Boys and Their Toys: Should Little Boys Be Allowed to Play with Dolls?

I grew up in the 1980s. The 80s were initially progressive, somewhat like the 70s before them, but come the late 80s it almost feels like a strain occurred. This strangulation on what I like to call social freedom continues today and I believe it has gotten progressively worse. I was born in 1980, so I had the unique opportunity to experience the entire decade. I remember from around 1983 onward. I especially remember the toys of the 80s.

Like most little kids back then, I had a Cabbage Patch Kid. We held a contest on our website, LI Kids, offering Cabbage Patch Kids for their 25th anniversary. I can’t tell you how many people left a comment about how their sons, grandsons or brothers had Cabbage Patch Kids. I didn’t know they were so popular with boys. One thing I also learned from this contest was that Xavier Roberts, the creator of the Cabbage Patch Kids, doesn’t like them being called dolls. They aren’t dolls, they’re kids. In fact, they were originally called Little People. Perhaps he thought they’d appeal to all kids regardless of gender whereas most boys don’t like to play with what they perceive to be dolls.

Another popular option when I was a kid, though I was a little too old for this, was the My Buddy doll. My younger cousin had a My Buddy. These dolls were specifically designed for boys. They were advertised as being rough and tumble dolls who could go anywhere little boys went. I always thought My Buddy was a little silly, but always took my Cabbage Patch Doll, Daniel, wherever I went. Perhaps it was My Buddy’s funny design? Whatever it was, I know many little boys who had My Buddy Dolls and it was quite acceptable to have one in the 80s.

Nowadays, some parents scoff at the idea of their male child playing with dolls. What a silly notion. Why would a boy want to play with dolls? Our culture has ingrained these children with gender-specific thoughts. I’ve heard both my son and my nephew say things like “Ew, dolls! Those are girl toys!”

Since the time toys such as dolls were invented, they have normally been perceived as girl toys, but what about the little boys who do want Barbies? What about the little boys who do want to play with little dollies? Could this be part of why men have become so disenchanted with caring for their own children, because a doll is almost like a pretend child. I know many men who leave all the “child-rearing” to their wives. That’s women’s work after all, isn’t it?

Regardless of whether a boy wants to play with a doll or not, those boys who do play with dolls should never be teased about it. My 13 year old son who has a form of autism, has a bigger Care Bear collection than any kid I’ve ever met. Most kids his age are far past the Care Bear collecting phase. He could seriously get teased unmercifully if kids found out he had such a collection. Why? What is the point in denigrating a child if they find comfort in such things?

Care Bears make my son happy. Why should I deny him such a simple pleasure and worse yet, why should the outside world have an opinion in what he owns or not?

I think this all comes down to the idea of gender? Can anyone give me a definitive definition of gender? The world has been designed as though there are two genders; male and female, but it isn’t as cut and dry as that. Gender isn’t black or white. There are gray areas. Gender can be fluid. A little boy may want to play with a doll, but might also want a truck, too. Every person is different and every person’s gender is different.

That’s why some girls are what we like to call “more girly” while others are tomboys. Gender isn’t static so why apply these rules to children, whose minds are being molded and shaped in these early stages, by forcing them to maintain a gender role that might not even suit them?

What’s your thought on boys playing with dolls? Would you let your son play with a doll if he really wanted to? Also, why do you believe that boys playing with dolls has become somewhat taboo in the last 20 years?

[tags]My Buddy, Cabbage Patch Kids, boys, dolls, gender, gender specific, kids, toys[/tags]

2 responses to “Boys and Their Toys: Should Little Boys Be Allowed to Play with Dolls?”

  1. Hi as I am searching on the internet for characteristics in play with Autistic Children I come accross your story. I am a single mother of 2 children, a boy 5 and a daughter who is 2. My son Dominic is autistic and his choice of play or free choice play is very different than my nephews or most 5 year old boys. My son loves to play wiht my daughter’s dolls. He loves hair he tells me. He laughs at the way hair swings. He loves to comb their hair, he loves dora dolls and little mermaid. He loves sea creatures as he calls it. He doesn’t really like boy dolls he says they are boring that they have no hair. He is also an amazing artist. He can draw so good and has an amazing imagination. Most of his drawings consist of pictures or girls with long hair–especially Hannah Montanna, he loves to draw all characters on spongebob, and he loves to sing kareoke to Hannah Montanna live in concert…He is ackward in the way he moves as my sisters would say he is uncordinated and dances like a “girl.” I am feeling the rath of my parents and sisters antagonizing me for letting my son express himself they way he chooses. If I am not around they tell him he cannot play with dolls-that they are for girls. My mom worries that I am making him “homosexual”. My answer to her is if he were homosexual I would not want him to hide it and would want him to be confident, and how does he act homosexual. Yes I admit he loves dolls, loves to watch me put on makeup, loves to put on my daughters hula skirt and shake his hips, I have caught him put on a couple of her princess dress up outfits–but on the other hand he has no male role models, he looks up to only me and is autistic. Dominic would rather draw on a baseball field with his finger and make amazing murals on the ground versus be bored waiting to catch a ball. He wants to take tumbling classes and wants to jump and fllip high he states—his friend at school tells him “so what Dominic you now want to be a girl.” I get so furious at people and feel like telling Dominic to tell them to screw off. When I pick him up from his after school program he is at a table drawing with girls or singing with the girls. He thinks the boys are big bully jerks. Don’t get me wrong he will play with boys but they usually stray because Dominic plays by his rules. Is this common I wonder for any other mother wiht an autistic child? Today he wanted to buy little petshop house with the dolls and animals that come with it and threw a tantrum because he wanted a Hannah Montanna Barbie and I did not buy it. I didn’t tell him because it was for girls, but I just did not know how to approach it. Am I wrong? I am very open minded I just am new to all this as my son was recently diagnosed due to major behavioral differences.

  2. Hi Angelica. Thanks for sharing your story. Your son is autistic. He may be obsessed with the tactile sensations of things. You say he loves hair on dolls and he loves to draw girls with long flowing hair. I get the feeling the sensation of the hair is comforting to him. Your family needs to get over it. By denying him the right to play with whatever he is most comfortable with they are denying him a comfort. My son has an autistic spectrum disorder and he’ll play with items regardless of what society considers “right or wrong” for his gender. He plays with something that’s supposedly for girls because it might feel good against his fingertips or skin and his sensations are a lot different than the average child.

    I’ll give you an example. When my son was younger, he wore this soft, velvet shirt that was his mothers. He wore it like a coat. It was a dark green color. When asked why he wore it, he said it felt good against his skin. It wasn’t about being male or female. It was about comfort and the sensation. He no longer wears it and is now a teenager. He says he’s interested in girls, but he still likes to wear “jewelry” because it’s flashy, even if it’s one of his mom’s rings. Again, it’s about it being shiny and the sensation of it on his fingertip or around his neck. Do I think that makes him gay? Nope. I think that makes him a kid with a sensory disorder.

    I can’t answer if your son is gay, transgendered, straight, or anything else. What your son plays with doesn’t necessarily dictate his gender identity or his sexual orientation. I know guys who played with dolls. Cabbage Patch Kids were huge in my day and both boys and girls had them. Having a kid didn’t make those guys any more gay than any other guy I know. Your son sounds like a great kid. Don’t try to change him. I would look into getting him into therapy for his autism, but I’d find a therapist who can help you get it through to your family that your son needs their support not their judgment. I’d mention to them that playing with dolls is probably a sensation thing. Add in the fact that most of the boys are bullies towards him and all his friends are girls (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing!) and I bet he is more comfortable playing with what are considered “girl” toys. They are familiar to him and all his friends are playing with them, too.

    Your family is doing him more harm than good by making a big deal out of it. They also are judging him, which is bound to make him self conscious. He already is facing enough adversity. Don’t deny him the little bit of happiness he gets from these things!

    Good luck!

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