My 4 year old nephew wants a doll for his birthday.

I tried to contain my excitement as I immediately started searching for a doll I can buy a little boy. But why do I still feel the need to ask his parents if it is okay if I buy him a doll? I know that I’m not just asking to make sure that he will like the specific doll I pick out. Without saying it, I know (and they know) that I am asking: “Is it okay for your son to play with a doll?” I am an unapologetic feminist, and my sister prides herself on being a progressive parent. But the gender bending conversation is usually about our girls. Most of us are still a little bit (or a lot a bit) uncomfortable with little boys playing with dolls or playing dress up or using an easy bake oven. This is the next frontier in gender equality.

As much as my sister has encouraged her daughter to not be a pretty little princess, my niece absolutely loves anything pink and frilly. She loves dresses. She always wants to be a princess for Halloween. It’s a progressive parent’s nightmare. Except for the fact that my niece also loves bugs, dirt, science, and exploration. Oh, my heart! I’m so glad that my sister and her husband have given this little girl enough room, enough encouragement, and enough choice to be both the princess and the chemist.

What we often don’t want to talk about (don’t think about?) is that the same goes for our little boys. My nephew loves superheroes, dinosaurs, and anything blue. In an attempt to push him away from this gender stereotypical behavior, I tried to give him a stylish pink polo shirt last year, but he immediately gave it to his sister. And of course, she loved it. When we video chatted on Christmas, the kids showed me all of the presents they had received – transformers, Elsa doll, princess dress, mirror, scooters, guns (can you guess who got what?). But the last thing my niece showed me was a stuffed bear that she said her brother had given her. Long story short, their parents had given my nephew a stuffed bear after he had apparently asked for a doll that he could dress in different outfits. While he was busy shooting at the target with his new toy gun during our video chat, I could clearly hear him say in the background that he had wanted a doll (not a stuffed bear). So as he tends to do with things he doesn’t want – he gave the bear to his sister.

Why do we hesitate to let our little boys play with dolls? Are we afraid they will grow up to be good dads who feel comfortable caring for children? While I’m sure some people are genuinely afraid that allowing boys to play with dolls will make them gay or “soft,” most of us are just afraid of societal reactions. We want our boys to fit in and not be made fun of. But nothing will ever change if we don’t consciously act to dismantle our fear and our prejudices. Our boys will grow into tough and distant fathers – not because they were born that way but because we nurtured them that way. And our girls will continue to grow up to be the caretakers of children because they have been caring for “children” since they were born.

To change the pattern, to achieve equality, we MUST let our boys play with dolls (and vacuum cleaners, and shopping carts, and easy bake ovens etc.). And we shouldn’t wait for the boys to ask for one.

This is the doll I ordered for my nephew. Let me say, though, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of options through the mass retailers for “boy” dolls. If you search for just “dolls,” you will get a plethora of pink (which my nephew would hate). Want to fight for equality? Buy the boy in your life a baby doll and encourage retailers to provide more options for our boys that maybe don’t like pink (and for our girls that want a “boy” doll or a doll with non-pink clothing).

Please let me know in the comments if (and most importantly, where) you have found dolls for the little guy in your life!

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