If he’s got a doll, he must be a girl.

WP_20130808_009The other night I was putting Joe in bed, he started crying and said he wanted to be a girl. I said okay and then asked why. I said, “What do you think girls can do that you can’t do?” He said, “Play with dollies.” I said, “Boys can play with dollies too!” (Harry and Joe have dozens of soft toys, but no dolls. I didn’t choose not to give them dolls, it’s just not something they’ve expressed an interested in before.) Joe said, “Can I have a dolly?” I said of course.

He wanted one that wees, inevitably, so yesterday I bought him this Baby Amelia potty training doll. I chose her because she was the cheapest (£12.99. Some of them were almost 50 quid!) As soon as I gave her to him, he dressed and undressed her, fed her, sat her on the potty. He took her in the bath with him and we made her a bed (from the box she came in) that he set at the foot of his bed so she could sleep with him.


This morning we walked into town (it’s half an hour’s walk, but it takes an hour with Joe) and Joe insisted on bringing Amelia with him. I’d suggested he leave her at home, but he said, “Can real babies stay at home on their own?” So along she came.

WP_20130808_006On the way to town, he stopped every now and then to cuddle her and more than once told me “I’m happy you buyed me my baby, Mama.” Halfway there, we sat down on a wall and Joe cuddled Amelia Abigirl (he changed her name on the way – I kept accidentally calling her Abigail, Joe prefers ‘Abigirl’) and kissed her head. It was really sweet.

In town, we went in M&S and there was a man offering food samples. He said, “Are you interested, lads?” and then added, “And lass.” I though he was talking to me. He then said, “I’ll bring the plate round so she can see.” I still thought he was talking to me. And then he asked Joe to help him get a basket for me and said, “Aren’t you a good girl, helping Mummy?”

I didn’t say anything to the man because I didn’t want him to apologise for thinking Joe was a girl – it’s happened before and I know people get embarrassed, presumably because they think I’ll be insulted? Once we were out of the guy’s earshot, I said, “Hey, why do you think that man thought you were a girl?” Joe pointed at his doll and smiled. I said, “That’s funny, isn’t it? Cos boys and men can love babies too, can’t they?” Joe said, “Daddy does!” I said, “Exactly.”

(It was particularly interesting to me, because I think everything else about Joe was signifying boy. Shoes with dinosaurs on, navy jeans, green t-shirt (I know green’s not automatically masculine, but you only have to look at most shops to see that pastels = girl, brights = boy) and he’d just been swinging poor Abigirl by her ankles to try to hit Harry. But the fact that he was holding a doll overrode all of that. Doll = girl.)

10 thoughts on “If he’s got a doll, he must be a girl.

  1. Abigirl is a brilliant name. And Joe is very cute with his baby! Funny how all the other signifiers are overridden by the choice of toy, though. This female = caring for baby continues, even in people who would call themselves feminists – did you see that Lucy Mangan column the other week about freelancing? She said: “The freedom to tailor your working hours or location helps any woman who has children or is caring for someone sick or disabled (I’m not saying men don’t do this and therefore benefit accordingly – just that this wouldn’t fall under the feminist rubric).” I mean, what? Of course it does. Men being able to take on the caring responsibilities that they want to/need to take on is OBVIOUSLY feminist. Anything that helps us to break out of ridiculous gender shackles is feminist.

    tl;dr – fuck the patriarchy.

  2. Do you remember Jake had a doll & a buggy when he was about 4 & some of my friends husbands said they wouldn’t have let him have it. Because Dads never push babies in buggies obviously. Nobheads.

    1. I guess they think if you give a boy a buggy it may turn him gay, but it’s ok for a man to push a buggy cos he’s proven himself not to be gay by producing a kid with a woman? Nobheads indeed.

  3. I know kids cry all the time and he may have just been overtired, but the thought of Joe crying because he thought he was the wrong gender to play with a doll is heartbreaking. THANK GOODNESS he doesn’t live in a family where his fears were confirmed! I don’t know if you saw Rebecca Woolf’s great post from a few months ago about her son enjoying a caring role, but it’s beautiful: http://www.girlsgonechild.net/2013/03/amour.html

    1. Sorry, thought I’d replied to this. Yes, he cries about everything all the time, but it still got me right in the heart 😦 And thank you for that link, will read it now. x

  4. I loved this post, because it reminded me of my son’s attachment to his doll and buggy when he was 18 months old – I had just given birth to premature twin girls and had to stay in the hospital for a couple of weeks – Michael would visit each day, determinedly wheeling his baby and buggy in a drunken path down hospital corridors, protesting loudly when my husband tried to guide him in a straight line away from trolleys and passing nurses, who all were very positive about a small boy and his doll. His main love was his teddy who (I am counting on no one who knows him reading this!) is still perched on his bed (he is 15 now – kind, funny, caring and loving – as both men and women can be!!)

    He has a lovely Dad who has always shared childcare and housework and cooking as a matter of course – and is the only one who irons – so I feel passionately that excluding boys from caring is absolute rubbish and very sexist against them too.

    Joe looks lovely!

    1. Thanks, Anne. Your son sounds lovely too. Yes, so weird that we want adult men to be caring, but try to discourage boys from showing any nurturing.

  5. All our boys and Chris loves babies but we’ve never had a problems with them being mistaken for girls, even our N3S who has soft curls and an androgynous face and body has never been (openly) mistaken as a girl. I think the people down your way must be particularly unperceptive because Joe does NOT look like a girl – he’s clearly a sturdy little boy. A little boy who holds that doll like a pro – his future children will be so lucky to have him as a father. I hope he grows up to be a midwife or paediatrician because both professions are graced with men who were once little boys like Joe.

    1. Thanks, Dee. It doesn’t just happen here – it’s happened on holiday too (but usually because Joe’s been wearing a Peppa Pig top). Funny that your son has curls but hasn’t been mistaken for a girl – talking to friends previously, we always thought curls were the key. Is he blond? Other friends with blond boys have had them mistaken for girls. It’s all so ridiculous!

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