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Monday, October 19, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Are We There Yet?

Guys and dolls

When my son was 2, he used to play with dolls. Now at 5, he wouldn’t be caught anywhere near one.

I never discouraged him to stop playing with dolls – in fact, I prefer them to the superhero action figures – but somewhere along the line, he got the message somewhere that only girls play with dolls.

Earlier this month on the website for Mothering magazine, writer Joe Troxell discussed how his wife bought a cotton doll for their son when he was just an infant. She named the doll “Ollie.”

“I tried to look as expressionless as the limp Ollie in my hand,” Troxell wrote in his essay, “Real Boys Play With Dolls.” “Nathan was not yet a year old. In the next few years there would be plenty of time to undo this affront to his masculinity. It would mean I would just have to buy him his first BB gun sooner than I'd expected, or start giving him baseball cards and sporting equipment at every religious holiday—even holidays I'd never heard of before.”

Troxell wrote about growing up in the rural south and learning traditional gender roles. So he was frustrated to see his son take to the doll and eventually bring Ollie wherever he went as a toddler.

Over time, however, he discovered that his “aversion to my son’s playing with a doll might be based on obsolete traditions that no longer served their original purposes.” When he asked his wife if there were any benefits to having boys play with dolls, she replied: “Do you want Nathan to someday grow up and be a good dad? … So he'll need to have qualities like compassion, sensitivity, and patience, as well as some practical experience with things like holding a baby, right?”

Troxell explores the issue in his essay and comes to this conclusion: “In a culture that often equates masculinity with violence and exploitative behavior, I can think of no better toy for a young boy than a doll to help him model kindness and responsibility for his actions. … If we want the next generation of men to be good fathers, compassionate citizens, and sensitive leaders, perhaps this process begins with something as simple and as countercultural as a childhood doll.”

How about you? Did your sons play with dolls?

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