“Boys can’t play with dolls. Dolls are for girls.”
“Are you trying to make him gay?”
Those are just two of the ridiculous comments made this weekend that have made me realise that gender stereotypes exist much closer to home than I’d have liked to believe. A few days ago, I decided to pick up a baby dolly for my 18 month old. Contrary to what his dad and my family may believe, I didn’t do this because I’m part of a radical new movement abandoning gender stereotypes, I bought him a doll because I thought he would like it. Forgive me if I’m wrong here, but when it comes to a child, I believe a toy is a just a toy. Needless to say, his dad didn’t agree, nor did the grandparents and the comments they made struck a nerve (and by struck I mean hit the nerve with a baseball bat multiple times over).
When I was a little girl, I played with dolls, but I also loved football. When I played football every Saturday morning, my sexuality as a four year old wasn’t questioned, I was just a tomboy. As a child, I was actively encouraged to be strong and competitive among my other qualities. It was socially acceptable for me to have a multi-dimensional personality and that was twenty years ago. So how is it that twenty years on, that same attitude does not apply to my little boy?
Are you trying to turn him gay?
I didn’t buy Harrison a doll to make him gay. I didn’t buy him a doll because I want him to be gender neutral. He is a boy, he very much has a gender and a dolly has nothing to do with it. I bought a dolly because he had shown an interest in babies and has every right to explore that interest, just as a little girl would. He shouts ‘BABY!’ when we pass by a pram, he tucks his teddies into bed and he’ll only take his medicine if he gives it to his tellytubby first. I bought him a baby to encourage the curiosity. I’ll never understand what sexuality has to do with that. For a start, he’s not even two yet, so the fact that sexuality was commented on is comical. It’s all a bit farcical.
Initially I thought the attitude was a male one, and that my partner was just being unreasonable. I phoned my mum for support, and she echoed my partner. Dolls are for girls, not boys. Her argument was why? Why did I need to buy him that toy? She’d seen a toy lawnmower yesterday – why couldn’t I buy him that instead? Well, it’s simple. He had never shown an interest in cutting the grass. It was snowing last week, he can’t even see the grass let alone pretend to cut it. But she would rather he played with a toy he didn’t understand than a dolly, because a dolly is for girls. It was laughable. But I can almost see where they are coming from. My partner grew up in a world where as a boy, he was expected to be strong and tough. Sensitivity was discouraged, and a nurturing personality reserved for the girls. Is it any wonder he would feel the same way about raising his son?
The irony of it all is that Harrison doesn’t even like the doll. After the fuss it caused, he still gravitated towards his cars and his football. The problems the doll created were based on a hypothetical belief that he was going to carry this doll around with him all of the time and that by some magical stretch of the imagination it would change his personality. If it managed to do that then it would be one bloody special doll, but in reality, it was a £6 piece of moulded plastic from Tesco that’s only real power was to cry on command. Whether or not Harrison liked the doll is irrelevant, he should be given the option to play with it regardless of his gender. Why on earth would we start to instill the idea that gender is a barrier at such an early age? – if we want our children to grow up believing that everyone is born equal, then this is not the way to go about it.
Let me reiterate something quickly.
My sons’ penis will not fall off because he spends twenty minutes playing with a doll. He remains a boy. A toy has absolutely no bearing on sexuality, and if you think it does, it’s probably time to revaluate yourself. I’m not looking to be politically correct here. I will not force a doll on my son, just as I will not force a car, but I will give him the means to make his own choice. Childhood is the most creative and imaginative stage of their life, so why suppress that in favour of dated stereotypes and gender conformity? We expect men to become good fathers, to become good husbands, but yet we discourage any play that builds those foundations. My partner and I may have agreed to disagree on the dolly, but this is one debate I won’t be backing down on.
If he wants to play with a doll, let him play with a doll.
If he doesn’t, then let it sit in the corner – it’ll have great company with the forty odd cars, trucks and balls already abandoned.