Wednesday, December 17, 2008

All Dolled Up

A few days (could be weeks) ago, I had a spirited debate with CeeKay about gender identities. While I can’t quite give a blow-by-blow account of the discussion, I was certainly arguing for this point. That gender identity is not just a social construct. Genes play a role too. Boys have one whole chromosome different than girls. It makes them more susceptible to autism and learning disorders, some types of cancer, it is not a big surprise that it plays a role in the way we think and act. We agreed to disagree in the end and that was that.

Imagine the irony this weekend then. We had been invited to a birthday party. Lots of our friends were invited too. With their kids, obviously. Girls and boys. It was a fun party. The kids ran and played with each other. And ate the delicious food. Suddenly, a friend exclaimed. “What is Chip doing?” I looked up in alarm. There was Chip, holding a cute baby doll in his lap, feeding her with the toy bottle and singing a song. To me, it was a beautiful sight. “What do you mean? He is playing with the doll.” I told our friend. “Don’t encourage these things, I am getting him a nerf gun. Dolls?” “What’s wrong with dolls? He likes playing with dolls. I don’t mind at all.” The conversation was left at that.

A couple of hours later, as guests dwindled somewhat and everybody relaxed with a cup of tea, the topic came up again. Because, well, Chip had found the doll again and was playing with it. “What are you calling her?” I asked Chip. “Dottie, don’t encourage him.” The friend again cautioned me. I was getting riled. “Why not?” There was some snickering that could have only meant this. “Because he will turn gay? I don’t mind if he grows up to be gay.” I don’t think boys turn gay because they play with dolls. Girls certainly don’t turn gay because they play with cars. “He is three, let him be. What is the big deal?” “Give him action figures.” Someone suggested. “He can play with action figures and he can play with dolls. I said. “In fact I should buy him a doll” “Some one record this.” Someone said. “We’ll play it back to Chip when he is older.” “You know what” I was trying hard to not let my irritation show, “His wife will thank me. Because it will bring out his inner sentimental self.” “But he will curse you for 25 years before that.”, our friend laughed. I gave up. It’s all imaginative play, isn’t it? Really, what is the big deal? “What if he turns into a cross dresser?” someone asked again. “Who knows?” I said “In a couple of generations, it would be acceptable for boys to wear skirts. A century ago, pant-wearing women were frowned upon.” Another friend was amazed at me. “I really didn’t think you were this sort of a person.” Whatever that meant. “I am surprised” she said. “Why, won’t you let your son play with a doll?” I asked. She hesitated. “I won’t encourage it.”

That seems to be the common sentiment. Ignore boys playing dolls. Do not encourage doll-playing. If they seem to be too drawn towards dolls, quietly buy them nerf guns or other macho toys. What load of bull-x. Tell me, would you buy your son a doll? Because I will and should have. To nurture is an emotion that occurs naturally in boys and girls.. So what is the harm if they express that sentiment when they are children? Boys grow up to be loving fathers, you know. Compared to earlier generations, men today are much more hands-on as fathers, much more nurturing. As the need (and thus the expression) for violence has declined in the past several generations, in the developed countries at least, men (and boys) have found their nurturing side. And that’s a good thing. It does not make then sissies. In cultures that encourage violent toys, the rate of violence is much, much more than cultures that that are more accepting of gender-role-reversals. Daddies opting to stay at home to raise kids, instead of mommy being default are on the rise. If the wife makes twice the money than her husband, what else would be logical, for a family, tell me?

But for some it’s hard to be accepting of these changes, I suppose. Big and small. Including boys playing (or rather encouraged to play with dolls). I wonder what it is they fear.


Munchkin said...

Let me guess..all the people in this party were Indians?

Nancy said...

Hey Dotmom - have been visiting your blog often and was really touched by your post today. I've had exactly the same conversation (probably in similar parties with similar people) a few times.

My 3 year old son loves dolls and has taken to feeding / cuddling / bathing even Barneys and Pooh Bears ( I am sure he would have done the same to action figues had I given him some). Like you, I do not see anything wrong or even weird in that.

His father feeds / cuddles / bathes him and to me, he is the manliest and sexist man around.

~nm said...

I really really think that woman or women were over reacting! Really really over reacting..big time!!

And they think playing with nerf guns and action figures and watching Ben 10 is good? What about making them terrorists? I would have said so to her when she offered to buy him a gun.

I have never stopped Anirudh in playing with dolls or watching barbie princess movies or in buying soft toys. Just let them be!!

SilentOne said...

Just wondering what you would say to a mum who refuses to buy her daughter a doll because the mother doesnt like them ?

PG said...

I love your attitude. And these are some beautiful thoughts.
I think that every child has his/her nature, some like to play more with cars and some more with dolls. Both are Ok for me. My sunny boy loves to play with soft toys. No, I didn't buy him dolls. But, he loves to cook for them, bathe them, feed them, pacify them while playing. And I love this, when I see him doing it.
I also wish that he keeps his interest in cooking and baking, like he is showing now so that he can cook his wife wonderful meals one day.
BTW, about gender identity, no doubt it is a genetic factore. I haven't done any research in this regard, but being a molecular bilogist, I could imagine that such things may be "enhanced" or "diminished" at the embryo stage. there are many genetic phenomenons which do this, one being methylation, which switches off genes , for example. But, these ar all possibilities. All these things influence at the end the physiology and the hormones of the body, I believe. I have no solid argumentations for this. Things may become more clear in the future.
But,then again we are talking here about people, and we first need to accept and respect their self whatever that be. How can it be good to make someone supress feelings which cause no one harm?

rayshma said...

ok... now i don't have kids yet. so maybe i don't "know".
but honestly.. i don't think playing with dolls will make a boy gay. and yes i DO agree that his wife will thank u years later. vin, apparently would play with his sister's soft toys and sometimes dolls... and i still thank his mom for being open-minded about it in THAT day and age and letting him be. and trust me, he's far from gay. i would know! :D
and what IS it with action figures!? i would be worried abt my kid obsessively hankering after a gun or a warship rather than a nice cuddly simba!

Rohini said...

What wierd people! I would buy my brat my doll if I wasn't fairly sure that it would soon meet a gory and early end...

Anonymous said...

Hey Dottie,
I'm so proud of you. Oh, by the way, as a bonafide student of sociology - I can tell you that gender *is* a social construct. But what you say is true also. Biological Sex *does* play a role in susceptibility to diseases etc. What the relation to behavior is however, is somewhat of a debate still. So you two were arguing at cross purposes - turns out you were both correct ! :)

Also, I'd like to add here that playing with dolls WILL NOT turn any boy gay. Its an implied relation. In some cases, gay boys may play with dolls, but the reverse relation need not be true.

My nephew, now 14, played with dolls until he was nearly 6. Everyone told my sister exactly the same thing - stop him, he's gong to be gay etc - but my sister and her husband refused to listen to them. Their logic was simple, if our son is gay, we still love him and want to be there for him - the rest of you can go to hell.

he's a sensitive, intelligent and very very heterosexual boy today ! :) So all I can say is that don't let people get to you with their ignorance.
Chip is very lucky to have you as his Mom.


Kodi's Mom said...

ah! a topic close to my heart. good for Chip and good for you!!
I think it was Artnavy who recently did a post on this - an action figure is also a doll, isn't it?
found the link:

Anonymous said...

*breath in breath out* Trying to compose myself so that I dont sound like raving lunatic on your blog.

So I had the girls first, naturally, our house had alot of dolls, barbies, tea parties(especially tea party stuff) and less "boyish" toys.

When Child No 3 but 1st son was born, my dh went mad and bought Thomas the Train, remote control car but no gun(we dont allow them in our house) and guess what the boys play with..yup their favourite game is having a tea party. They dont play with dolls per say but they will sit quietly while Avasha is playing with dolls..

NK tried to get them to play with the so called boy toys but both boys rejected them.

Only now the 4 yr old son has notions of what boy toys.. Like Ballet he said Ballet is only for girls not boys and I showed him its not true.

Girl Next Door (gnd) said...

Well, it was an interesting conversation, I must say...I'm sorry I kept lull during most of it...I don't know most of them very well (other than meeting at your place or at S and K's), and decided to amuse myself.
Besides, you did not need any help there :)
How could you forget to add your awesome question - "If your girl can play with trucks, why can't Chip play with dolls???"
That made the room quiet for a couple of secs...

That said, as for Gender identities, Priya's explanation makes a whole lotta sense ... and rather than treating basing things on gender (other than the health issues you pointed out, and to some extent hormones), I'd go by each kid. Each kid has a unique personality...and that's what defines them, no?

DotThoughts said...

munchkin: yup!

nancy: hello, this said it all - His father feeds / cuddles / bathes him and to me, he is the manliest and sexist man around.

~nm: actually, the men friends were more vocal than my women friends..

silentone: i'll say let her make the decsion.

PG: thanks PG, I always enjoy you scientific rationale :) The way I see it, we het hormonal sometimes during the menstural cycle.. if the boys have a different set of hormones, it will make a difference in some way, right?

DotThoughts said...

rayshma: your mil seems like an awesome mom!

ro: ROTFL. you give that sweet boy no credit.

Priya: thanks for your nephew's story :) I know the sociological theory that gender is a social construct, but I think its debatable. It does go beyond society. afterall women do give birth and haev a different set of hormones and ment can't. I am sure it affects us some what. But yes, we do send social cues on what appropriate gender-roles should be. My question, I guess is, where do you draw the line?

kodi's mom: yes it is, and he has a batman one, but it ahrdly bring out your "nurturing" side. I have never seen Chip sing to the batman :)

asaan: yay, another one on my side. you crack me up asaan, you know!

GND: lol. yes... i did forget to mention that.. that Chip is getting the short end of a stick because he can't play with dolls while the girls can play with dolls and trucks. unfair, i say.

Preethi said...

I am not sure if you remember.. but I made a post on this long back.. and so did you.. on pink ;D.. Whats with the over reaction? So he played with a doll.. my son plays with pots and pans.. we went to a friend's place and they have a 4 yr old girl.. I asked my son to go play with her kitchen set.. because he loves it.. and I have been meaning to buy him one but haven't gotten around to it! and no one freaked out. We watched the kids cooking and feeding us and the dolls.. come on they are kids! Another friend's son picked up a doll and wanted it at the store .. she bought it for him! So? Guys grow up to be fathers right? My son has loads of stuffed toys.. like you said it helps them to be more nurturing.. I hate action figures and macho toys.. guns are a big no no for me!! I don't think I will get my son that ever!
And y day at school Cheeky and a girl were dressing up a toy in school while his teacher and I watched.. Whats the big deal? I think parents need to stop thinking long term and let kids be kids!
And if someone turns out to be gay or a cross dresser I am sure playing with dolls is definitely not the reason for it!! I have nothing against either.. just that its ridiculous to say that if a boy played with girls toys he would be gay or a cross dresser!!
I am running on and on.. and I have more to say on this.. but Cheeky is at my throat.. so will stop for now and be back later!!

Vinita said...

Dotmom you need to change your friends..hee hee. So much discussion about a little innocent kid who is just entertaining himself through play? How can people be that judgemental and that early?


noon said...

Interesting post Dottie! I went to the store today looking for a small toy kitchen for KB. I bought him a fire truck and the smallest toy kitchen I could find (so it doesn't occupy too much space)...but at the check out counter changes my mind because KG is getting a toy fridge (since she loves opening and shutting doors and putting things into drawers) and I know KB will play with it a lot too. Just this afternoon a friend told me "But that kitchen is for girls" referring to a particular one...I told her I didn't care - both kids can play with it. And while I was shopping I saw an older Indian woman shopping in the same aisle wondering what to buy - I told her - this is a good one if you are looking for a gift - she said, but I am looking for a toy for a boy! I told her both boys and girls love playing kitchen.

That said, I think playing with a doll - if people react so strongly even for playing kitchen - which all kids love to play - I can imagine how these people go nuts over playing with a doll! Both KB and KG play with each others toys - I think that makes it easier - they just accept them all as toys. Even when KB was walking around back and forth with my friend's little girl's stroller - my friend said "it's a girl toy" - as if she was whispering! I said, it's OK - he loves playing with toy strollers. Another friend suggested - why don't you get him a shopping cart instead?!

Somehow the reverse is allowed - girls playing with cars. Well, the said friend said something even about that "Well, you know with this whole gay marriage rights etc and everything, never know, you encourage your girl to behave like a tom boy, who knows what will happen in the future!". Really this sort of view is so prevalent - I didn't even know!

Anonymous said...

Hi, been lurking for the longest while. Love your writing. This post brought to mind a story I read somewhere: This American couple decided not to introduce gender-stereotype toys to their daughter, so they brought her trucks, cars et al. One day, the mom spotted the girl laying the trucks down on the bed and crooning a lullaby and covering them up with a sheet... how sweet is that? So much of parenting has to do with listening to our kids, don't you think?

mummyjaan said...

Looking at my own children, who play about equally with dolls and trucks (and pretend guns) I don't have reason to believe they're predisposed towards either.

PG said...

something for you at my blog, please come and pick it

Usha said...

Nice post - made me think two thoughts.
1. It is the west where people object to gender stereotyping as adults and it is the same place where they make so much of mere toys for children and pinks and blues.
2. If indeed a child had gay tendencies and showed inclination towards feminine things a parent is in fact making it more difficult for the child by trying to take these away from him. It would be nothing but a form of denial on the part of parents to accept that their child could indeed be different.

You have been awarded.

Anonymous said...

it is the theropy you know!! the psycolagists give dolls to play, they observe the child, for emotions to come out.that is ok. but the boys should not play with dolls, rubbish. let him play eith the dolls and house house

DotThoughts said...

Preethi: I remember.. so did I. My point is, let kids play with a variety of toys. I'll buy my son a nerf gun AND a doll and let him pick.

Vinia: You wanna move here? :) No, but theya re good friends, really.

noon: I made a play kitchen for Chip too. he loved it and spent hours doling out idlis and mac and cheese. For Christmas, he gets a toy blender (and it cost me a pretty penny) . He has been wanting it for ever.

Anon: I think you hit the nail with this- So much of parenting has to do with listening to our kids, don't you think?

mj: exactly.

PG: heading over now.

Usha: There are pockets of people life that.. its a pretty gender-polarized society otherwise. I agree with #2.

Anon: yup!, I say.

karmickids said...

Hey Dottie, the boy plays with girl toys when he visits homes with girls. But when given a choice of toys, he has always without being guided or prodded in that direction chosen cars or action figures. You think the father hypnotised him when I wasnt looking?

Mama - Mia said...

well, its all so mad!! i mean who cares! they are just kids!

my logic is that both boys and girls should know how to care and nurture and how to protect themsleves! how can gender matter in this case?!

i remember i had a couple visit us whose son was almsot as old as Cubby. i was just showing my tongue to the baby or blowing rasberries just to get reaction. and the mom got all worked up and said dont do it! he will also pick it up!

and i was like WTH! its not like he will be CEO sitting in board meeting and blowing rasberries at age 30! geez!

i think we should just let kids be what they wanna be as long as they arent being rude and obnoxious!

great post!

n HNY!