Friday, August 12, 2022

I can still fondly recall my childhood. Years spent playing with my assorted dolls and their accessories. Envisioning and creating imaginary worlds of glamor and adventure. My dolls were an outlet-as for most little girls, the opportunity to forage into the social realm with Barbie in tow. A 12-inch blonde-haired perfectly proportioned piece of perfection, she mirrored my dreams of fantasy. Gaggles of girls would flock together with representations of themselves in tow. These dolls provided the opportunity to socialize and play in a group setting.

I never gave the boys much thought. That is until I had a little boy who the other day requested a doll. I had always thought the boys busied themselves with their trucks and action figures etc. Being the progressive thinker that I am and knowing as an educator that all children play with dolls as a means to dramatic expression, I said “yes.” My husband reluctantly agreed to our son’s demands but only when the verbiage was changed to an “action figure.”

Armed with his approval, I searched the internet for ‘dolls for boys.” Much to my chagrin, there were virtually no dolls and mostly articles discussing the fear of doll play as a signal to homosexuality. I tried a number of different phrases including “action figures,” “Ken dolls,” and sports heroes. I even tried “articulating dolls” in the hopes of making the blasted computer understand that I wanted a Barbie doll but one that was male. My search led me to collectibles, movie icons, and figurines costing well over $50.

What happened to the dolls I used to play with? They were a couple of bucks and children had them by the dozen. Instead of coming away with a toy, I discovered a new prejudice—the anti-male. This is of course, ironic as I am a feminist and applauded the line of Barbies that allowed her to “be anything” and “do anything.” But in our quest to show our little girls strength and beauty and provide them with oodles of confidence, have we canceled out our male counterpart? This is apparent from the meager selection of ‘boy dolls.” The lack of representation of our male counterparts ranges from the feminized “boy toy” that Ken has become to physiques on steroids.

Sexual connotations abound from Ken’s dress to his lack of occupation. Today’s Ken dolls come equipped with little more than a surf board and flip flops. He drives a pink car and—I kid you not—one of the lines of the doll is called “Hottie” Ken. Need I say more? How ironic that we feminists who were up in arms at the unrealistic representation of Barbie’s figure are allowing our male counterpart to be perceived as an effeminate slacker whose only aspirations are fashion and the beach. A 15-year-old nephew of mine offhandedly said that Ken is just one of Barbie’s accessories. How astute of that teenager to recognize that for all appearances, Ken was given the same level of consideration as one of Barbie’s handbags or shoes.

To the other extreme are the grotesquely muscled “action figures”, who are more like figurines and resemble aliens or monsters. They are icons of movie heroes or rescue heroes etc. And not one in the slightest resembles any man I know. This is not to say that thousands of boys delight in their mock fighting and evil vs. good dramatic play. But my child is only 4 and does not relate to the representations on the movie screen. He nods in recognition at the mention of Batman and the like but is not interested in that type of play...not yet.

Where are the toys of yesteryear? I distinctly recall cowboys with brown horses (not purple glittered My Little Pony), Indians, astronauts and The Lone Ranger. Why can’t Ken come with a basketball or a briefcase, go mountain climbing or ride a bike? Why can’t he be a construction worker, a stockbroker or a chef or drive anything that’s not pink?

In short: Have we bent so far backwards that we have lost sight of the male perspective?

Success arrives in the form of True Heroes, a set of army dolls complete with accessories and varied uniforms. Modeled on the Barbie doll proportions, the True Heroes team offers boys the opportunity to enact scenes with their heroes, in a fashion of play similar to the girls. Many of the ‘heroes’ are modeled on the lives of living and fallen soldiers. Each doll comes with an identification card which lists name, rank and hometown. Kudos to Toys R Us, for recreating the GI Joe doll and giving young males of today something they can relate to.

Annette Simmons is an early childhood consultant, academic interventionist and Kindermusik educator. She is a master trainer and works with many agencies and their families, and is most currently credited with bringing ABC Music & Me, an early literacy curriculum, to Yeshiva Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsh, the first yeshiva to implement the program. [email protected], [email protected], www.kindermusik.com

By Annette Simmons M.Ed.

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