ms. fresh fish

In Defense of Dolls

A few days ago, my Facebook home page became overwhelmed with enthusiastic support for the Goldieblox ad. As a long-running feminist seeking to have gender stereotypes quashed, I was excited to see some not-so-usual suspects expressing glee over this development and video. So, I watched it, fairly certain that despite being the proverbial choir, I would still be excited about it. And I was… until I heard the line that turned my stomach: “We wanna use our brains!”

What does this say, exactly, to my daughter and the many little grrls I know who genuinely love playing with dolls? Have we, dear fellow feminists, accidentally, unintentionally fallen backwards into casting kids’ (although, I will say, mostly grrls’) genuine interests for caring for other (pretend) human beings (like, say, doctors) as less worthy than the Lego-loving set (be they boys or grrls)? Are we buying into the notion that engineers and scientists are better than social workers, stay-at-home-parents and teachers, worthy of more value?  I actually don’t think we are,  and that we just want to make sure that grrls see science and engineering as options equally available to them as for boys.  But still… there’s something in the common discourse about “grrl play” that I can’t ignore. I know about the discourse, because I had bought into it. My daughter was the one to drag me out of it, kicking and screaming (me, not her).

As readers will know, we won the baby lottery with a set of boy-grrl (b/g) twins (he gets first mention because he’s Baby A). The social experiment that is our home began about 26 months ago. These kids have had access to the widest range of toys and games imaginable – cars, dolls, animals, Lego, puzzles, books, music, push carts… you get the point. I resisted the dolls, as my Mom, Mother-in-Law, husband, etc. will tell you. Why? Because I wanted my daughter to bust through those stereotypes and trample them. She would be the grrl in the GoldieBlox video! She would develop the interest in science that I never did! I would not “bog down” her brain with dolls!

Inevitably, the dolls started coming. Great Aunt/Zia Pasqualina gave the first one, for which she knitted a scarf and tuque; a move that disarmed even me (it was so frickin’ cute). While Baby B didn’t play with it until she was about 18 months old, once she did… she did. Baby ‘Lina became fascinating, and then more dolls came, and came. She loves these dolls. It’s the only independent play she enjoys, and for a Stage V Clinger, we became very appreciative of this development. She changes them, diapers them, cleans them, takes them for walks, feeds them at the table, and sings them songs. Meanwhile, her twin brother, who had equal access and LOTS of encouragement from Mommy to play with dolls, has absolutely no interest in or time for that genre of play and wants cars, books and puzzles. Walking stereotypes. I considered returning my Sociology degree.


Changing diapers, as you do… Never forgetting the wipes!

Instead of returning my degree (and therefore having to look for it), I decided that maybe I should just ease up a bit. Maybe, I decided, I should see what they want to teach me. Because, you see, the thing that I’ve also learned from my b/g twins is that personalities are pretty distinct upon birth. We can fight against their nature to try to mold them, or, we can value them for who they are, listen to what they are trying to tell us about them and then help them explore their interests. (On a related note, I’m now spending a lot of time with Baby A watching and learning about crows from YouTube at 5:30 in the morning. I suggest this one for a view into my pre-dawn world, as well as some amusing footage of crows in snow.)

I had to beg Baby A to stand by the stroller for this picture with his sister and Anne Gables. Note the matching necklaces.

I have another blog post in development that was conceived in a Twitter banter with Miss V, about my approach to feminist parenting. Stay tuned.

In the meantime though, I can say this: No matter which of my children likes dolls or cars, or books or songs, they, and their interests, are equally valuable.


13 Comments so far
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Amen Lori. I also considered turning in my Women’s Studies/Sociology/Anthropology degree, but just because it is too darned much work to try and re-educate everyone and have everything in the world become a “lesson.” It’s exhausting. You are doing a great job with the b/g thing 🙂

Comment by lindamgeorges

Thanks Linda! I’m tryin’! Indeed, the older I get, the less black/white things are and the more I try to just do things that make sense and feel right *to me.* There’s no doubt there is a societal gender inequality issue… I just don’t think that shaming girls that like dolls/expecting everyone to be an engineer is the way to address it.

Comment by freshfish

Nice job. I think we all as parents will have ideas particularly close to our hearts that we “push” on our kids? Could be feminism. Could be education. Could be independence. (That last one might be mine.) Maybe it’s all in how much we push – how much we project onto them beyond their own sensibilities?

Case in point: The Little Mermaid. I’ve thought a LOT about this and I’ve just come to conclude that the scary monster worries me more than the presumably non-feminist message. I think Baby Fraggle won’t abandon her life for the wrong reasons I I teach her to value herself. Disney be damned. (I’m also not convinced love is the wrong reason.)

Feminism is hard. But she’ll grow up an an infinitely more balanced world than we did, just like our mothers before is and so on. She’ll be ok. This won’t be what traumatizes her.

So… Yay dolls! 🙂

Comment by Marianna Annadanna

Yes! We totally bring our baggage to it. I’m trying to let my feminist perspective help me value them each. DH, obviously, thinks I’m over-analytical and slightly ridiculous. As for The Little Mermaid. Obviously they’re both going to love it. OBVIOUSLY. But, eventually, we will talk about messages and story lines and make sure they’re thinking about bigger messages. In fact, TLM will be AWESOME for that. We’ll have a play date and then discuss after. You can lock them in the room until they’ve watched it all and developed their feedback 😉

Comment by freshfish

Precisely! What she learns from watching Disney princesses will depend on how I help her deconstruct it. I still get to be the biggest influence! I’ve earned that much… ya know, having GROWN her inside my body. : )

Comment by Marianna Annadanna

Very interesting read, thanks Lori. I wholeheartedly agree that they should have said something along the lines of “I want to use my brain in a different way”. Would have made a bit more sense. Having grown up as a girl who had no interest in dolls (besides a brief encounter with cabbage patch kids) I can say that kid-me would have been thrilled with seeing other girls interested in something else on TV, but, alas, that was a different time. I also find it interesting that after NOT having any interest in “caring for others” play with dolls or anything else as a child, I am currently doing just that, all day,every day.

I also think that you are doing such an amazingly brilliant job with the b/g thing. Having two boys in the house myself, it is easy to forget about having a balance of different toys around and I often take ideas from how you do things. So, ummm, thanks!

Comment by Elissa

Oh love… it truly breaks my heart to think of you as a child, barrettes taped to your head, going to girl sleepovers and not being able to bring yourself to care about “girly things” (oh wait, that was University, non? ;)), desperate to go hike in the woods and find some animals, or better yet, BUILD SOMETHING. Luckily, your parents are awesome and clearly encouraged you to do that. And, obviously, you became a Child Care Giver to yours and so many more. I love it. I also love that you’re caring for them (all) in such a great way – that totally allows space for them to be themselves and still be wholly valued and loved. You’re a spectacular Mom. Truly.

Comment by freshfish

So I’m driving behind an SUV with 4 stick figures. The boy is on skates with a hickey stick, the girl is wearing a tiara. Really???? I thought, ooh wait until Lori B rooks hears about this 😉

Comment by lindamgeorges

Ha! Just think, maybe Mama is a Feminist who has begrudgingly given in to her daughter’s fascination with Royal Family lineages and societal inequalities 😉 Or, her daughter’s love of shiny head-pieces…!

Comment by freshfish

I would love to know that is true! And I should remember that even feminists love shiny head pieces ;). With my grandchildren, boy 5, girl 3, we are consciously trying to let them “gender” themselves.

Comment by lindamgeorges

Oops, Freudian slip. That’s hockey stick lol

Comment by lindamgeorges


Comment by freshfish

Wow! I never noticed that line, I’ve become somewhat disenchanted with this commercial since I heard about them suing the Beastie Boys. I agree with your sentiment wholeheartedly. There isn’t a greater value in playing with dolls versus vehicles, Play is play and they are all essential to helping children learn and grow.

Comment by Crayon

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