Mom Frets Over Her Son's Attachment to Baby Doll

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Commentator Emily Wylie is the mom of a son who loves a doll that his grandmother bought for him. No big deal, right? Well, even though Emily teaches at an all-girl school and considers herself a feminist, she is wrestling with gender issues related to her little boy and his love for a doll.

Ms. EMILY WYLIE (Commentator): The baby came by my own request.


Commentator Emily Wylie.

Ms. WYLIE: It's a pretty realistic baby doll with a large vegetable cool head, a squishy body and four hard little extremities with balled-up fists and stubby toes. My mother got it from my own real baby who's a boy just about a year and a half and who seems to really like the doll baby at day care. I should get him a doll, I said to her in passing. And she went right out and found him one.

So here's my guilty secret. I liked the idea of the boy with a baby doll, but my brain reacting to the real thing keeps burping up embarrassing misgivings and resistance. Here I am, product of the great feminist leap forward being pulled right backward.

I wanted him to like the baby, but I didn't want him to love it. But he does. My son became instantly, delightedly attached. He croons to it using his highest, most sweet voice, the one he reserves for the cat and for serenading really disgusting pigeons. The other night, he wanted the baby to come with him to the bath. Distraction and substitution and eventual manhandling didn't work. And so my son and I were eventually both in the tub with no one happy, him keeping one suspicious eye on the baby slump on the toilet seat like my own personal plastic albatross.

I teach in a girl school, and we talk a lot about gender roles and the divisions and limits they create in men and women's lives. And as a mom, so far I've been fighting gendered baby clothing, issuing the sports emblems and trucks for bright and daringly non-gendered colors.

But now, I've got to put my money were my feminist mouth is. What is my problem? Why do I quake inside just a little at the thought of him bringing the baby doll out in public? What am I afraid of? That people will think my 1-year-old is girly?

My students and I noticed that often in feminist books, the heroine ends up alone, having failed to find a partner who can live in a new way with her in an old fashioned world. And we talk about how sorry we feel for men in the modern day, policed into a kind of hyper masculinity by brutal social sanctions. I've got to get my head on straight about this, because there has to be room made in this world for sweet boys as is it being made for aggressive girls.

So no more being embarrassed that his favorite word is shoe and that the only color he can name is pink. We're going out to change the world and we're bringing the baby doll with us.

BLOCK: Emily Wylie is a public school teacher in East Harlem.

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