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Barbie Girl — Barbie Boy??

16/09/2010

Elvis Duran asked an interesting question of the parents listening (and participating in) the show this morning: would you be upset/uncomfortable if your little boy played with (or wanted to play with) dolls? (To listen to the discussion in its entirety, check out their Web site or the Elvis Duran iheartradio station.)

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard that question or seen it discussed, but it inevitably leads in the same direction: those who believe it’s acceptable stand opposite those who are certain that playing with dolls will turn their son into a “sissy” or worse, will turn them gay. *Cue: the score from The Exorcist* Even Froggy, one of my favorite members of the morning show cast, said that he wouldn’t like for his seven-year-old to play with dolls because of the potential effects.

To this I say: dear idiots, your villages are calling.

First of all, a child’s choice of toys isn’t some early indicator of sexual preference. Child psychologists and behavioral scientists back this up (such as in this post), but they aren’t telling you anything that common sense isn’t already screaming in your ear. I played with Power Rangers action figures and Hot Wheels right alongside my Barbie dolls and EZ-Bake Oven. I didn’t grow up to be a superhero (sadly), nor did I suddenly develop an affinity for the ladies in the locker room. What I did learn was how to harness my own creativity in both battles and fashion design, and an appreciation for cooking that fortunately has stayed with me.

But it’s not such a worry when you’re talking about girls, is it? It’s the boys who may grow up to be softies or overly emotional if they – gasp! – pick up a baby doll with any intent other than to pop off its head or subject it to similar forms of early childhood torture. Children are natural mimics; they do what they see in an attempt to learn about the world around them as well as their place in it. Exhibiting caretaker instincts and drives is just as important for boys as it is girls, particularly in a society where one of the biggest complaints about parenthood is emotionally absent fathers.

Likewise, allowing children to express empathy and sensitivity is a crucial way for them to become adults who care about the world around them and are not simply selfish automatons. Maybe if that douchebag hitting on girls at the bar and slipping roofies into drinks had played with a doll or two, or had been allowed to cry over a skinned knee, he would approach people with more respect. By negatively reinforcing the idea that dolls are for little girls and action figures are for little boys, we continue to perpetuate the gender stereotypes that create hindrances in adulthood.

The second part of this argument is the idea that parents can control or influence their child’s sexuality. This, quite frankly, disturbs and angers me because it implies by association the concept of children’s sexual development. A child should obviously be psychologically prepared for the physical changes accompanying puberty, but should we really be introducing sexuality to small children (ages 2-10) as something tangible and malleable? I think the fear and ignorance-driven attempt by some parents to “prevent” homosexuality directly contributes (though of course, is not the entire cause) to the premature sexual awareness exhibited by children today. Both homosexual and heterosexual children subjected to this type of social conditioning experience stress and trauma, and may be more likely to act out sexually before they are emotionally ready to do so.

The corollary, of course, is the emotional impact of such conditioning on children who hit adolescence and realize that they are, in fact, homosexual or bisexual. The psychological nightmare that is adolescence — hormone surges, physical changes and social uncertainty — is compounded when a teen faces a growing attraction to the “wrong” sex. If they learn at home that homosexuality is wrong, an illness or a sin, they are far less likely to confide in their parents and, even if they do, to receive the necessary emotional support to accept and embrace who they are. Psychological studies around the world and through the years all tell the same story: teens who miss out on that support for whatever reason have a difficult time adjusting to adulthood. It isn’t impossible to live a full and happy life, but I suspect that those scars never go away.

So parents, if your little boy wants to care for his very own baby doll, let him. Talk to him and understand what draws him to that toy. Don’t try to change him, or tell him that he’s wrong; just accept the beautiful gift you’ve been given and use the opportunity to show that little boy that he is precious and loved. That way, you’ll be training him — and yourselves to be more open, compassionate people.

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