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This past week over coffee, I shared with a mentor that I bought my 2-year-old son a doll and stroller. I told him how he puts her in the stroller, gives her hugs, and takes care of his doll like it’s a little baby. He was surprised by this decision. He told me it was unnecessary — to give a little boy a doll or to allow him to play with dolls. His fear was that my boy wouldn’t grow up to be brave and manly.
Before I write anymore, I want you to understand my mentor— he’s a feminist (though he probably doesn’t particularly like this “f-word”), hires and promotes women into leadership positions, supports their growth, and has 2 grown daughters. He’s someone I deeply respect for being a champion.
But on this issue, we disagree. I felt surprised by his opinion.
Our society has accepted that young girls can play with cars, trucks, trains and bulldozers. They can learn basic engineering with Goldiblox, or Raspberry Pi. That they can play sports and climb trees. They can and should learn to code. But the idea of boys playing with dolls is not yet widely accepted.
My husband and I share responsibilities for our child, for our home, and for our life. It wasn’t what either of us saw growing up. We both had amazing stay-at-home mothers and bread-winner fathers. I can attest to how difficult it is sometimes to make conscious choices different from what I saw, and am certain my unconscious choices reflect the bias of my youth.
Having to constantly perform these mental somersaults to overcome my gendered beliefs is not what I want for my son. I’d prefer that he develop instincts for childcare and that it be second nature when he becomes a father.
Girls can play with cars, trucks, trains and bulldozers. But the idea of boys playing with dolls is not yet widely accepted.
With gender roles shifting and society changing, raising little humans who are both assertive and compassionate is equally important. This article in the Boston Globe highlighted that so called “boy toys” are developed and marketed to promote aggression and competition, while “girl toys” promote nurturing and relationship building. It’s not uncommon to hear women complain about their husbands not being sensitive to their needs or not helping with the routine childcare, or hear about women failing to compete or assert themselves in corporate work environments.
We’re making sure as a society that we resolve the issues for our daughters by giving them toys that may change their behavior.
Our goal must be to raise well-rounded humans — boy or girl. I am in no way saying that men and women are the same. Men are generally physically stronger, and women are physiologically going to carry and birth a child. There are biological differences.
But above that, I do believe all humans can care for one another, nurture, and love, just as I believe all humans can stand up for each other, for themselves, be assertive and brave. These are not, nor should they be, gendered values. I want my children to have them all.
Mansi H. Shah is a mother of a little boy, a partner and technology attorney at Valorem Law Group in Northern California, and the immediate past president of SABA North America. Follow her on Twitter at @mansiesq.