I Play With Dolls

On the color-coded toy aisles of our childhoods and our now

Paul Crenshaw
Gay Mag
Published in
10 min readMar 30, 2020


Illustration by Louisa Bertman

MyMy mid-life crisis came at Christmas vacation, when my younger daughter said I play with dolls.

We had been talking about gendered words. My younger daughter studies languages. Someone had recently referred to her as a “female,” and when an uncle asked what was wrong with that, I thought how many times I had seen her same reaction on social media.

“He was using it as an adjective,” my daughter said. “A description. It’s objectifying.”

This made me think of my time in the military, when everyone was either “Male” or “Female,” the words used as a last name. “Get over here, Male,” the female drill sergeant would say, and 29 of us would come running.

The male drill sergeants said the word female quietly. It seemed as if they knew, even with soldiers under their command, to be considerate. The female drill sergeants did not care. They slung the word out like a challenge, as if being female was a station they needed to rise above, which makes me think that in the military it was.

I also started thinking of my daughters when they were younger, and all the ways the world teaches them that they are lesser. When my older daughter was barely out of the womb we bought a series of videos called “Baby Einstein,” about scientists and artists and musicians. After “Baby Einstein” we watched “Baby Van Gogh,” although there was no one-eared baby in the video, so it must have been pre-self-mutilation. There was Baby Shakespeare and Baby Newton and da Vinci and Mozart and Galileo, but not a single woman in all the titles, meaning that even at a young age we were inadvertently teaching her that men were more important. I suppose all the important women of the time were too busy being burned at the stake for witchcraft, but you can’t say that to an infant.

MyMy daughters also played with dolls. It’s like there’s a secret agreement we’ve all made that girls need dolls. My older daughter had one called Baby Kate that I accidentally left in a hotel in East Tennessee and my daughter cried so hard I thought she might be permanently damaged. Now dolls come with bodily functions. Baby Alive Sweet Tears Baby doll cries. Baby Alive Super Snacks Snackin’ Noodles Baby eats and…