I went to a toy exhibit at Historic Richmond Town in Staten Island recently. The above description was next to the display of dolls…

Now I notice they use the disclaimer “Most”- which to me is a cheap way of saying “We are going to make a thesis statement here, and by saying “Most” we will ignore any thoughts to the contrary.”

“Most dolls encourage girls to either “play Mommy” or idolize a beautiful image”…

First off-

Really? Is this really what they do? We are going to take imagination and make believe and play and we are going to ascribe things to it? Are we going to analyze play?

Secondly- If a girl, who feels like a girl, has a Mother, and she see’s someone who is the gender she feels that she is, and she sees the Mother being tender and sweet and “Mothering” what is wrong the a girl attempting to be like that? Is there something wrong with “mothering”? Are we saying that being a Mother is not a worthwhile pursuit? Would we prefer to see people beating up on dolls? Are we saying that we don’t want to show mothering behavior? Are we saying that Mothering, or mirroring mothering is bad? Will we tell a four year old girl that she shouldn’t pretend to be a Mommy because she’s buying into a gender specific role that has been influenced by society? Or do we just let the kid play make believe?

Idolize a beautiful image: Let’s think about that for a moment?

Are we really saying that people don’t like to look at beautiful things? That it’s just dolls? Because really, if you look at Instagram or Pinterest, most of those pictures are done specifically to reflect beauty…and I know I haven’t seen any dolls in any of those shots…

Have you seen the way food is photographed?

My daughter sends me the most gorgeous photos of food- makes you want to run down to the place that served it and try it. There’s a whole section of jobs that revolve around food and it’s beauty.

Travel photos

Clothes

Cars

House interiors

The entire marketing/ad industry is based on making things look beautiful…

And we are going to chastise little girls who play with dolls because they are beautiful?

I freely admit I played with dolls when I was younger. I also played a lot of American Girl with my daughter. Yes, I did pretend to be “Mommy”. So? I liked playing Mom when I was younger, and I loved being a Mom when I actually became a Mom. Sue me.

I also thought my Barbie’s were beautiful. I liked my Barbie Camper and the Townhouse. I like to look at pretty things. Again, sue me.

But are you trying to say that playing with dolls screws you up as a woman? It would be nice to say that liking dolls is the root of all our problems in society-it would tie it up in a pretty little bow and we could duck responsibility for how we treat others… Yeah that’s it- there’s war and violence and hypocrisy because we idolized the beauty of dolls. Let’s sell that idea…

Let’s just think about boys…for this statement I’ll say that boys don’t play with dolls as much as girls do. Do boys not idolize beauty? Do men not check out attractive people? Is mans want of having a beautiful person in bed next to them linked to playing with dolls?

Personally, I’m glad my daughter was born just before the giant tech revolution. Up until third grade she played with dolls and legos and board games and arts and crafts. She didn’t have a smart phone till she was in eighth grade. It was easier to deny kids tech then- there wasn’t the explosion that there is now. But I know that she LOVED her American Girl dolls and they were a huge part of her childhood. I would hate for someone to look at her and think she was brainwashed into things…that her and her 3.9 GPA, her legit three page resume if she lists all the things she did in college, her room full of trophies and awards were all for naught because she liked playing mommy and thought dolls were pretty…

I’m all for analyzing- I have spent the better part of my adult life analyzing everything. But can we not chastise girls, or boys, for wanting to play with dolls? The dolls aren’t the problem. We are.

60 thoughts on “Playing

  1. We still have most of our daughter’s dolls in our basement. If we ever have grandkids I’m sure we will pass them on to them. My daughter is about to graduate with two degrees and go to grad school. She’s a TA? She’s on the disciplinary panel for her college. She has an active social life. I don’t see how playing with dolls had any negative effect.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In our society and religion, mothering is considered the biggest creative activity. Not only procreation but a mother cares for the family and is supposed to be the foundation stone who keeps all the members together with her motherly love and tenderness. The most popular tag line of our Administration is educate a girl child and you educate a whole family. There are many families where the father also plays the role of both mother and father. So, instead of assigning motherhood to a specific gender, which it is, the disclaimer should be, though being mommy is a baby girl’s prerogative, boys are also welcome to play with them so that they are able to inculcate gentleness as one of their attributes. It will lessen the incidents of rape and domestic violence.

    I think I have written a very long comment. On Beauty later…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmmm…I’m not so sure about the idea of boys playing with dolls helping to lessen the incidents of rape and domestic violence. Seems a bit far-fetched. I think the bigger problem in that area is what they see demonstrated in the male role models in their life and what they witness on television, video games. If only dolls could solve the most heinous crimes.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My cousin’s 3yo boy asked for a Barbie for his 4th birthday. He had just lost his mom to breast cancer. He played “mothering” with the beautiful Barbie and no one bat an eyelash. He’s now in grade 1 and doesn’t play with the doll anymore.

    Sometimes people are too focused on all these details about beauty or gender, they forget to just let kids be with whatever you they want to play with and stop analyzing to death meanings behind every action or plaything, beautiful or not. I never associated role modeling with toys. I just saw imagination and creativity.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That’s just it! Give a kid the toy they like, and let them be imaginative and creative and stop forcing something into an issue because that what we want to do. I remember being about five and went to doctor office with my mom. I was waiting in reception and the receptionist brought out a dollhouse ( without dolls) and crayons and paper. I made be
      I’ve the crayons were dolls and I played house. Is there a crazy theory to that or was I just playing?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, your post gives me something to write on too. Thank you.

    Cannot resist to comment on beauty which is again a girl’s/woman’s prerogative. But of course times have changed and boys/men deck up too. So it’s no more gender specific. 😁 There is nothing wrong in either. But when any girl is discriminated on the basis of ‘outward beauty quotient’, that is wrong and unforgivable. While girls have all the right to make efforts to look beautiful, the disclaimer again should be nothing compares to the beauty of the mind and soul. Bodily beauty is perishable.

    Thanks for tolerating my comments.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are correct in that we shouldn’t prize beauty above all else…it’s like in house remodel shows when people don’t want to spend money on “things you can’t see”

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  5. BRAVO! This is a brilliantly written blog, LA. You nailed it. Dolls are indeed a thing of beauty. But they are more than that. In today’s world when a mother is pregnant and their is another sibling at home waiting to be a big brother or sister, phycologists recommend you buy the older sibling their own baby so they don’t feel left out. They learn how to show love, responsibility, (babies need to be fed, changed, washed etc.) and children model nurturing behavior. Nurturing parents tend to raise caring children. I had sons. Both my boys when they were little had a My Little Buddy doll. They learned how to comb his hair, put on his overalls, and button the straps. They even learned how to tie shoes by tying My little buddy’s sneakers. It was a great learning too.. my younger son would set a place at the table for his Buddy and I can’t tell you many P& J half sandwiches I made for his doll. ( which my son ate when he thought I wasn’t looking). So how are dolls just a girl thing? My older son had wrestle mania dolls and a ring. He’d have them simulate stunts like Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant . Then he collected all the Star Wars action figures. He had a GI Joe doll. My younger son, the one who is a film and tv director would take his figures from Toy Story, GI Joe guys, and lego people and using the idea of stop motion before the app was invented, he would make his own movies even in elementary school. So how are playing with doll toys just a girl thing? Both boys ( who are 15 and half years apart) had Star Wars figures and played with them. And I grew up in the 1950’s. After my little sister was born my mother noticed I was jealous. So she took me to the store to pick out a Tiny Tears baby doll. I picked out the black baby because I thought she was the prettiest and my mom bought that one. The neighborhood mothers questioned my mom and her decision to let me keep THAT doll. And I remember my mom telling them, “ The reason I bought the doll was to teach her how much care and attention a baby needs so she understands why I have to spend a lot of time helping the new baby. In order to do that she HAD to pick out her favorite baby to show love. That doll was the one she chose. “ I named her Susie and really loved that doll a lot! Years later my class bought me a Joan Jett Barbie when they discovered I played guitar. Another class got me a Xena the warrior princess action figure because I did her warrior call on the playground to round them up to go inside. Lol One room mother bought me a THAT GIRL BARBIE because I reminded her of Marlo Thomas. So yeah, I love dolls! I always have. Dolls NEVER stopped me from becoming a feminist in the 1970’s!

    As a grandmother I bought my grandchildren an Obama doll, a Hillary Clinton doll and an RBG action figure and they put on puppet shows with them. I also had doll figures of Rosie the Riveter, Jane Austen, Susan B Anthony and a host of other fabulous women from history that I kept in my classroom. My grand daughter plays with them now. Jane Austen is her favorite and she and Jane read together.
    So, no! That sign is so misguided! Dolls, like girls, can become anything we want them to be! They help children develop an imagination! They should take down that sign.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m with you! Let kids play with the toys that spark their individual curiosity! Isn’t it about learning what makes us each tick?

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  6. Curious, if you had not seen this little sign would you have assumed the exhibit was trying to make a political statement by the way it was displayed? Is this disclaimer someone’s way to cover their ass so to speak, trying to depict the stealth behind gendered social norms? I played with dolls of all kinds and created multiple scenarios around them. I also played with my best friend (a boy) and we stomped in creeks and routinely played army or sought out ways to build forts, or experiment with tools in my dads garage. I have very specific views as an adult regarding gendered stereotypes that our society continues to perpetuate. The sign, while it should not include the word “most” can be considered true based on social expectations that we know still exist…however unless the entire exhibit was created to speak to dolls as gendered stereotypes then perhaps this sign didn’t really belong.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The exhibit was all about toys. Not one other card attached to a display suggested any kind of societal expectation. It didn’t say games make us competitive, or blocks makes us all builders. This really irked me. My daughter was all about pink when she was little, to the point she only wanted to wear pink clothes when I think she was in kindergarten. Was I a bad mother because I let her choose her own clothes and have autonomy about how she chose to present herself? I’m sure there are people that would think this horrible. While I agree that some can “push” a kid into a certain toy, what’s wrong with a kid choosing a toy because they like it?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Seems then that “someone” wanted to make a statement and inject their own POV in this case. Good example of why choosing to make a blanket/generalized statement without regard to how people will perceive and then internalize the comment was inappropriate in that setting.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Exactly. People mature and change as they grow up. My grand daughter wanted to be a Disney Princess when she was little. She’d dress up whenever possible. While HRC was running for President she then wanted to run for office. After that she got involved in dance and cheer leading and went to state competitions. This year she’s in 5th grade and on the school debate team. I say, Let each child evolve into who they are. She, like your daughter, used to love pink. Now it’s blue that she loves. When she was very little she wanted to know if she could still be a princess because they all had straight hair and she had curls. I told her she could be and do anything she wanted to. Her hair style didn’t matter. And when I lost my hair due to chemo she reminded me that I had told her that hair didn’t matter and that I was still beautiful to her. So I guess I taught her well. If we give children the opportunity to feel good about themselves and their choices, they gain confidence and also respect for one another. Her dad, my oldest son, was a great athlete. So is she. But her brother, my grandson, is a math and science brainiac and hates sports. However, he invents games, is a chess wiz and at amazing at coding. Each child is different. He dragged around an Elmo doll until he became enchanted with legos. Then it was bye bye to Elmo. Let kids just enjoy being kids!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I do believe the thought police invaded that museum to set us all straight! Let children be creative and use their imaginations. Pretending to be mommy or daddy is preparation for that role later in life and is part of normal development. If a little girl enjoys a tool set and dolls, great! She will probably end up being a feminine woman who can change her own tire. If a little boy plays with a doll, it doesn’t mean he identifies as a woman and should have a medical gender intervention. Leave him alone and let him be a child! I loved to play “dress up” as a child with whatever old clothes I could find. One of my favorite roles was “gypsy.” I did not grow up to be a gypsy nor did I try to change my ethnicity. It was just fun!

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  8. My son didn’t get his first smart phone, an iphone until high school graduation. It was a big deal. My daughter who is three years younger, got hers as a freshman or sophomore in high school. I’m glad they got to play without the PC culture interfering. As for dolls, I loved them. I had a gorgeous Madame Alexander “Lady Hamilton” in a pink lace dress on my dresser. Also, you need to check out Barbie’s instagram account.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Yup, a lot of things these days that are “reinterpreting” history and museum contents just seem poorly-informed spew by those who would just be writing school essays in previous eras who are accepted as “qualified” to hold forth on crap now. Oops, I told my honest opinion…! You did too, so I am glad!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Well, the Doll Description was obviously written by someone who had NEVER written a toy exhibit description before and put their bias in there. Like you, I find it MADDENING. Why can’t children BE CHILDREN? Instead, this new society is trying to TELL them how to think AND make them grow up faster than they need to.

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  11. My wife always had her Barbie & Ken’s hooking up for sex lol. She never pretended to be a Mommy and eventually grew to continue to have zero interest pushing 40. What an odd thing to analyze playtime, I really don’t think playing with anything truly shapes you into the person you are today. You want a toy exhibit sans analyzing visit the Strong Musuem of Toys in Rochester.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Toys are props for the imagination! I even have adult props that inspire me like candles, pretty tea cups, perfume, books, the perfect pen…great post as usual, made me want to resurrect my old babydoll, I still have her, horrifying haircut and all. Hugs, C

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Unfortunately, it seems less and less kids are even playing with dolls and other imaginative toys. My grandchildren spend more time on their tablets and watching TV. It drives me crazy! I have an entire toy room for them, but they hardly use it. When they do, I am so thrilled. I just hate how technology has taken imaginative play away from kids today.

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  14. Well said LA! I loved my dolls, and their clothes, both bought and the ones my mother made for them, and grew up to have a keen interest in fashion. Is it a bad thing to want to look nice and wear pretty clothes? I also have a science degree and worked for 40 years in what used to be a traditional male job. But after I got dressed for work, I never gave what I was wearing a second thought.

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  15. I honestly don’t think they were chastising, LA. Using the word “most” usually is acknowledging that not all dolls are made to do this. I also think the point was that there should be more diverse messaging when marketing dolls to girls so that they see that you can be a doctor who works on a doll, or you can be a teacher who teaches the doll, but the idea is you can mother and/or do something else if you are a girl. I don’t think the statement is to denigrate mothers, mothering, or motherhood.

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    1. I didn’t like it. The exhibit was really toys through the ages. It was the only card that made a social commentary on anything. I think the use of the word most is cheesy…it’s like the get out of jail free card of word choice when describing something. I remember once using crayons to substitute as dolls in a dollhouse. While there is messaging, I don’t think it was necessary here. If they wanted to do an exhibit about toys as their messages, maybe they start with video games and their correlation to violence…

      Liked by 1 person

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