I take great pride in knowing that my kids are developing self expression and personal satisfaction by the day under my care, and this means that my sons play with dolls. Not only do I tolerate and allow my son to play with dolls, but I actively encourage this kind of play and behavior.
Many parents—perhaps of a different generation or political persuasion—may scoff or even disagree with my decision to encourage my sons to play with dolls and for my daughters to play with traditionally masculine toys. But there are many reasons why playing with dolls can be beneficial for kids of all genders, ages and gender identities.
Just like any toy that builds empathy and positive experiences in play, I am beyond okay with my sons playing with dolls. If they had positive experiences with other toys—which, of course they do—I would be just as quick to defend their experiences with those toys too, so long as those toys are beneficial to their development and overall well being.
A toy making a child happy isn’t always the only factor that matters—though it is a big part of it. But dolls don’t just make children happy. They also serve a purpose in empathy, empowerment and development, which has historically been restricted only to young girls.
Simply put, my boys enjoy playing with dolls, and it doesn’t hurt anybody—except for maybe the feelings of a few insensitive and misinformed people. Here is why I let my sons play with dolls, and why gender roles and norms don’t matter.
The Gender Binary is a Social Construct
First, let’s get the heavy lifting out of the way. The gender binary, or the classification into genders as female and male, itself is a social construct. The roles that society puts into place for men, women, girls and boys aren’t founded in fact so much as they’re founded in long-standing traditions of patriarchy and gender inequality and division.
Not all people even identify as men or women—as there are plenty of individuals that fall on the gender spectrum as non-binary, outside the confines of our traditional understanding of gender. Sex assigned at birth has much less to do with gender identify than plenty of people think. In fact, my sons could one day inform me that they identify as a different gender entirely, so restricting their play based on that seems a bit strange to me.
Much of Play Isn’t Gendered Anyway
While certain aspects of play have been traditionally gendered, it can be easy to forget that so much of play is gender fluid, existing outside the constructs of social gender norms. Playing outside and engaging in recess, which encourages leadership skills and emotional development, has nothing to do with gender identity. Taking an approach like that to play seems logical to me, especially when I see how it helps all different kinds of children every day.
Dolls Are Beneficial for All Children
Here’s the kicker—recent studies have shown that dolls are great for kids, especially as they develop social skills, empathy and communication. Specifically, playing with toys that resemble people or other living things engages the posterior superior temporal sulcus—the region in the brain responsible for developing empathy and emotional connection. This kind of brain development is important in all kinds of kids—and the fact that it has been exclusively reserved for young girls is a disservice to half of the population.
My sons deserve the opportunity to develop that same level of empathy, understanding and emotional intelligence. Plus, in a world where boys are taught to reject empathy and emotional development, encouraging it in them when they’re young can be revolutionary.
Gender Inequality: Policing Femininity and Masculinity is Arbitrary
Here’s an exercise for you—if you saw a little girl playing with building blocks, legos or even toy trucks, would you bat an eye? Probably not as much as you would at a little boy playing with dolls. Unfortunately, this is because femininity and feminine traits are heavily policed in our society, which views masculinity as superior to femininity. Especially in recent years, girls learning to be tomboys is seen as tough or even a worthwhile personality trait, but boys are not given the same kind of allowance.
I don’t know about you, but these gender politics hurt my head, and I don’t want to subject my kids to any part of it. We all have better things to do than worry about the politics of toys, and I would rather let my boys like what they like, just as we’ve come to do with girls who like to build with blocks.
Letting My Sons Play With Dolls
At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s politically radical or odd to let my boys play with dolls. I see it as something that they enjoy, and it’s good for their brain development in the process. It’s just like eating their vegetables, and who would I be to stop them from eating their vegetables?
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Kara Reynolds is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Momish Magazine, an inclusive parenting magazine filled with parenting hacks, advice and more to keep your beautiful family thriving. As a mom and stepmom, Kara hopes to normalize blended families and wants her readers to know that every family is beautiful and messy just how they are. When she’s not writing, Kara enjoys pilates and likes a little coffee with her cream. Find more from Kara on Twitter @MomishMagazine.
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