To the mom shooing her son away from the American Girl Doll today

You didn’t notice me next to you in the bookstore today. And I didn’t notice you. I was busy browsing the young adult books, while my daughters were staring at the American Girl Doll sweepstakes display, imagining what it would be like to win. Maybe you didn’t see my girls. But they definitely saw you. And they saw your son. And they saw you telling your son, “stop looking at that. That’s for girls.”

Then you pulled him away. 

He was about three-years-old, by my girls’ judgement. That wonderful age where he is still unencumbered by gender roles and societal expectations. His mind is beautifully spongey. He saw a doll and thought she was pretty. Or interesting. Or funny. I couldn’t say.

Maybe he wonders what her hair feels like, or how she would look in a different dress or kicking a soccer ball or sitting in a stroller. Maybe he thinks it would be fun to play a pretend game with her or serve her tea or stick a cape on her and make her fly through the air and knock over towers of blocks. Maybe he wants to put a stethoscope on and check her heartbeat. Maybe he wants to tuck her in at night. Maybe she looks like a friend in his preschool. Maybe she just looks nice.

Or maybe he wonders what it’s like to hold a child in his arms and take care of her, the way you take care of him.

“Isn’t that weird?” my daughters asked me. “It makes no sense. Anyone can play with a doll!” So I asked them why they thought you might have said it.

They had absolutely no idea at all.

To me, that was the most interesting part of the whole situation.


39 thoughts on “To the mom shooing her son away from the American Girl Doll today”

  1. Are you old enough to remmeber ‘Free to be you and me”? William wanted a doll, more than all of the other toys and sports.

    I’m glad your daughters couldn’t figure out the situation. Our generation, I don’t think we would have had any trouble understanding. Progress.

    1. Just thinking the same thing. My boys grew up on Free to Be and one is now a dad. He is beautifully nurturing and fatherly in all ways. I hope this mom was just tired and cranky…..

      1. Fellow Free to Be generational member here. I’m glad I’m not the only one with that earworm now.

        1. Ditto.

          The montessori I was at actually told my mom she had to buy me the cassette when I was 3 or 4 and told a little boy that dolls were for girls. I have a cd copy for my own kids.

  2. My youngest son, who is by all definitions a total boy–a boy who loves Lego, and playing with army trucks and tanks, and wrestling with his brother to the point I almost die from heart attack several times a week–went through a Disney princess phase. I had zero issues buying “girly” books and toys and stickers. I can’t imagine why anyone would think this is wrong in any way.

  3. My twin boys inherited their older sister’s baby dolls when they were about 2. They played with those dolls for years. Whenever I bought something for Natalie at the American Girl store, I had to buy soccer outfits or track outfits or tshirts for the boys’ dolls as well!

    1. If anything I thought the woman would shoo her son away saying “those are expensive.”

      That would make way more sense to me.

  4. I truly do not get it. I adore the moments when my son is unabashedly kind, gentle, and loving — toward me, toward the cats, toward photos of babies on a Boston’s Children’s Hospital mailer (that he won’t let me throw away).

  5. I’m glad your girls thought that was odd. Mine would, too. My two girls and my one boy share trucks and dolls and blocks and perler beads and swords and stuffed animals and rainbow looms. I can’t imagine limiting any of those things to one sex or another.

    1. I really thought they would have an answer, like “well some people think that….” but they didn’t. It really surprised me. They do know that some girls think that Star Wars is for boys, but I don’t think it ever crossed their minds that dolls are just for girls.

      Sage even wanted to know why there wasn’t an American BOY doll. I told her there should be. She wants one now.

  6. I guess some might say that I don’t get it because I don’t have boys myself, but I really don’t get it. It makes no sense to me, whatsoever.

  7. I don’t get it either. My little girl inherited her first dolls from her big brother, and they will often play with them together. And then run off to play with light sabers or construction trucks or dolls with light sabers driving construction trucks. People need to stop putting other people — especially kids — in neat little categories. It doesn’t work like that.

  8. I have 3 boys and my middle son went through a “doll phase” and had these 2 dolls dressed in pink. I knew it was likely a passing phase (but if it wasn’t, that would be ok too) so I cherished it, knowing it would be the last time I’d see any think pink in my house.:)

    1. I love hearing from moms of boys since I don’t have any myself. There’s something sweet about getting to cherish the pink from your perspective, while all the moms of girls are fighting it.

  9. We also love William’s Doll (1972) by Charlotte Zolotow, pictures by William Pene du Bois. “William wanted a doll.
    He wanted to hug it
    and cradle it in his arms…” My son Sam, 7, loved that book and has baby dolls and stuffed “lovies” and says, “Mama, I’m learning how to take care of my baby for when I’m a daddy.” There’s everything right about that — a little child feeling love, showing love, learning the skills of love, demonstrating love and care for another human being. I’m sorry for that mom and her little boy and I hope their eyes are opened to another way. It’s quite possible they will be.

  10. I read a fascinating book a long time ago – and unfortunately I can’t remember the title – but it was based on research that showed that the best way to keep young men from being violent or going to prison was to get them involved in child care. Young men who took care of small children, especially babies, were extremely unlikely to be involved in antisocial behavior. Interesting!

  11. The first kid I knew who got a Cabbage Patch Doll (this was back when they were the new hot toy) was a boy. He brought it to school to play with on the playground. His twin sister didn’t have one, but he did. He became extremely popular with the girls that day.

  12. How sad. And even more sad- even if that little boy’s mother hadn’t pulled him away, soon enough his peers would be telling him that “dolls are for girls.” The first few months of kindergarten, it seemed like I was constantly correcting my daughter on things like this- her day care had been careful to make sure all activities were for all kids, but the other kids at kindergarten had other ideas. She’s in first grade now, and seems to be better at recognizing the BS for herself, but there still aren’t any boys in her after school yoga class or the weird hula hoop class she begged to be able to take.

    I’m not sure how we fix this. I think it is related to our deep cultural bias that women are less than men, so anything a man or boy does that is usually seen as a feminine thing diminishes him. Fixing THAT is a big undertaking, and my heart breaks for all the little boys who will suffer in the meantime.

  13. This Post Actually Made Me Cry. Not Sure Why My Phone Is Doing All First Caps BUT Maybe It’s Appropriate.

  14. After reading this post I had to play “Free to Be…You and Me.”

  15. My nephew used to carry around a doll as a child. He had a toy stroller and a purse, and damn, that was cute. Now he is a varsity soccer player and is one of the smartest people I know.

    An old family friend of mine has a son that played with dolls as a kid. He is now a screenwriter and lives with his partner in Hollywood.

    My two daughters play with dolls, among other things. I imagine they will end up exactly like the other kids I knew: They will simply be adults, doing there own things, who played with dolls as children.

  16. From a woman who spent most of her summers fighting war using fake Kalashnikovs with her older brothers in the trenches of the orange grove next to our house I gotta say, let the kid play with the freakin’ doll!

  17. Aw, I feel bad for that little boy. Something over a doll, too. It’s so common to give kids (boys or girls) dolls especially if they’re expecting a new baby sibling. It’s refreshing to know your girls genuinely couldn’t find a reason why he couldn’t even just stand to look at the dolls.

  18. Lol, you wonder what these people are truly afraid of? I used to like playing with cars and garages when I was a child and nobody was ever worried about that. Or is that because I am a girl?

  19. Despite my best efforts, and some residual signs of taking what he likes instead of what he is marketed to him, my son (7) is soaking in all the BOY messages. But he still has Disney Fairies wall art in his room. Right next to C3PO and Yoda.

    That said, I’ll admit that when he wanted to buy a Tinker Bell one piece a couple of years ago, I steered him to swim shorts. It was an executive decision. I just wish they had characters of all types in all styles of kids clothes.

  20. This topic never even entered my brain, till my sob asked Sanra for an ‘Easy Bake Oven’ two Christmases ago.

    My knee jerk reaction was “but thats for girls”, which almost as quickly was followed by “boys cook too”. So I searched online for a boys version. Then spent another 24 hours straight searching for a gender neutral version. By the time all was said and done, I had a whoke new perspective on my own views that I never ever knew I had- who cares what color it is? Yes, I was as a woman, a little bit angered that this company not only believed easy bakes were for girls only, but told our kids to think that as well.

    At the same time I was purchasing my sons purple-passion-easy-bake, an teenage girl was petitioning the company to produce gender neutral models because her little brother wanted one (she even got Bobby Flay behind it!)

    Ill never forget the (meme?) I came across. Im paraphrasing here, but it went along the lines of two women talking, about one of their sons playing with a doll. The women says to the mother “but aren’t you afraid he’ll grow up to be-”
    And the mother says “What? Grow up to be a father?”

  21. This whole story… ugh… I’m welling up. I recently started reading Raising Caine: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys (a wonderful book so far) and am deep in thinking about—or more like trying desperately to process—how threatening so many of our ideas about manhood are to our boys and their emotional livelihood. It’s painful to be confronted with how early it begins.

    I’d venture to say that the same mom probably expects the grown men important in her life—her father, her husband or male partner, if she has one—to be sensitive, communicative, open and loving with her. But then here we are, too often shutting those very things down in our boys from such an early age. So frustrating.

    1. I’m really really glad to hear the moms of boys weighing in. Your points about her expectations of her partner are really astute Stacie.

  22. I used to play with my sister and her dolls and never had any gay tendencies.
    I don’t see anything wrong, it will teach them to love babies.

    Gay bashers and homosexual phobes might have a problem with little boys playing with dolls but from a straight guy’s point of view I see no problem with it.

Comments are closed.