Boys and Dolls: Nature AND Nurture?

Five year old Alex posing by one of my doll shelves. Summer 1994

Six year old Alex posing by one of my doll shelves. Fall 1994

In talking about heirloom dolls last time, I realize that I spoke of girls or women inheriting dolls from their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. Upon reflecting further, I think that this was an over-generalization. Boys and men can inherit dolls as well.  This has got me thinking about that old “Nature versus Nurture” question from the 1970’s about the behavior of girls and boys and how they play.

Jonathan, Uncle David, Alex with Pony Fort, Summer 1993

I had three sons before I had a daughter to play dolls with. I made soft wool and cotton dolls for my boys when they were young, before they moved into their Star Trek phase. They also had trains, blocks, a pirate ship, Legos, pretty ponies, and lots and lots of books. I remember Jonathan’s doll often swung in circles from the end of a noose made from the bead string tied around her neck! She also often hung from the back of a chair. The ponies had personalities, but their world was rather adventurous. So, I am led to believe that even though my boys played with dolls, they played with them in a rather masculine way.

Jeremiah with Victoria doll Summer 1994

Jeremiah “mothering” a Mme. Alexander doll, Summer 1994

However, they did have some tender moments with their dolls, too. Their Daddy held them and read to them, in addition to doing “boy things” with them, and so, they nurtured their dolls, as well.

The well played with dolls came with us to Yellowstone Park and Nebraska in 1995.

The well-played-with dolls came with us to Yellowstone Park and Nebraska in 1995.

Brighde did play with her dolls differently from the boys. She was much more of a “mother” to them, and she made elaborate scenarios where she taught them in a school or dance classroom. The boys didn’t care at all about dressing their dolls, or even if they had clothes on. Several of the dolls I made for them, Like Alex’s doll in the photo above, had a body that was made of soft colored cloth as a sewn-on outfit. Brighde liked having several outfits for her dolls that she could dress them in.

Brighde and her commercially made soft doll model their matching nightgowns that I sewed for them. 2000

Brighde and her commercially-made soft doll model their matching nightgowns that I sewed for them. Winter 2000

At least three of my antique china dolls came from collections owned or inherited by men. Opal came from the estate of a large collection of dolls that was divided between five grandchildren. One of the grandsons totally liquidated his part of the collection. Another grandson sold what he did not have room to display, and kept many of the dolls that he received from his grandmother.

Opal is a small ABG doll that came from a large collection in Western Nebraska, and was sold from part of the grandson's inherited collection.

Opal is a small ABG doll that came from a large collection in Western Nebraska, and was sold from part of the grandson’s inheritance. She was in pieces and incomplete when I received her, and I restored her.

I am in contact with men who collect antique dolls and who sew costumes for them. Men, as well as women, follow my blog. Whether this is for information on antique dolls, or for my entertaining writing, I am not sure. 🙂  But I know that some men do indeed have an interest in the dolls that their grandmothers and great grandmothers loved.

As a teenager, my daughter shows a mild interest in the antique dolls that I love. My boys at this point, however, show no concern for my passion for dolls, and I am safe in talking about them here, because they won’t come anywhere near my blog!

This child with a flat top china doll could be a girl, but the side parted hair could indicate a boy holding this doll.

This child with a flat top china doll could be a girl, but the side parted hair could indicate a boy holding this doll.

And so, while it is more common for girls and women to appreciate and inherit dolls, we welcome masculine collectors as well. In my experience, boys can benefit from doll play as well as girls, though the direction of their doll play may be different from that of girls.

Please share your comments of your experiences with boys and dolls!

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