Dear People Who Insist On Buying My Daughter Baby Dolls, Here's The Issue With That

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If I look around my daughter's room, it's impossible for my eyes to drift in any direction without seeing pink. Her comforter has pink flowers on it. Her wardrobe is full of pink clothes. Even her stuffed bunnies and bears are a rosy hue — not true to life in the least. Most of her possessions have been gifts; gifts that I am wholly grateful for. Sometimes, however, it all feels a little bit too much. I start to fear that I'm already boxing her in. I'm already teaching her what it means to be a girl. The feeling is never more pressing than when people insist on buying my daughter baby dolls.

I understand that no one is likely giving my 8-month-old a doll and thinking, "This thing will teach Luna her place in this world." Few have probably dissected the gender binary enough to contemplate why we keep dressing little boys in blue and little girls in pink. Few are likely cognizant of how the smallest of things can make the biggest of differences on the road to learning about and understanding our own gender identities. And anyway, my daughter and I are lucky that so many people in our lives want to care for her and give her presents.

Even so, I cannot help but resent how ingrained our sociocultural ideas of gender are. Why do we give boys trucks and light-up faux laptops, when we give girls kitchen sets and Barbies? Why do we give an 8-month-old her own baby to take care of, when she cannot even take care of herself? Like, not even a little bit.

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Courtesy of Marie Southard Ospina

Something about seeing infants and toddlers with their own baby dolls has long rubbed me the wrong way, in no small part because it's usually female infants who carry around such toys. I cannot shake the feeling that, through these gifts, we teach our daughter, sisters, or cousins (from an incredibly young age) that this is what girls do. We look after babies. We are mothers, givers, and caretakers. We always have to be responsible for others, and never just for ourselves. We change diapers, and we play dress-up, and we sing our babies to sleep at night. We are selfless always and selfish never.

A baby doll isn't just a baby doll because we don't live in a vacuum. We don't yet live in a world where gender is recognized to be as complex, diverse, and non-binaristic as it actually is. We don't yet live in a world where little boys and little girls are, across the board, treated equally.
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I'd take less issue with baby dolls if they were gifted to little boys just as often, but we cannot pretend that toys aren't unnecessarily gendered. To give a boy a baby doll would usually be to put him at risk of being teased. His masculinity would be questioned before he even knew the word. He'd be outcasted before ever knowing why.

I get it. I get the instinct to protect our kids. It's all I've wanted to do since having my own. Still, I cannot help but ask myself whether we can ever, as a culture, dismantle gender norms if we continue to play into them out of fear. Can we ever teach our boys that they are entitled to their feelings — can we ever teach our girls that they are entitled to be whatever they want to be — if we allow coded gender messaging into their lives before they can even speak? Will our boys truly believe that they can be dancers, or designers, or nurses — will our girls ever truly believe that they can be executives, or long-distance truck drivers, or athletes — if we do not expose them to all of these ideas equally from a young age?

I believe toys serve the role of introducing our kids to such ideas if we allow them to. Yet we so rarely seem to allow them to.

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My daughter is still young, so I have plenty of time to introduce the aforementioned trucks and light-up faux laptops. I have plenty of time to buy her more blue, gray, green, or black clothing. This isn't to say that I don't want her to have the baby doll, or the pink teddy bear, or the lavender and rose bedsheets, nor is to say that I won't appreciate when she's gifted any of those things. I just don't want her to have only those things.

My partner and I are trying to raise Luna in such a way that she grows up knowing her womanhood and femininity are her own to define or reject as she sees fit. We want her to know that however traditionally masculine her interests may be, we will try to support her endeavors and goals no matter what. If she ends up exploring androgyny, we want to be supportive of that, too. We want to start all of this now. We want her to look back at photos of herself as a baby, toddler, and little girl, and never feel as though we tried to funnel her into an identity of our choosing.

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A baby doll isn't just a baby doll because we don't live in a vacuum. We don't yet live in a world where gender is recognized to be as complex, diverse, and non-binaristic as it actually is. We don't yet live in a world where little boys and little girls are, across the board, treated equally.

So while I'm not going to take Luna's baby dolls away from her, I am going to make sure she has more variety of toys in her toy box. I'm going to kick my old soccer ball around with her once she's old enough. I'm going to let my dad teach her about the myriad different types of trucks he knows about. I'm going to reiterate that not all little girls have to grow up to be mommies and caretakers. I guess I'm just going to keep reiterating that she has choices. That's what this all comes down to, anyway.

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