There is a lot of faux masculinity promoted in our society. One area in which this rears its ugly head is how many people oppose young boys playing with dolls, kitchen sets, shopping, dancing and various other so-called feminine activities. I take issue with this for many reasons. First, I was given a Cabbage Patch doll when I was only two or three years old. I had six sisters and three brothers growing up. We were expected to play together. My sisters wanted to play house, play with dolls, and play in the toy kitchen so my brothers and I were expected to play too. None of these activities detracted from my masculinity. If anything, it enhanced it. These times of play helped me understand healthy male-female relationships. It taught me not to demean or think that household chores were below my dignity as a man. It taught me how to nurture children, to play with them, soothe them, care for them. Playing with dolls actually helped me be a better man, and I believe it will one day result in me being a better father (as I do not currently have any children of my own).
Why is it important to allow young boys to play with dolls? Think about the status of families in the United States these days. Households are wrought with absent fathers. Now, there are many causes for this but a major cause is the lack of manhood in men; a lack of responsibility in men. Men have ceased to be taught how to put other people’s needs first. They have been raised to be selfish and have not learned how to sacrifice for others. They have not learned how to have healthy relationships with women. They have not learned how to chip in at home. They have not learned how to cooperate with others, particularly the mother of their child and/or children.
What better time to begin to instill the virtues needed for lifelong commitment in marriage and fatherhood than in a boy’s childhood. If we teach boys that men can do laundry, do the dishes, learn to sew, take care of children, change diapers, read to babies, clean the house they will be better prepared for manhood, for family life. Afterall, men living in monastic communities must do all of these tasks, are monks any less manly than others? Try telling Saint Moses the Black that he wasn’t masculine enough. 🙂
My dad is a “man’s man.” He grew up a farmer, entered the Army in the 60’s, returned home and joined the local volunteer fire department, drove semi-trucks, worked in a factory, renovated our house room by room down to the studs (teaching us vital carpentry skills, my brothers and sisters alike). My dad also could hand stitch better than my mom, a skilled amateur seamstress herself. Dad changed diapers, washed dishes, folded laundry, rocked children to sleep, and scrubbed toilets. Dad did not oppose my brothers and I playing with dolls or playing house. He also did not oppose to my sisters playing outdoors in the dirt, learning how to swing a hammer, or bait a hook. Lest we forget about Saint Joan of Arc and her break with societal norms of her day (and even into our own time). There were no “women’s jobs” and “man’s jobs” there were only jobs to be done for the support of the family. There was work to be done in order to support and sustain the family and both boys and girls were expected to do it. Dad helped us all learn true masculinity by ensuring that we did not impose false definitions about what it means to be a man. Instead he taught us how to love, sacrifice, forgive, persevere, fidelity, and honesty by his actions and the lessons he taught us.
There are clear differences between men and women. There are clear distinctions that must be made with regards to femininity and masculinity and cannot be ignored. Men and women compliment each other, they cannot be confused as being the “same.” However, we must be careful not to impose artificial social-constructs or stereotypes on femininity and masculinity. Doing so creates problems in many areas of life, perhaps none more than marriage and family life.
So, I simply ask, if your son or nephew comes out of the toy room carrying a doll, take the time to show him how to hold it right and care for the imaginary infant, rather than tell him to go put it away. Maybe even sit down and help show him how to make supper for the family in the imaginary kitchen. You just might help restore marriage and family life in our world.