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My son has a baby doll.

We were at Target today. With our toddler and newborn son in tow, we spent some time in the toy section. This is not uncommon, of course. It is regularly requested by my oldest, Josiah, as you can probably imagine. He normally asks to look at “cool cars” or toys from the Disney/Pixar films Cars and Planes, with which he is currently obsessed. In fact, we had already picked out a cool Neon Racer Lightning McQueen to purchase as a special treat.

We made our way through a different aisle, one we don’t normally venture down. One that is nauseatingly saturated with pinks, lavenders, and other similar pastels. My wife wanted to look for accessories for my son’s baby doll.

Yes. My son — a boy — has a baby doll. And I — a man — support this fully.

Society

Pink is not everyone's favorite color. I'm living proof.

Pink is not everyone’s favorite color. I’m living proof.

When a lot of men my age were kids, they were made to think that toys like baby dolls, kitchen sets, vacuum cleaners, etc. were just for girls — that if a boy played with those types of toys he was a sissy or “even worse.” To be clear, my own mother never imparted these negative ideas on me. I had a couple hand-me-down baby dolls myself that came from my older sisters. I never latched onto them, really. But I had them. I was never discouraged away from them.

There is this old idea that women nest and men hunt. And admittedly, there may be something to it, but it can be seen as kind of an old-fashioned notion in today’s world. In truth, men and women do have some inherent differences. I’ll leave that to you to determine what they may be. But society has taken these stereotypical roles and applied them children’s toys. In general, home-themed toys are marketed to girls, while boys have things like trains, cars, construction vehicles and war/battle-themed toys. The boy toys are exaggerated and extreme. The girl toys are pink and gentle. There are probably a lot of conclusions to be drawn by this. And I’m sure there are a lot of articles out there examining the implications. I haven’t done any scholarly research. I just want to talk about my family’s experiences and observations.

My son is a great kid. He is a “boy” through and through. He is rambunctious. He naturally loves things like cars, trucks, tractors, construction equipment, snow plows, robots, etc. We never forced those interests. He developed them on his own. He also loves to imitate his parents, like a lot of kids do. In the summer time when I mow the lawn, he gets out his toy lawn mower and helps me. When I shovel snow off the deck in winter, he grabs his very own shovel and joins in. Likewise, when my wife (an amazing woman who has chosen to be a stay-at-home mom) does household chores, my son wants to imitate her sweeping, vacuuming, cooking, and organizing.

He also observes how both of us care for both him and his baby brother. Therefore, he wanted a baby to care for as well. We got him one. He is a great papa to his baby doll. Because, after all, if we’re training our girls through play to be mothers and homemakers, shouldn’t we train our boys to be dads who are capable of cleaning up after themselves, instead of just extreme animals who blow things up?

Marketing

So much of it just comes down to marketing. We were all very annoyed that all the toys in the baby doll aisle were pink and lavender. It doesn’t really seem necessary to make every accessory pink. But society has equated pink and pastels with girls. Kitchen sets, E-Z Bake Ovens, toy pediatric sets, toy baby bottles, doll strollers, car seats, cradles. It’s all pink. And you know, pink isn’t my son’s favorite color. I mean, surely, not even little girls want everything to be all pink and purple all of the time. Never mind the not-so-subtle hint that society yells to little boys: THESE TOYS ARE NOT FOR YOU. It puts unfair limits on both boys and girls.

Marketing has changed over the years and not for the better, if you ask me. Here is a good, brief article illustrating some of the marketing for the exact same toys in different eras: LEGO Ad From 1981 Should Be Required Reading For Everyone Who Makes, Buys Or Sells Toys.

Well that's more like it.

Well that’s more like it.

Just the other day, my wife was in a conversation with a grandparent at the community center who said something to the effect of, “I’ll never buy him a stroller that’s pink.” And that’s a shame, because now that little boy may miss out on playing at real life skills. We buy our son the toys, even if they are pink. Plus we’ve been lucky enough to find some toys that are more realistic, color-wise. He’s got a nice pots-and-pans set that are a deep red and black. And he’s got a kitchen in blues and red. He’s also got a white vacuum. They were not that easy to find. All the baby doll stuff he has, however is pink: the cradle, the high chair, the stroller, the car seat.

I want to make one more note about marketing to the sexes. My mother tells a story about when she was in high school. The school was having a really hard time getting boys to sign up for Home Economics. They obviously felt that boys could benefit from the skills and knowledge being taught in a Home Ec. class. Their solution was to simply change the name. They added a home ec. section under the title “Bachelor Living.” It filled up so quickly they added a second section. It was the same instructor, same book, and same lessons. But different marketing. Curious.

A “Sissy” or “Worse”

Somewhere in the recesses of my brain there is an unclear memory of an older person (I have no idea who) saying something about a male child (I have no idea whom) regarding playing with “girl” toys. The person said, “I’d be afraid it’d turn him into a sissy,” then a pause, followed by “or even worse.” This is just one of those shadow memories, but I know people feel this way, and I remember the implication — that a boy playing with girl toys could turn him into a homosexual and that was something to be avoided.

Well I don’t have the time or energy to get too deep into this. I’m just going to say a couple things. Playing with certain toys won’t make you gay. If my son is gay, so what? The only thing I’d be worried about is how certain people would treat him for being himself. I recently saw this cartoon that summed up how I feel about my son playing with “domestic”-themed toys.

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Conclusion

When we went down that aisle at Target, my wife was looking for a good car seat toy that would fit Josiah’s baby doll. Of course the only one we could find was pink. Be that as it may, we still got it because Josiah had been wanting one ever since we installed the one for the real baby. In addition, Josiah took interest in a smaller baby doll. This was a boy baby doll, dressed in yellow and gray — the only baby doll in the whole baby doll section that was not dressed in pink or lavender. Since Josiah has a baby brother, he wanted a boy baby doll too. This one is small enough to be his regular baby doll’s baby doll. I told him he could get either the Lightning McQueen car or the baby boy doll, not both. He chose to put the car back and get the baby. While some may see this negatively (“my boy ain’t no nancy!”) I see this positively. Symbolically, maybe he’s choosing to care for his family rather than to blow money on fancy sports cars. Okay, maybe I’m reaching there. But my overall point still stands. As a group we should prepare our boys to be fathers just as much as we prepare our girls to be mothers. Men need to cook and clean too.

The young cashier was overly chatty, making remarks about our items that were a little annoying. “Oh, I thought you guys were vegetarians, but then I saw the ground beef and I was like, uuhh…” “That’s not ground beef. It’s meatless. We are vegetarians,” I replied stoically. She then took the item out of the bag and inspected it and looked at me with a suspicious eye. She put it back into the bag, saying simply, “Vegetarians…” So imagine my horror when she started asking me about my children.

“How old is the little one,” she asked. The cover was over the carrier, so Caleb couldn’t be seen. “Just a couple weeks old,” I answered. “Oh, she must be tiny.” “He is, yes.” “He?!?” I assured her that, yes, I was correct and my son is a boy. “Oh, I just thought that with the doll and the carrier…” “Those are for the older boy,” I said with no hesitation. She had a blank look on her face and was stunned, wide-eyed, into a rare moment of silence. “Oh.” She then continued scanning my items with very little conversation. I guess we were a little too weird for her.

Her assumption about the toys is fine. I obviously can’t hold that against her. Society has conditioned us to make these assumptions. What is not fine is that society has conditioned us to think it is unnervingly odd for a boy to want a baby. That’s plain wrong. This interest in a baby doll is rooted in love, family, and nurturing. We could use more of that in today’s world. My son is interested in his baby doll. As long as my son’s interests are positive and they hurt no one, I support him.

Categories: Family, Life, Parenting