they’re not sissies

January 17, 2011


When I was working in foster care, I would make sure the children I was working with (male or female) had their own baby doll. I supported the foster carers to support the child’s play with the doll, allowing the child to play out his own experience as a young child, and offering gentle role modelling about how one should care for a baby.

Now I work in the community. At playgroup, it is the boys who clammer for the baby dolls and prams. They love home corner. Their mothers admit that they can’t get their boys a baby doll because their husbands fear it will make their sons gay. I suggest “they may be fathers themselves one day”.

I offer play in the expressive arts group I facilitate. Many boys enjoy home corner and the opportunity to play out family life. A few of the boys experiencing family violence or grief make a bee line for the dolls house where they can play out family dynamics. I have ordered another dolls house, because our only dolls house gets rather crowded and rowdy at times. 

At home, my boys have always had a baby doll of their own to play with. They have a fantastic-plastic baby care centre where they can bathe and feed their babies. There is a kitchen. And they have a dolls house.

One of their friends commented “it’s weird for boys to have a dolls house”. I told him bluntly that there is no gender stereotyping in our house. He now plays with it more than my boys do.

My two eldest boys were playing at the dolls house the other day. There has been a lot of coverage on the television of the devastating floods hitting the east coast of Australia. The boys haven’t watched a lot of it, they know how much they can handle. This is how the play ended up (WARNING: may be distressing for some people)…

People and their posessions displaced. A policeman attends (bottom left corner). The boys included dragons in their play, dragons are affected by floods too.

Some people and a crocodile lay on the bottom floor of the house. A fork lift is on hand (heavy machines have been brought into the flood damaged areas to help clean up, but I don’t know if this is what the boys intended). 

                                                                The entire scene.

I’ll leave the play scene for about a week, then see what the boys want to do with it. They may feel that they have finished with it. They may feel the need to clean it all away. We’ll see how it plays out.

“Play permits the child to resolve in symbolic form unsolved problems of the past and to cope directly or symbolically with present concerns. It is also his most significant tool for preparing himself for the future and its tasks.”     Bruno Bettelheim, child psychologist

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About hakea

groupworker, parent educator, therapist, mother of three boys.

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8 Comments on “they’re not sissies”

  1. kaet Says:

    Really interesting stuff. I had dolls I’d been given, but they only came out when friends came over who wanted to play with them, and my brother didn’t have any, that I recall. What we both had, though, (and what my baby already has, although she’s too little for them yet) is stuffed animals and puppets, and those got a lot of use in a whole variety of types of play, comfort, and then as ‘actors’ in little plays we’d put on over the back of the sofa.


    • hakea Says:

      Puppets are great too, especially finger puppets. I find that my own kids and the kids I work with tend not to play with them well, they don’t make up scenarios. Not sure why. Maybe it takes too long to get started or they are not as appealing because they don’t stand on their own? At work, I have wooden people and Schleich figures and they get a good workout.


  2. hakea Says:

    Anyone interested in working with children through play, must read Virginia Axline’s “Dibs in search of self”. It’s a classic.


  3. janekatch Says:

    I’m so glad you like the article! I agree with what youVe written here. In my class of five-year-olds, the boys love to go in the loft to play, where I have a doll house as well as a tree house for animals. I had a hard time finding a doll house that wasn’t pink– it’s too bad that the toy industry thinks they have to do that to sell doll houses!
    I love your blog! I’m new to blogging and I’m so happy to find a community of parents and teachers who love play as I do!


    • hakea Says:

      thanks Jane

      at work I have plain wooden dolls houses, no colour on them, a la Steiner. the kids stick collage (with blue-tac) or post-it-notes on the dolls houses to decorate them. at home we have the full pink model. my poor boys frequently get the talk from me about not gender stereotyping people, colours, interests, abilities, and so on.

      my youngest boy (5 years old) said something about girls the other day. i said “you’re not gender stereotyping are you son?” he sighed and said “yes mum, I am”.


  4. janekatch Says:

    I think you might be interested in the article my daughter and I wrote together called “When Boys Won’t Be Boys: Discussing Gender With Young Children” published in the Harvard Educanal Review:
    They charge for accessing it online but if you send me an email address I’ll be glad to send you a PDF. I wrote it when I had a boy in my kindergarten who wanted to be a girl. I wasn’t sure how to handle it with the other kids so I talked with my daughter, who was in gender studies at George Washington University at the time and we ended up writing this piece in two voices.


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Jane

      I was able to read the article online for free, and I loved it.

      It was an interesting situation for sure. I commented on your blog that the article highlighted how you allowed an alternate storyline to develop through discussion with the children, rather than allowing the dominant storyline to consume everyone and everything. He was an individual and appreciated for his strengths. A nice lesson for all of the children in the class. I hope the little boy is doing well at school now, and that he is being supported by his friends from preschool.

      I have read other accounts of boys having a similar personality to the boy in your article. They have identified as being homosexual in their teens. That is who they are and the sooner people are accepted for who they are the better. We have prominent footy players here who dress in drag on the tv and then carry on like raging homophobes, it’s bizarre, and is poor role modelling for the young ones.


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