Gender & toys. #mindfield. Writer Klara Donovan shares her dismay at her son’s choice of toy…
Recently I took my 18-month-old son on his first trip to the toy shop. I had a voucher to spend, and I figured it would be an easy way to fill an afternoon. Heck, I’d even let him run around the store and pick out his own toy! What could go wrong?
From the moment his little feet hit the floor, he was tearing around, soaking it all in. He’d never been let loose in a toy store before, and he wanted to experience everything! Balls were bounced. Slides were climbed. Teddies were cuddled. Wagons were steered. Many, many noisy buttons were explored and pushed. My kid was in heaven!
And then he happened upon the baby doll display, and my darling boy, who loves cars, trucks, climbing and Thomas the Tank, reached out and picked up a doll. The infatuation was instant. There was no prying the thing from his hands. And so at the end of our visit, we left with a bright-eyed, long-lashed, pink-onesie-clad baby doll. Bubby.
From the moment we brought Bubby home and tore her from her box, she was treated differently to the others in the fold. The toy cars get crashed, the balls get thrown, the buttons on the light-up cube get pounded, and the adorable crawling lion has been sat on so many times that it now lugs along with a limp. But the baby doll is always treated gently. My son’s eyes light up when he sees her, and he gives her cuddles, softly stroking her bald little head. In fact, the day after we bought Bubby, we met with a friend and her 6-month-old. As I held and cuddled my friend’s son, my own son watched closely, mimicking me, cradling his own baby the same way. It was freaking adorable.
I am delighted that my son loves his doll. However, I’m a bit self-conscious about having the doll out in public. I’m preparing myself for people frowning at the image of a little boy with a baby doll, grateful that my son is too young to understand why they might have a problem with it. Because in this day and age, there are still people adamant that boys and girls should be playing with gender-appropriate toys. People who believe it’s perfectly fine for a little girl to play “Mummy” with a baby doll, but that a little boy should be focusing on stronger, rougher-tougher toys like cars and trucks. What the actual… right?
I have two major issues with this point of view. First, why the heck is gender identity so important for kids still in nappies? Yes, boys often have certain personality characteristics, as do girls, but if there is a time in life when gender is least important, that time is childhood. Why are there still people deeming a toy inappropriate for a child purely based on that child’s gender? Do you think that by letting a girl play with trucks, she’s going to grow up and become a masculine truck driver? Does every boy who plays with trucks grow up to be a masculine truck driver? No! And even if a girl does grow up to be a masculine truck driver, so what? Where’s the problem if that’s what makes her happy?
Second, why is a baby doll not a universally non-gender-specific toy anyway? In the reality of real life, outside of the realm of toys, a baby is born by if not parented by both a mother and a father? Why shouldn’t our boys place as much value on fatherhood as our girls are expected to of motherhood? Maybe older generations would have less reports of distant, hands-off Dads if they had been taught from the beginning that Dads are equal parents? Maybe giving our sons a baby doll will help to bridge that gap, and take away the mindset that parenting is predominantly women’s work?
At this point, you’re probably wondering why I wish my son didn’t pick that doll at the toy store?
And the answer is simple. The damn thing giggles when you squeeze it and my son insists on cuddling it while he naps. Since that blooming Bubby came into our lives, naps tend to end abruptly to the chorus of a sudden tinny, muffled giggle. And you know I am all about protecting nap time. So, note to self: Next time, steer him toward the silent baby doll section.