American Culture

There's a land that I see, where the children are free…

freetobeBy Jennifer Angliss

When I was a kid, I listened to the “Free to Be… You and Me” album incessantly. We had it on vinyl (not 8-track!) and I probably came close to wearing it out. At the time, I didn’t really care for the track “William’s Doll”. The chorus of “A doll! A doll! William wants a doll!” grated on my nerves–actually, it still does. But the song tells a story that I think is really important. William is a 5 year old boy who wants a doll. Unfortunately, everyone seems to think that this is a terrible thing for a little boy to want. His dad gets him all sorts of sports equipment instead, which he also enjoys, but he still craves that doll. Finally, Grandma hears about this and gives him a doll.

We have come pretty far since 1972 when the album came out. Girls do hear more that they can be tough or do “male” jobs. But I think we’re still mostly ignoring the flip side of that, which is that it’s okay for boys to show their nurturing side. What’s wrong with a boy playing with a doll, really? Nothing. And yet so many people who happily let their daughters play with Tonka trucks are horrified at the thought of letting their sons push a baby doll in a toy stroller.

I play this song for my kids whenever possible. And my 3 year old son? He’s way more into dolls than my 5 year old daughter has ever been.

8 replies »

  1. Jennifer – nice piece. When our son was born we bought all those silly gender-neutral toys. We considered ourselves to be enlightened and trying to offer our son a full range of options. All was well until one day (about age one) he saw a box of orange tractors at Toys-R-Us and nearly leapt out of the shopping cart to get a better look.

    Sometimes the hardest part of parenting is honoring the instincts of our children – and leaving our notions at the door.

  2. I think it’s probably mostly the fathers that are terrified that if the boy plays with a doll, they might grow up to be gay.
    Men have no one to blame for the macho nonsense but ourselves.
    Depending on your definition of dolls, boys have been getting them for ages. As long as the dolls push militarism, muscle dysmorphia, and kicking peoples’ asses.
    I’d be far more concerned about buying a boy a toybox full of violence than I would him having a barbie doll.

  3. Boys have played with dolls for years. They call them “action figures.” I often stimulated vigorous discussion in my HS English classes by pointing out that “a doll is a doll even when called by another word.”

  4. Great point, J. It’s still a doll, even with a gun in his kung-fu action grip. I grew up in the Free to be You and Me days. I don’t remember having a doll (which doesn’t mean i didn’t), but i do remember the Tonka trucks. The toy rule was no guns/no violence…but nobody stopped me from making guns out of legos.

    Children should play with what sparks their imagination and those things that bring them joy. Parents should be mature enough to put their child’s emotional, intellectual and psychological development above whatever notions of social correctness they harbor.

    Respect children as the small people that they are.

  5. I seem to recall there was this big right wing backlash against that record, and it went from being the biggest pop culture thing for kids in years, to being vilified by media morons and marginalized. I had a copy of it, myself. For the life of me, I can’t remember what the stated problem with this thing was, although I’m sure the underlying reason was that it was solidly liberal, philosophically.

  6. Do we want to get into the subject of stay-at-home dads, too? Because I was disabled at the time, I spent days with my son from age 3 months to 2 and a half years while my wife worked. My experience and observing other dads: We have a heck of a hard time forcing ourselves to be interested in kids’ stuff.

    In other words, moms take to the workplace a whole lot better than men do to Mr. Mom-ming.

  7. I love how the boys age 5 think of pink as a girly colour. They align themselves solidly with one another and enjoy the lego bricks, trains and cars. Teacher of course makes them mix with the girls by assigning them mixed classroom working groups.

    How the two boys in Pink Flamingo Group REALLY don’t like it… 🙂

  8. I don’t know, Russ, at least for me. If i’m in mixed (adult and child) company, i’ll forsake the adult interaction in a minute to hang out with the kids. They’re smarter, funnier, and more enlightened…it’s the last one that’s most important.

    Jesus had a point about how to get into heaven, and a four year old can answer Zen koans no problem. People start out spiritually perfect; it’s “growing up” that ruins them…hence the tradition in parts of Asia that old age is to be spent exiting society. Of course over there they see the ego as the problem, and you can’t dissolve the ego without dissolving the superego (society).

    The west is infatuated with the ego…with collective neurosis as the predictable result. And that’s what this is about, fundamentally. The ego is a needy beast; it requires constant reinforcement and other-ego support…so we build and mold the egos of our children in our own ego’s image. Of course we convince ourselves that we’re doing it for the child, when in fact we’re doing it for our own ego.

    Blame it on Descartes, who got it backwards and “freed” us from ever examining “am” – the important bit. You were long before you thought, but Rene makes it sound like existence is a product of the ego and its actions.