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Boys and Dolls

Posted by on May 14, 2013

Who says toys are made specifically for boys or girls? Can they not be played with by anyone?

When I was growing up, I played with Barbies and Cabbage Patch Dolls, which I still own. I also played Lego, and got sets that were both typically “boy” and “girl” – these have also stayed with me. I think as time has gone on, it’s become more acceptable for girls to play with typically “boy” toys, if it happens to interest them. That’s one of the benefits that has come from a greater sense of equality for women.

But does it work the other way around? I get the impression that it’s less acceptable for boys to play with “girl” toys, or have “girl” interests. You may note I keep putting those words in quotes – it’s because I don’t like the idea of separating some things by what gender might be most attracted to it, because that might give the opposing gender a sense of not being accepted or normal if it happens to catch their interest.

My eldest son wearing nail polish

My eldest son wearing nail polish


I have two sons, but no daughters. I’ve done my best to not discourage behaviours or interests just because they happen to be something that is seen as more typical for girls. For my eldest son, that came in the form of his favourite colour being pink (which it still is today), and wanting to wear necklaces and nail polish. His interest in nail polish got beaten down in his kindergarten when the other kids teased him about wearing it, and his current school (he’s just started primary two) has a strict policy against it on all children no matter their gender. At least they’re consistent. Still, I think he’s a little traumatised from the teasing, since the last time he tried nail polish (at the Hello Kitty park we went to in Johor at the beginning of the year), he wanted it removed almost immediately.

Earlier than that, we used to have neighbours with daughters close to his age, and they had a stroller for dolls. It was one of his favourite toys to play with when he visited, and so that Christmas, he ended up with one in his stocking. It was pink, because it’s rare to find one that is not.

image

My youngest son kissing a doll

The stroller has proven popular for my younger son, also. A year ago, he was using it for all manner of objects, collecting them as if he were a magpie. These days, he puts my Cabbage Patch Dolls in it. They had been boxed up in a cupboard until he noticed them and requested for them to be taken out. He’s fascinated by babies, so it’s not really a surprise that he wants to play with toy ones.

There’s also a special children’s playroom in the complex we live in, where he likes to go, which has more dolls for him to choose from. The last time we were down there, he was throwing them around, as boys are sometimes wont to do. I asked him to stop and told him it was better to give the dolls a cuddle. He might like to throw things, but some toys are more appropriate for that than others. I figure dolls are not appropriate, given their resemblance to humans. I wanted to foster compassion there, so he will grow up considering how best to treat people.

Lo and behold, he picked up the doll, gave it a cuddle, and even kisses. Watching things like that is some of the sweetest experiences I have as a mother.

If you’re a parent, what choices do you make when it comes to the toys your kids play with? Do you think gender differences matter? Have your kids ever been subject to teasing because they made a choice that opposed their traditional gender role?

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Dominica has a strong interest in exploring diversity in media, seeing people subverting corporate control of creativity through crowdfunding and indie publishing, and spending as much time as she can travelling the world and discovering culture. This is what she most regularly blogs about. In her spare time, Dominica is primarily focused on long-form improv theatre, and writing and publishing speculative fiction. You can find links to some of her free and published stories and screenplays on her writing page, or check out her pirate time-travel novel Adrift. Though born and raised in Australia to American parents, Dominica lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, between 2008-2014, until she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. She also has a background in web programming, filmmaking, and stand-up comedy. For more information, check out her about page, or any of the specific pages about her various creative pursuits in the links at the top of the page.

2 Responses to Boys and Dolls

  1. Kate A.

    I definitely see more prejudice against boys playing with “girl” toys, and it’s as subtle and rampant as “boy” and “girl” toy sections at major store chains. I applaud you for encouraging your boys in their diverse interests, even (especially!) when they seem “girly,” because it’s a message to them that says girly is good and awesome and fluid (just as stuff for “boys” is good and awesome and fluid!).

    Thanks for writing this, Mama Dom! :)

    • Dominica Malcolm

      Indeed, even if the toy sections aren’t labelled “boys” and “girls”, there’s still an obvious separation. And it can be hard to get past the social conditioning, too. At first when we only had boys, there was this thought that crossed my mind like, “Too bad we didn’t have girls who could play with my Barbies.” But then I had to say to myself, “No, maybe my boys will want to play with them.” Of course I also worried they might want to chop off their hair, which would bother me… but I think they’re a bit young yet for Barbies anyway.

      I was also thinking that if boys aren’t discouraged from playing with “girl” toys, and vice versa, then the gender gap wouldn’t be so huge, and they’ll have more they can relate to with each other. The opposite sex won’t be just an idea of a person they’ve never interacted with, but someone they have things in common with.

      No problem! I want to be able to empower and encourage other parents to say it’s okay for boys to have “girly” interests. They’ll probably also be interested in “boy” things too (as mine are – cars and trains and such). It really doesn’t mean anything, and I think it’ll help make them more well-rounded people. :)

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