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5 Hidden Dangers When Boys Play With Dolls

Photograph by Getty Images

Nearly every day, my 3-year-old son tucks his beloved baby doll under his arm and carries it around the house. Sometimes he uses the doll as a missile, chucking it across the room the way many people would expect a boy to do. But most of the time, he cares for "Baby."

He talks to it in a cooing voice. He points out its tiny fingers and toes. He takes it to the grocery store and cradles it while he sits in the shopping cart.

He loves that doll. It's one of his favorite toys. And why shouldn't it be?

Recently, an acquaintance scrunched up her nose (as if she smelled something bad and rotten—something like a child not conforming to gender stereotypes) and asked me, "Really? Really? You let your son play with a doll?"

"Yes," I replied. "Of course I do. And his older brothers played with baby dolls, too."

She tried to hide her disgust. Frankly, I tried to hide mine, too.

Yet after my brief exchange with this person, I began to wonder if she and all that her question implied had a point. What if there is something wrong with letting my little boy—or any boy—play with dolls?

1. What if he continues to select toys from the pink aisle?

So many toy stores nowadays have very distinct "boys' aisles" and "girls' aisles." The boys' aisles—which are almost always marked by a dark shade of blue—house the trucks and action figures and play weaponry. The girls' aisles—which are almost always marked by some shade of pink—house the dolls and dress-up clothes and play houses and cleaning supplies.

Some might argue that this is the way the world works. Boys grow up to be men who drive to work and make things and fight wars. Girls grow up to be women who have babies, wear makeup and clean the house. Any deviations from these norms would probably destabilize the entire universe.

Of course, there might be something wrong with these norms—and gendered toy aisles—in the first place.

Scientists have not yet identified a "gay virus" that attaches itself to baby dolls and Easy Bake ovens and princess dresses, but many people seem to think that this virus is precisely how little (gay) boys grow up to be gay men.

2. What if the doll confuses my son about his gender?

Perhaps deep in the recesses of the baby doll's painted-on eyes is a tiny evil demon who whispers to my son, "You are not a boy. You are a girl. Or maybe you're a zucchini. No, wait! You are not a boy—you are parallelogram. Or a pencil! Who love baby dolls!"

I would be worried about this possibility if it were not so ridiculous.

3. What if other kids make fun of him?

The "Toy Bullying" syllogism goes something like this: Baby dolls are girl toys. Girl toys are feminine. Femininity is weak. Therefore, baby dolls are weak. They're for girly, weak children. And we can call those children "sissies," especially when those children are boys.

Indeed, there are some parents who reinforce these rigid gender roles and stereotypes. Yet, while I might be worried about some other child bullying my own son someday, I am equally concerned about those parents who are raising children who will express those bullying ideas and behaviors.

4. What if he catches the gay from the doll?

Scientists have not yet identified a "gay virus" that attaches itself to baby dolls and Easy Bake ovens and princess dresses, but many people seem to think that this virus is precisely how little (gay) boys grow up to be gay men.

Thankfully, I'm not worried about this virus since I do not, in fact, believe that it—or anything like it—exists. If my son is gay, I will know that he was beautifully born that way.

I'm far more worried about general human stupidity, bigotry and hate.

5. What if his baby-doll play helps my son model being a caring father?

Because isn't that what part of what pretend play does? Doesn't it help our children model the activities they will engage in as adults? Don't their toys help them to practice the behaviors they find most interesting and important in their great big worlds?

So yes: I let my son play with his baby doll. The worst that can happen is that other children or parents make fun of him. But the best that can happen is that he will play with a toy that he loves—one that helps him to model caring, compassionate behavior, one that helps him to play beyond gender stereotypes and one that shows how femininity can embody strength, and masculinity can embody vulnerability.

I'm willing to take that "risk."

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