Guys and Dolls

Issue 103, November/December 2000
By Ronnie Cohen

Boy hugging dollMy son Cory fell in love with Janet the moment he saw her. With her wild black hair and her blue and white floral dress and apron, Janet looked like a Rastafarian Gretel. Her dreadlocks formed when my seven-year-old daughter, Zoe, let out Janet’s braids and then tried to brush her hair. After her effort failed, Zoe banished the fabric doll with the plastic head to the bottom of a toy-filled cedar chest. One rainy day Cory pulled Janet out and couldn’t put her down.

When Zoe discovered the intensity of her four-year-old brother’s love for Janet, Zoe’s affection for her abandoned doll was reignited. With enough passion to fuel a lightweight boxing match, Zoe and Cory both wanted the doll. Before, my son’s interests had been limited to moving objects–cars, trucks, and balls. Now he was holding Janet, feeding her, brushing her hair. Thrilled to see my boy bonding with a doll, I asked Zoe to give Janet to Cory. In exchange, I promised to buy Zoe the doll of her choice. She refused. So Janet wound up at the bottom of the toy chest again, and I told Cory we would buy him any doll he wanted.

The next morning, while we drove to the toy store, Cory asked me to suggest names for his new doll. He rejected the names of girls in Zoe’s class: Sarah, Danielle, and Alisha. Then he rejected the names of the girls in his school: Phoebe, Anna Rose, and Emily would not do.

Nameless, we arrived at the store’s doll section. Cory trotted down the first of the doll aisles too quickly to notice anything about Skipper, Sheri, and Mini Rachel, except that they were all girls. That’s when it dawned on me. After a lifetime of feminism and four years of doing everything in my power to raise my boy in a nonsexist way, how could I fail to realize that my son, like my daughter, like me when I was four years old, longed for a doll that looked like him? He wanted a doll with short brown hair and bangs. He wanted a doll wearing pants and a T-shirt. He wanted a boy.

“Cory,” I asked, “do you want a boy doll?”

“Yes,” he answered as though I should already have known, and continued walking past dolls named Abigail, Belle, and Vanessa.

I spied Ken. “Here is a boy doll, Cory,” I said. “Here’s Ken.”

“Ken’s a Barbie,” Cory replied. Zoe had a Barbie collection. And to Zoe, Ken was just one of Barbie’s accessories. “I don’t want a Barbie doll. I want a boy doll, a doll that looks like me.”

A reasonable request. But could I grant it?

We backtracked. Holding hands, we walked up and down the four aisles of dolls again. We passed dolls of every color and every shape, dolls made of cloth, plastic, and porcelain. All of them were girls. Puzzled, Cory asked, “Why aren’t there any boy dolls, Mommy?”

Then, among the Cabbage Patch dolls, I spied three boys. At first none suited Cory. He didn’t like the way their blond hair stood up off their plastic heads. But he did like the purple dump truck and the kiwi-green lizard one of the boys was carrying. And he did like the boy’s camouflage pants. He liked the boy’s size. At one foot, that doll fit perfectly in Cory’s arms. He decided to call him Adrian.

Cory cradled Adrian in his box as we waited in line to pay for him. In the car before heading home, I detached the doll from his cardboard backing. Cooing, Cory hugged his friend. He pulled the fake $5.00 bill out of Adrian’s pants pocket and put it back in. He took the white plastic shoes off and put them back on. He examined Adrian’s nose and his toes. He pulled down Adrian’s pants and underpants. “Look Mommy,” he said. “Adrian has a penis. Just like me.”

“Just like you, Cory,” I said.

While I wondered if the protuberance beneath Adrian’s underpants was really a penis or maybe just a belly button, Cory caressed Adrian’s polyester arm and was so excited that his voice was at least an octave higher.

Now Adrian and Cory are a team. Adrian goes everywhere that Cory goes. Cory speaks for Adrian and uses him to reveal his feelings. Adrian feels mad when I won’t give him a cookie before dinner. Adrian wants Daddy to stop studying stock quotes on the computer and play Candyland.

“You are on the phone too long,” Cory says, waving Adrian in my face and speaking in the babyish voice that he uses to talk like Adrian. “Adrian is sleepy,” he says, rubbing his eyes.

Cory’s had Adrian for only a few weeks, but neither of us can imagine life without him. And neither of us understands why, given that roughly half the children in the world are boys, toy makers aren’t doing more to get guys and dolls together.

For More Information

See the classic children’s book William’s Doll by Charlotte Zoloton (Harper Collins, 1999).

The following companies sell dolls for boys:
Creative Hands/A Real Doll, PO Box 2217, Eugene, OR 97402, 541-343-1562
Hedgehog Farms, 203-730-0673, www.hedgehogfarms.com
Ladybug Toys, 877-654-TOYS, www.ladybugtoys.com
MotherChild, PO Box 4406, Mountain View, CA 94040, 650-941-0516, 800-864-0131, www.mother-childcatalog.com
Nova Natural, 877-668-2111, www.novanatural.com
Rosie Hippo’s Toys, PO Box 2068, Port Townsend, WA 98368, 800-385-2620, www.rosiehippo.com

Ronnie Cohen is a writer who lives in northern California with her husband, daughter, son, and too many dolls to count.