submarines operating against German supply ships to N. Africa. As you probably know, Malta’s incredible resistance during those appalling days (she had 3,215 air raid warnings, an average of 1 every 7 hours for 2½ years between June 1940 and October 1942) resulted in her being awarded the George Cross as a personal guesture by King George.

I have a passionate interst in maritime history, particularly the RN. This is probably because I grew-up around the navy, but also because as my father became older and more frail I needed something to connect with him again so I nurtured a fledgling interest in naval history in order to spark enthusiasm and get him talking about his time in the navy.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
3 months ago
Reply to  Sue Whorton

Sue, our parents and grandparents had to cope with two world wars and the great depression – I guess we don’t want that for our children! Actually, though they seem pampered, they are in a tough world. They finish education with a big debt but there aren’t many good jobs – you might be expected to ‘intern’ (work for nothing for 6 months), or lucky enough to get a temporary contract. Even all the pressure to look and dress a certain way. (Jeans and a t-shirt pretty much got you through the 70s). The world, as brought to us by Mary Harrington, seems a pretty exploitative place – of which they must be very aware.

But some people do need a challenge to help them mature – particularly males, who will re-create strenuous hikes etc. done by soldiers in WW2. I know that after I finished uni and started work (a desk and, the latest technology: an electric typewriter) I felt I needed to achieve something more. I did that by doing a two-year stint as a volunteer worker in West Java. It was hard, but it worked – after that I knew that a) strangers will help you, and b) I could cope if I had to. People are all different and will need different challenges, but they should be encouraged to try them; you might lose something financially, or career-wise, but you gain a lot more.

As for Mary’s post – a surprising number of people have always seemed to like having soft toys on their beds, or eating the comfort foods of childhood – that at least isn’t new.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
3 months ago

I don’t know about “Sexy”, but I queued for hours and all I managed to get was a moth-eaten stuffed Henry Kissinger doll…I tell you, that’s the last time I go to a Bilderberg workshop.

Last edited 3 months ago by Paddy Taylor
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Were they out of the Klaus Schwab in Louis the XIV robes – dolls? Getting one of those made it all worth it.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 months ago

The infantilisation of adults is very noticeable and very strange. One of my guilty pleasures is watching the TV programme First Dates, and I’m struck by how often young things (in their 20s and 30s) are stuck in a fantasy world of Disney films, princesses, super heroes etc. Perhaps they should read 1 Corinthians 13:11

Michael Davis
Michael Davis
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Please don’t watch reality shows and think you are viewing normality
The performers are just that, the more ridiculous they seem the more likely they are to be asked back and then become a “celebrity”

Claire D
Claire D
3 months ago

I’ve fallen foul of the algorithm again, this is a rewrite.
The odd behaviour this article describes, where are we going with this in the social sense ? We seem to have lost all moral purpose in our efforts to be ‘tolerant’ and ‘compassionate’ towards others. Meanwhile the market and political activists make strides towards whatever they dream of, driven by ideologies ranging from free market capitalism to CRT and qu**r theory.
I think by the law of averages there must be a turnaround on the way.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 months ago
Reply to  Claire D

Yesterday’s Telegraph (newspaper) interview with Victor Davis Hanson on the Left excesses, and how they captured the Democrats and Biden is excellent.

It gives one some hope there may be turnaround from the total destruction of the west as they played their hand too hard and too fast the last 4 years – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdkca09EHRI

But not all is hope, vast damage has been done by the hard, Progressive, Left in their march to destroy the West. Hanson is a great mind, and it is a worthwhile watch.

Claire D
Claire D
3 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Thanks, I’ll have a look in the morning.

William Shaw
William Shaw
3 months ago

I’m grateful for the fact that until now I’d never heard of the term “adulting” and I had to read the sentence twice to figure out what “reward chart stickers” are.
I also wish I hadn’t clicked on that link to “age-play BDSM scenarios.”
I’m another dinosaur like Sue below.

Last edited 3 months ago by William Shaw
Andrea Re
Andrea Re
3 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

Me too. I was totally oblivious something like that existed.
Dare I (or should I) ask what the chart sticker really is?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
3 months ago

Infantile adults indeed – we have created (and are still creating) generations of young in the west, who have not been allowed adventure, not allowed to learn to face risk and cannot assess it, with the myth of the state as the ultimate safety net, exacerbated by events like “furlough” – but large numbers of young people nevertheless face half a lifetime of precariousness.

And it is absolutely obvious to me, the strata that is going to emerge the big time losers in all this. The entire younger generation has pretty much bought into the so called woke values packages to some extent, pushed not so much by the tech bros themselves, but by the huge set of hangers-on around the ecosystems created by the tech bros, and feeding off those ecosystems (people overwhelmingly from humanities backgrounds). And this is the point: it is not the tech bros or STEM people themselves who are going to get hurt – because they know how all the toys are put together, and they know their services will remain bid, but all the rest, (except for a top end strata of expertise in specific technical skills eg law or complex management) are totally dispensible, and in bad times they are incredibly vulnerable. Their expectation that a combination of those values packages and the state between them, will remain the saviour of last resort in all circumstances is a very big misjudgement, as they will discover to their cost – and it is not clear to me how they will react when reality dawns in the next few years.

It cannot even be said they have been sold a pup by the tech bros – I know the tech ecosystems well, and it seems to me they have sold themselves the pup, they are like varieties of groupies, bedazzled by power and wealth and glamour of the companies they work in, to the point of delusion, that they themselves somehow were participants in creating those ecosystems, when they are if fact fodder.

Last edited 3 months ago by Prashant Kotak
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Someone here described a cartoon they had seen, An old person with one of those baby carriers that carry the baby on one’s chest – and on the fabric of the carrier holding the baby on their chest were the words:

Covid Stab Vest.

haha And it is true – the People in charge just destroyed the education, mental, social, economic, employment, and physical health of the young – FOR (so they said) to protect the old and frail.

What an Obscenity that is! The elites are out to destroy the Young. It is pure psychopath action. The debt from the Lockdowns will never be paid back, being an economic drag on the young, and destroying their ability to ever buy a house or build a pension.

And the Fu** ing Sheep just lined up for their myocarditis and pericarditis jabs.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
3 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

“And the Fu** ing Sheep just lined up for their myocarditis and pericarditis jabs.”

Galeti, for someone who laments the destruction of the middle-class, you don’t seem to lament the passing of middle-class manners. I don’t follow all this closely, but isn’t mycocarditis mainly a worry for young males? Not so much for the three-score-and-ten brigade. Just let people make their own decisions.

Last edited 3 months ago by Russell Hamilton
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 months ago

Sorry for the language – , but it is the young sheep who risk the Heart problems from the vax, wile having no risk from the covid illness.

This is supposed to save the old people, but obviously will do noting of the sort. It is just to pump $$$ into the Pharma industry, and thus to Pelosi and other politicos who own the Pharma equities.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 months ago

Infantile adults are disgusting, and need to be told so.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

But they are entirely the intentional product of the Post Modernist Elite through the Education industry, the MSM, and Social Media. The agenda is to produce there nutered, useless, drones who are self genociding, and so the West collapeses into a sort of Feudal state of Central Planners running the world through One World Government – WEF, Great Reset, and all dependent of government handouts in exchange for their votes.

Middle class have to be destroyed for that to happen – so the method is to destroy the Middle Class Family – it really is a monstrous Plot. All the Feminists, Progressives, educators, social media are Useful Idiots out to destroy the Middle Class as a people. Almost exactly like how Stalin destroyed the Kulaks as a class by genocide. This is just a kinder genocide that Stalin used.

(Stalin destroyed the Kulaks by shipping them to Siberia to starve as they were peasant landowners so would not collectivize, as each owned their own means of production. He killed millions of them – not as many as the Middle Class babies are aborted (same thing) in 3 years though (3 million), under our progressive genociders system of wiping out the Middle Class – as they also own their own means of production – and all must OWN NOTHING in the Great Reset – so they must be exterminated..

ralph bell
ralph bell
3 months ago

Many parents of their children who are now adults in the twenties and even thirties and some educators encourage the notion that they do not become adults until post 25 i.e. when they leave education and get their first permeant job and /or leave home.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 months ago
Reply to  ralph bell

The greatest crime against the young is ‘Student Loans’, which are Much worse in USA. That means the infantilized students graduate as children, but with so much debt they cannot afford to buy a house, get married, and have a family so become drones. This neutering of the young is basically genocide of the White Middle Class. It is all planned – they really are out to destroy the middle class as they have too much power and are not client voters of the government like the poor are.

David D'Andrea
David D'Andrea
3 months ago

The relationship between childlessness and infantilized adults may be mediated by a third factor: both are caused by disregulated developmental processes. These cause arrested development, a subconscious desire to revisit childhood in hopes of a more satisfying experience. I think we see this all around, and that it will only become pervasive as childhood social experience is displaced by screen time and developmentally inappropriate political concerns intrude on the upbringing and education of children.

David D'Andrea
David D'Andrea
3 months ago
Reply to  David D'Andrea

Christopher Lasch’s 1979 bestseller The Culture of Narcissism is extremely relevant on this score. He describes how modern parents are both overly solicitous of their children and also profoundly distanced from them, wrapped up in their own anxiety. This familial dynamic reproduces itself through the emotionally destabilized children.

Last edited 3 months ago by David D'Andrea
Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
3 months ago
Reply to  David D'Andrea

This is an important observation. Infantilization did not start with universal higher education; it has to have some older roots. The culture of narcissism in turn might be reckoned an outcome of the ascendancy, since mid-century, of (David Riesman’s) other-directed character.

David D'Andrea
David D'Andrea
3 months ago

Thanks for the pointer. The Lonely Crowd sat on my bookshelves for some time, unread, and then I gave it away. I’ll keep my eyes open for another copy.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
3 months ago
Reply to  David D'Andrea

If you haven’t read it I so envy you, you’re in for such a treat. Long before “social media” appeared, Riesman delineated the mindset that would make it possible.

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
3 months ago
Reply to  David D'Andrea

Gosh, another book about how to blame the mother (er, I mean parents). Adolescence has been protracted and the older of us, fascinated by youth, want it too.
Isn’t BDSM as old as rubber?

Jason Highley
Jason Highley
3 months ago

And, more generally, nothing cures one more briskly of the twee fantasy that doing the laundry merits a sticker for ‘adulting’ than becoming a parent and realising that a newborn baby is utterly dependent on you getting your act together.”
Best comment of the whole read.

Claire D
Claire D
3 months ago

This went to moderation and has been rewritten.

Last edited 3 months ago by Claire D
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 months ago
Reply to  Claire D

Redacted by the appearance – just the big black bars censoring your truth are not shown, but the lack of content shows you hit some truth the Mods could not live with.

Unherd really is the Sheep magazine – it allows some few posters to say wrong thought to give the appearance of intellectual freedom (they seem to let me – but that is because I am a nut, so will not be taken seriously) – but… their content is exceedingly tame and on agenda. Mostly ex-Guardian writers – this place is hardly rebellious.

I think the women writers here do not like me – actually the men either – but what always amazes me is when these guys have their Talks – is how they say NOTHING. Put the 4 women on to talk like the last and they say nothing but a few platitudes and leanings, just each making words which head to some vague position of marginal conformity….. Like they do no homework on the issues first – and then just speak extemporaneously – but with Great Care to not say anything they will be persecuted for -= so say nothing….

You Unherd staff people – you need to get the questions and come up with something to say which is meaningful, not all blaa, baaa, blaaa, baaa, baaa like you do.

Claire D
Claire D
3 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

If you want “rebellious” there’s always Spiked over the way.
Rebelliousness for the sake of it does’nt interest me. I prefer down to earth common sense and old fashioned ways.
By the way, I read all ‘The Little House on the Prairie’ books which you recommended to me some months ago, I really enjoyed them, thank you for that. I have recommended them in turn to others, so you caused a bit of a domino effect there.
I noticed that The Times included ‘The Long Winter’ as a comfort book to read during January. Their description of it suggested they had not in fact read it, but still, I expect some people will have read it as a result, which is good.

Last edited 3 months ago by Claire D
Joy Bailey
Joy Bailey
3 months ago

Yuk, I also wish I hadn’t clicked on the link and found out about DDLG.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
3 months ago

I’m willing to bet roleplaying as ‘little’ is less common in adults who are themselves parents”
Spot on. This is a side-effect of childlessness. As such, it will die out in exactly one generation.

Mary Belgrave
Mary Belgrave
3 months ago

There must be some link with the infantilisation of self identification. I’ve just read an article on BristolLive entitled ‘Bristol University pronoun guide for staff includes ‘catgender’. it also linked to guidance about ‘emojiself’ pronouns. “. Apparently ‘some people may identify as felines …’. The increasing move towards childish behaviour for adults is linked to the ‘new age parenting’ tendency to give very small children multiple choices of food, clothes etc as if they are adults. I observe that my young grandchildren are unable to make all these daily multiple decisions, but parents feel the need to treat them like little adults.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
3 months ago

The French have a very apt term for this: “bisounours.”

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
3 months ago

Literally a portmanteau of “kiss” and “teddy bear,” it translates Care Bears but in practice refers to a sort of infantilized bien-pensant nanny. (A real French cynic might even just translate bisounours as “American” — all smiley-face.)

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
3 months ago

To the point of this article, does this sort of thing go on in France (or in Germany), as well as the UK & the US? I’m thinking of the common perception in France that twenty-somethings are not adult until they become parents.

Last edited 3 months ago by Michael Cavanaugh
Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
3 months ago

Lols

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
3 months ago

I’m willing to bet roleplaying as ‘little’ is less common in adults who are themselves parents. I’m also willing to bet that for adults who themselves have young children, the idea of a ‘kinky’ version of the Build-a-Bear ritual, where children queue to put a ‘heart’ into their chosen bear so it ‘comes to life’, is likely to seem less edgy or amusing than just icky. ” This is not good enough. It’s probably true. But it’s just not good enough Unherd.

Andrea Re
Andrea Re
3 months ago

Mary, where, in the name of the Good Lord, did you manage to unearth that stuff? And what is BDSM, so well known that you give it for granted? I looked it up and found out it is an acronym that stands for bondage, discipline, sadism (or submission) and masochism. Ooookkkk….
I could have done without all that. (Just like I could have done without that article on breast milk… Talking about normalisation of deviancy…)

Last edited 3 months ago by Andrea Re
Claire D
Claire D
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrea Re

Are you sure reporting on deviancy normalises it ?
I would have thought pretending it’s not happening and keeping silent is more dangerous.

Andrea Re
Andrea Re
3 months ago
Reply to  Claire D

Because it is being reported like it is something that everybody knows about, like BDSM, as opposed to a niche interest. No doubt you can write about loads of similar stuff (see the article on breast milk), but I don’t think how that helps, except that it lets me know that such things exist. In the end, as long as the is no crime committed, I would say “suit yourself”.

Claire D
Claire D
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrea Re

I do agree with you about preferring not to know about certain things, I certainly avoid reading some articles, eg, the breast milk one, I did’nt read that. But from the point of view of the UnHerd (a news magazine) editors, I think perhaps reporting on such matters is reasonable. It’s up to us the readers to make our choices.

Alan B
Alan B
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrea Re

Andrea, I am in my 40s and everyone I know would recognize “BDSM” immediately. The late anthropology scholar, David Graeber, even suggested (a couple of years ago) that BDSM may be a useful paradigm for understanding the world of work in the west today (white-collar, “bulls#it jobs” in particular). I am in no way inclined toward BDSM but its just part of our environment these days…that’s why it’s important to discuss.

Andrea Re
Andrea Re
3 months ago
Reply to  Alan B

Clearly being more boomer than you I have been shielded 😀

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrea Re

Shielding the innocent is a great virtue. Thus today’s sick society MUST show every innocent every obscenity they can find – just because….

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrea Re

I am boomer and know very well what BDSM is… most of us encountered this in our youth and said yes, no, maybe and moved on.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
3 months ago

Like you, unfortunately I do know what BDSM means. However, I must confess, that I have never heard the term “adulting” before.

stephen archer
stephen archer
3 months ago
Reply to  Alan B

Never heard of it and I haven’t been shielding, just focused on other for me more relevant and important issues. I assumed sado-masochism covered the other two letters. After a long career in Information Technology I thought I’d had enough of 3 and 4 letter abbreviations but today’s society has gone overboard and taken it to a different level, like LGBT+ (or HBTQ if you’re Swedish). I thought the + was everyone else but I was obviously mistaken and the 6 or 7 letter abbreviations are only a year or so away.