Tuesday, October 30th, 2007
Are Doll Houses Okay for Boys?
Thing-reader HM has a dollhouse dilemma. She shared in a Thinga blog comment that she wants to buy her 2.5-year-old boy a dollhouse, but her husband says dollhouses are “too girly.”
Uh oh. Them is gender-stereotyping fightin’ words. I asked HM for details. Here is her abbreviated story:
The boy, I’ll call him Alvin, regularly plays with two boys and three girls. His mom noticed he loves playing with a girl friend’s dollhouse, so she suggested to her husband that they buy a dollhouse.
The dad says he:
- Doesn’t have a problem with his son playing with dollhouses at friends’ houses.
- Doesn’t think Alvin’s toys are going to affect his sexuality.
- Does think Alvin has everything he needs to ‘act out things in a house’ because he has a toy barn. Alvin plays with the barn as if it were a dollhouse and the animals as if they were people.
The dad sounds fairly reasonable, right? Hold the phone.
He also thinks Alvin doesn’t need another toy with a large ‘footprint’ when he already has a toy barn and a garage. However, when discussing Christmas gifts he suggested a toy airport, toy workbench or toy saw.
Anyhow, she writes, “When I asked him to expand on the ‘too girly’ comment, he smiled and said, ‘It is just too girly.’”
Uh oh. You can’t argue with a non-argument. There are unexpressed issues here.
HM felt the need to point out to me:
“My husband is not into sports at all, and has often told me about how his father ridiculed him because he did not play football. His ‘manly’ hobbies include tinkering, fixing, or building things. He has emphasized the fact that he will never pressure his son into such things or make him feel ‘less of a person’ if he doesn’t want to do ‘boy things.’ In college we had many friends who were gay, still do. So, basically, I was really surprised (and a little amused) with his opinion on this dollhouse thing.”
Problem #1: Dad won’t pressure Alvin to have manly hobbies, but he will oppose girly toys in his home. Umm, what?
Problem #2: Being effeminate doesn’t mean being gay. I know a boy who, when he was 5-years-old, loved unicorns and the color pink. He had a lot of pink toys, a pink bicycle and we even gave him a unicorn costume that he wore to school. Most of his friends at the time were girls. He grew out of his pink phase as he made more male friends. More recently, I’ve seen him wear military camouflage-themed clothing, and not because of any reactionary influence from his dad. He is still a very kind and generous boy who loves to read to our daughter.
Problem #3: Gayness shouldn’t even be part of this discussion. If playing with toys associated with girls doesn’t make you gay, why raise the issue of gayness? A boy acting like a girl isn’t gay; it’s an issue of gender identity, or being “transgender.” Gay people don’t rush out in droves to get sex change operations. And role playing with a dollhouse isn’t even a gender issue; it’s normal for all kids. We’ll talk about that in a moment.
Next, the mother floated the idea of buying a doll instead of a dollhouse.
She said, “I take care of (our) new baby; our son could take care of his baby. My husband laughed and said, ‘No. That would not be okay either!’
That nails it for me. I have to call shenanigans. I don’t believe the dad. Deep down he seems to fear that his son will be negatively affected by regular play with a dollhouse or dolls in his home.
Oh, but AJ, you say… you’re so hypocritical. You’re on record opposing the princess syndrome for your own daughter.
Indeed, I do my best to steer my daughter away from stereotypically girly things such as Disney princess merchandise (actually, all mass-marketed branded characters) and baby dolls.
I am reactionary to popular culture in general and fear that American society trains boys to be athletes and girls to be sex objects. Toys like Bratz Dolls or pop icons like Cheetah Girls and Pussycat Dolls come to mind when the word “skank” is uttered, but a princess is also not a strong independent role model for a girl. A princess’ chief job is to be beautiful and wait for her man in shining armor.
All-brawn icons are out too. I shudder at the idea of dressing my boy due in March in clothing adorned with toy trucks and baseballs.
I’m not saying brawn and beauty are bad. I’d love my kids to have both, but learning is the first priority. My daughter could become a fashion model and my son a football player, but don’t confuse the bona fide skills required for those occupations with the foundation laid by a traditional school education. I want my kids to have well-rounded brains to fall back on when age takes hold.
My daughter has a princess hat and three sets of fairy wings so that everyone in the family can wear them. She even has dreaded Disney princess pajamas given to us as a gift. And my boy will have his share of toy cars, fire trucks and dump trucks and if he wants to play little league instead of soccer that will be okay.
The difference I draw it to not passively immerse my kids in popular culture without questioning each step. Society is moving along blindly like a freight train, dumbing our kids down into idiocratic superficial adults.
I don’t have a foolproof contradiction-free parenting philosophy by any measure. It is uncharted territory for parents who attempt to swim against the tide.
So anyhow… regarding dollhouses. We have a dollhouse. I’ve never reviewed it on Thingamababy because I can’t recommend it for quality control reasons. It’s natural wood with some parts painted a gender-neutral orange and green. And we moved an Asian doll family into the home. I chose the house thinking, “A boy would play with this thing, too.”
That’s an important point. Boys and girls play with dollhouses and get different things from the experience. Maybe the girl puts a baby in a crib, and the boy mows the imaginary lawn. Or vice versa. Kids role-play what they see their parents doing, and their friends’ families doing. This need to role-play will be expressed whether it’s through a dollhouse, or dress-up clothes, or a kitchen play set, or stuffed animals, or from thin air if need be.
I ran this article by a friend who added this gem observation: the dad should “realize he has a golden opportunity to interact with his son in showing him what a dad does in a house.” Yep, dad, you should be down there on the ground playing dollhouse with your son.
Dollhouses are only a gender issue because toy marketers make them one. We shape our parenting approaches around marketing messages. Dollhouses are supposed to be a girl thing, and just to be sure, we only see girls playing with them in advertisements, and the houses are slathered in pink (it took me 45 minutes to track down the photo at the top of this page). How many of us really live in pink houses?
So, buy a natural wood house from a more enlightened company. Or, as HM proposed to her husband, buy a tree house with squirrels dressed in human clothing. You can’t get more removed from “girly” than that, short of buying action figures equipped with firearms.
Oof. Gun toys. Don’t get me started on violence-as-entertainment.