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The Most Curious Incident of Gender Stereotyping That Made Me Sick To My Stomach

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Little Johnny started to reach for Margo’s pink doll, being pushed in the doll stroller. “NOOOOO!!!! JOHNNY!!!! THAT’S A GIRL’S DOLL!”, yelled his mother. At first, I was sure that Little Johnny’s mother meant it was “*THE* girl’s doll” (I knew that English was her second language), so I just smiled and said, “Oh, it’s ok, he can play with the doll, Margo won’t mind.

Just at that moment, a surfer friend of Little’s Johnny’s parents came walking towards us and said, “Oh, Johnny, NOOOOOO, DON’T PLAY WITH THAT!!!!” Little Johnny was still reaching and screaming for the doll, while his mother was dragging him away. I was being dense and didn’t get what was going on, so I blurted out, “Oh, come on guys, it’s ok, he can play with it, Margo really won’t mind.

Little Johnny’s mother raised her eyes at me and said, “Look, Johnny, over there,” trying to distract him, “there’s a big truck (the surf lifesaver’s truck), let’s go play with the truck, trucks are for boys.”

**Facepalm, instant stomach ache** I immediately saw what was going on. But, still I persisted, because I knew these people fairly well, they’re neighbors of ours and I see them often.

Little Johnny was on the brink of a full blown meltdown. I offered again, “Isn’t it ok if he plays with it for just a minute? He probably won’t play for long...”

Little Johnny was now sobbing, with tears streaming down his face, while his mother held him back with all of her force. Little Johnny was not to touch this pink stuffed toy… it was clear that his life depended on it.

No darling,” replied Little’s Johnny’s mother to me, “We don’t want him to play with girl toys, we need to teach him to play with more manly things. Little Johnny has a cousin who isn’t so manly, so his father doesn’t want him playing with girl’s toys.”

WHADDO-YOU-MEAN?!?!” I yelled, as I picked my jaw off the ground.

Eventually, when Little Johnny stopped crying and stopped reaching for the doll, he went and played with the big ‘real‘ truck.

This is a true story.

This happened tonight.

Little Johnny’s name has been changed for the this story, but he is a real little boy and he is 18 months old. It was as if Little Johnny would have been scarred for life and turned instantly gay if he had touched that damn doll. I’m sure that he’ll eventually play with a doll when he’s older anyway, I mean there are people who have enjoyed the company a sex doll once in a while and there really anything wrong with that, is there?.

My girls have access to all sorts of toys and activities, and never do I encourage ‘boy or girl‘ play over the other. I find that naturally, my girls like to play with more girly toys. They love dolls, they love dressing up, they love pink. But, at the same time, they will very happily go splash in puddles, play with trains and learn about insects. I never even once think about what they’re playing with and if it’s boy or girl appropriate. Toys are toys. They. Are. Just. Toys.

I was absolutely gobsmacked by what I saw tonight on the beach. My husband said, “Kate, 95% of the world thinks that boys shouldn’t play with dolls.” I hope he isn’t right…

I hope that Little Johnny grows up to be the man his parents dream of, with a big hairy chest, and not a girly bone in his body. He’ll drink beer and swear and never cry. For his sake, I hope that Little Johnny never wants to play with a doll again… After all, playing with dolls makes little boys grow up to be gay, right? (insert vomit in my throat)

 

50 Responses »

  1. Horrifying that the little boy would have been the victim of adult fears – bravo for this post!

    Reply
    • yeah and ummm wont he be a dad one day??? surely his playing with dolls preps him for that rather than omg what a nightmare turns him gay jeez my 3 year old has a couple of babies but predominantly is into trucks and cars and etc just cos thats him but i would never tell him no to his kitchen dress ups (old scarves wigs really etc) or anything else we have even had to have the colours are for everyone chat after starting kindy recently lol

      Reply
      • Toys are just toys, aren’t they? So good to hear that you let your son play with any toys that he wants 🙂

  2. Prejudice is insidious and has to be weeded out at every level, every time. We are witnessing an amazing transformation in human rights as our species starts to raise it’s collective consciousness. Kate you have done a service in raising the flag and waved it fervently in the protection of open mindedness and how training of prejudice of homophobia is trained behavior. Simple scenes like the one you unfortunately witnessed are far to common. Thank you for taking a stand and shining a light on it so all us make this type of behavior unacceptable as a world village community.

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  3. It is crazy, my 2 boys have a few dolls I got, tho to be honest aren’t that interested in them most of the time. I do know lots of people with boys anti dolls pink etc. just such a shame people need to cause all these dramas that don’t exist, must be do confusing to kids who just want to play and interact with a range of things/experiences.

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  4. Wow this boggles my mind. But I do believe that there are many issues that we can personally see as so obviously idiotic that other people agree whole heartedly with. The curse of the human race. I gave Boston my own baby doll when he was six months old, he loves it. He kind of handles it more like a boy, doing crash hugs and bear cuddles but he still LOVES buba bobby

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    • ‘Obviously idiotic’ I like it… I was actually thinking that I’m glad this was only an issue of a doll, I know in some corners of the world, the conditioning can be far worse (like that doco on slavery)… but ah… it’s a freaking pink doll!

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  5. I cannot imagine being that worried about what a kid played with, unless it was a grenade or something! Poor boy. It’s so sad to think that he’s surrounded by this type of fear and over-sensitivity. My son has a doll, which we got him right before his brother was born, so he could get used to the whole baby idea a little bit. Like Jazz mentioned above, he’s not that interested in it, but a couple times he practised being the big brother or the dad… what’s wrong with that, I wonder?!? I really can’t understand this fear that kids will ‘catch the gay’ like it’s some kind of contagious disease! (I personally don’t care if my kids are straight or gay, but even if I did care, the idea that playing with a doll makes you gay is just absurd!) I just feel so sorry for the little kids getting all these crazy messages and prejudices from parents, when they start out so innocent!

    Reply
    • I know, I totally don’t get the ‘catch gay’ thing. It’s actually scary that people think that way! I think boys and girls are certainly born with their natural male and female tendencies, but actually exerting energy to enforce what boys and girls should play with… what a dangerous thing to waste your time on!

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  6. I remember a story one of my lecturers once told of her son. She wanted him to have both ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ toys so she bought him a doll. Whenever they went out he was allowed to take just one toy. One day when he was around three he picked up the doll to take and his mum was so proud that there was no discrimination in his mind between boy’s and girl’s toys. When they were at the shopping centre the little boy was walking around with the doll in his pocket. Then suddenly he pulled it out, held it in a gun position and started pretending to shoot he baddies.
    I know it’s not appropriate but it always makes me laugh … to the child, it is just a toy, something to use for make-believe. And shouldn’t we be encouraging that?

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  7. What a ridiculous attitude these parents have my son is almost three and every time he visit’s granma’s he goes and plays with a pink toy pram with one of my old pink strawberry short cake dolls in it – he knows it’s a baby and the baby goes in the pram he doesn’t call it dolly he calls it baby – because we’ve always told him that babies go in prams and I always point out babies in prams. My son is well adjusted and loves playing with trucks but if he wants to play with a baby as far as I am concerned my son will be just like his dad…. a father. (who consequently pushed him in his pram)

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  8. wow that’s so sad !!! ok SURE we do not buy dollies and “girlie” toys for our boys here ( we have 6 ) but we sure don’t stop them playing with dollies and prams etc… when out. Our neighbours have 3 little girls and our boys love playing tea parties with their dollies or pretend cooking etc… where’s the harm!? My husband used to be like this lady at the beach and freak out if his son dared touch anything for “GIRLS” but thankfully he’s not anymore. This is harmful behaviour

    Reply
    • Wow, six boys! That must be a blast! Yes, I’m certainly not saying everyone should go out and buy dolls for their boys, but I feel exactly like what you said, thinking that it’s bad for a boy to play with a doll, is actually ‘harmful behaviour’! Glad to hear your husband came around 🙂

      Reply
  9. It think this type of behaviour is absolutely ridiculous. They want Johnny to grow up and be a man, well that will mean being a dad right? And heaven forbid he might have daughters and play dolls with them. My boys have bubbas and my girl has cars, they have all kinds of toys they all share.

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  10. There is a Sesame Street episode that deals with this that you should share with them. “Playing with dolls” is really “practicing to be a daddy”… But of course, we don’t want our boys to be loving, caring daddies :/
    So frustrating!

    Reply
    • Thanks Maree! I’ll have to find that episode of Sesame Street. I think sometimes people just don’t know, and they’re only following what they were taught as kids…

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  11. I find this superhypocritical – you may find it’s innapropriate to teach children about gender based toys but I think it’s innapropriate to teach your kids that it’s acceptable to butt into other peoples lives and express opinions on something that has nothing to do with you. If the parents want to raise their kids that way they should be allowed to and not have to deal with other people throwing in their two cents worth.

    Before pointing out what other people are doing wrong think about the example you’re setting for kids.

    Reply
    • umm, that’s strange, Kate has a blog & that’s what y’do, point out stuff from your perspective, & as for the example she is setting, bravo, if we all just turn a blind eye to things we see as wrong, society would never evolve & grow & learn…

      Reply
    • People should be critical in some situations! Interfering when someone is doing something out of fear, ignorance or lack of education is certainly a positive thing. I can see if the parents just didn’t want their child to have a girl’s doll.. but to be under the false impression that even TOUCHING a pink doll would cause them to be ‘less manly’, that is scary thinking… That sort of ignorance and close minded-ness should not be ignored.

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  12. No, playing with dolls makes boys work out how to be good dads…

    Reply
  13. shauna russell

    The mind boggles. Just last month I hosted my daughters 4th bday and she had been talking about the theme for 9 months. Never once waivered from her 1st choice and I never once told her she couldnt have that theme. I did put a girly spin on it though as it is a super sterotypical boy theme. But nonetheless we just hosted a girly spiderman themed party. She loved it, all her little friends (all girls) loved it. She has already picked next years and it is a cowboy theme. Not a cowgirl, but cowboy.
    I say let a child play with whatever they want. Little Johnny wont catch gay by playing with a doll, but it will teach him how to be a good dad by playing with a doll. All 3 of my sons had dolls.

    Reply
    • So good to hear that you just go with the flow on what your kids want 🙂 My daughter just had her fourth birthday party too, and she was talking for at least 9 months all about the PINK party with a pink castle, etc (She doesn’t get the love of pink from me, I swear it comes from within). She got her pink party and right in the middle of it, all of her girly little friends and her stripped down to their undies and went swimming in the boat harbour!

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      • shauna russell

        I go with the flow so easily that I even buy her spiderman undies albeit from the boys section

  14. Ugh. Like stopping a kid playing with a doll will make him more manly. I just don’t get this attitude. I am a professional face painter and I have at times considered putting a sign up that says “It is ok if your son wants to be painted as a sparkly rainbow butterfly. As far as I am aware he cannot catch gay from my rainbow paint or my glitter. And if your son does decide when he grows up that he is gay or that he is in fact a she, that that is perfectly ok and natural, and it is very unlikely to be the result of a sparkly rainbow facepaint.” I often get little boys wanting “girly designs” and it bugs me to hear the parents in the line trying to talk them out of it. I will sometimes say “there is such a thing as a boy butterfly/fairy/flower, after-all how else would you make baby butterflies/fairies/flowers”. Funny thing is no-one blinks when a girl wants a “boy” deign.

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  15. digitalangelxd

    My son’s (3) favorite comfort item is “baby” the doll. During the day he plays soccer, Legos, cars, guns, whatever. But if he’s upset or it’s bedtime, he wants Baby. I never questioned it when he picked a doll at the store. I got to play with Tonka Toy trucks as a girl. Who cares?

    Reply
    • That’s so cute that he loves his doll for comfort 🙂 I also played with dump trucks and cars… but I turned out pretty girly in the end.

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  16. Eh, forbidding something never works. It’s a lesson those parents will learn one day.

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  17. It’s true that our children learn from play ….. but OMG; they DO NOT LEARN TO BE GAY; being gay is not something you learn! My three boys, all grown up now, always had a dolly around; that’s not to say they always played with it, but they certainly did play with it! Two of my boys have married and have children and all that dolly play has at least taught then how to wrap and hold a baby!

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  18. Wow. Just wow. Breathtaking stupidity.

    My brothers got into my Barbies all the time…my parents never once discouraged it (except for the fact they were mine and there would be hell to pay should anything be lost, broken or torn) and they grew up to be the kind of straight manly men that woman seems to so desperately hope her boy will be. I loved to play with cars, climb trees, examine bugs and I grew up to be a pretty darn feminine straight woman.

    Toys that are usually associated with the opposite gender do not make a person gay just like toys usually associated with one’s own gender do not make a person straight. Being gay makes one gay and being straight makes one straight.

    Will never understand why that is such a difficult concept for some people.

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  19. This picture made me think of this article and is the perfect response 🙂
    http://cdn.gagbay.com/2014/03/when_he_grows_up_he_might_be-434146.jpg

    Dude what are you doing? You can’t give your son a baby doll. That’s a girl toy!
    Huh? Why?
    You know…when he grows up he might be…you know…
    Might be what? A dad?

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  20. I am not going to add any disclaimers to this comment, nor give my views on the subject; which are mixed.
    I am only going to say that your belief about the way that the world should be does not mean that you should seek to undermine someone else’s parenting. Persisting to offer a tantrum-ing child a toy once you are clearly aware of the parent’s desire is unhelpful and doesn’t educate, but humiliate.
    I wouldn’t want another parent to try to undermine me in that way and I am sure you wouldn’t either if the shoe was on the other foot. In the end it won’t kill Johnny to never get to play with a doll. You can do what you feel is right in your own family.
    Let’s remember that no parent gets it right all the time, and most children with loving well intentioned parents grow up equally scarred 😉

    Reply
    • I do understand what you are saying.. but they were acting as if the doll were actually a grenade. I write about these things in hopes to bring issues to light which concern me… thinking that a boy cannot play with a doll because he won’t grow up to be manly, is of a concern to me.

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      • Thanks for your reply. I am interested on your take on what manly qualities are and about childhood influences that are good for young boys in that regard. Do you have another post to refer me to perhaps?

  21. Our boy’s the same age and loves trucks, tractors and wheels but still has a dolly to play with if he wants to… because I put it there!

    Have you seen this website?
    http://lettoysbetoys.org.uk/ – it’s a good one to promote that talks about the same issue.

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  22. Long time no read! I’ve been so distracted. I can’t believe some of the ideas that people have. Even just looking at magazine advertising gets my hackles up with this gender splitting. Why do I have to dig to find bright colors for my boy instead of drabdrabby? Why do I have to search for clothing for my daughter through a sea of pink and frill?

    It used to be that pink was for boys and blue was for girls! Heck both Michael from the Disney Peter Pan and the baby boy from the original Lady and the Tramp are both in pink footed jammies!

    Reply
    • Oh, good to hear from you!! Yes, life gets on. My EC journey is far from the days of catching squirty newborn poos anyway, haha. I know… the pink pink pink is insane. I always joke around that in my house, we have three colors of wash; lights, darks and PINK!

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  23. My dear Kate, You don’t have boys. I never said to my son that he can’t play with a doll, in fact he did have some boy dolls. Big strong muscular ones. He was an only child till he was 5 years old, he never had girl stuff around. At playgroups he just played with the cars and trucks, even though prams and dolls were available. Might I add that I had to teach him how to play with cars and trucks etc. My hubby being from a different culture would never allow his son to play with dolls. You also have to accept in this case cultural differences. Not everyone is like you.
    Now the gay part, my hubby grew up in a small town and everyone knew everyone. The kids that turned out to be gay did play with dolls and girls all the time. I’m not saying that touching a doll will turn a boy gay. But the irony is that this is what gay people are drawn to from a young age.

    Reply
    • I understand what you’re saying. I don’t have boys, but I’ve worked with plenty of boys and have much younger brothers that I played a part in raising. No matter what the cultural background, it’s a dangerous and false idea to believe that boys will grow up to be less manly if they play with dolls… It’s not just that a parent won’t let a child play with a doll, but more of the close mindedness. Treating boys like they shouldn’t be nurturing, caring or emotional does nothing good for society. There are plenty of components from other cultures that we would never accept in modern western culture, so why should we also accept the idea that boys shouldn’t play with dolls?

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  24. Hi Kate,

    What do you think about boys playing with mommy’s make up stuffs like lipstick, compact powder etc. My little boy (2,5 yo) likes to play with my make up stuffs. Sometimes he just messing around with it but sometimes he try to immitate me wearing lipstick or dap dap his cheeks with my compact powder. I’m curious is it appropriate or should I teach him the opposite. What should I do?

    Reply
    • I say let him! A boy of any age. It’s fun! If he sees you doing it, he just wants to be part of the fun. You can let him put it on you, or your can put it on him. The worst thing to do would be to make it something taboo, then he will become even more fixated with it! Children are natural, so they’re just being innocent and curious and having fun 🙂

      Reply

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