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The Doll’s House, Then and Now

fisherpricedollhouse.jpgA little while back, I gave away the boys’ Fisher-Price dollhouse to my niece, who will be two in March. Liam had seen this dollhouse at a friend’s house when he was about two, fallen in love with it, and so miraculously, Santa brought it to him.

There were a few other things that I passed along to my niece that made me sad – parting with the little wooden stove and all the dishes, for instance (that stove and Liam’s three-year obsession with pots, pans, and cooking is a story for another day) – but giving away the dollhouse didn’t bother me.

The ads for this dollhouse claim it as “a girl’s first dollhouse…” If you put batteries in this house, you get noises: “with the phone ringing, the kitchen timer dinging and much more, this friendly Fisher-Price home is full of activity.” Given that level of dinging and ringing, sounds like there should have been a “girl’s first martini” in the box, too.

What I found particularly galling about this house – into which we never put batteries, duh – were the figures that came with it. Not the Fisher-Price wooden dowels with bowling-ball shaped heads and plastic hair of my youth. I guess too many kids swallowed those.  No, instead the house came with “realistic” molded plastic figures, squat and pink, too big to fit in all but the greediest of mouths. 

The inhabitants of this pink-roofed, faux-Victorian dream house are probably molded in the same pressurized chamber (they are essentially the same shape) but they are finished with a clear eye towards who does what: Daddy, with brown hair and a sweater vest, holds a cellphone, and resembles either a television evangelist or a dude who made millions and is quasi-retired. Mommy, also brown-haired, wears a cardigan and holds … a baby-bottle. Note the separation of fiefdoms in this picture from the FP website: Dad upstairs on the computer, Mom downstairs … in the kitchen. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, eh? 

Perhaps I shouldn’t have let my niece have the doll-house; maybe instead I should’ve roamed on ebay for that paragon of alternative doll families, The Sunshine Family.  When I was a little girl, I loved the Sunshines: the mom wore a long calico dress and sandals; the baby was blonde and indeterminately sexed; dad had tan pants, workboots, and a red turtleneck – a sure sign of a counterculture lifestyle (they probably smoked a little weed when the baby was sleeping). I’m sure they lived in the woods outside Boulder or maybe Berkeley.

sunshines.jpgYou could also get the Happy Family, who were the Sunshines’ black neighbors, and even, eventually, Sunshine grandparents. I find myself deeply curious about the marketing meeting that produced that: “the Sunshines are a big seller….let’s make old people!”  But hey, it was the mid-seventies, with its peculiar brand of “Free to be … You and Me” idealism.

I’m not saying that Mrs. Fisher-Price is a plastic version of Ibsen’s Nora, or that my niece will be brainwashed by a two-inch man holding a cell phone; I guess I’m asking if it’s possible to escape their faux-Victorian conventionality.

Maybe we all should go live in the woods with the Sunshines. 

Continue Reading · on October 31, 2008 in Gender, Parenting

Clarice Plays for the Rangers

clariceandrudolph.jpgClarice here is not Clarice Starling with her good bag and cheap shoes (or was it good shoes and cheap bag, that hissed insult from Hannibal Lecter), but the original Clarice — the literally doe-eyed friend of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

I remembered Clarice after we saw Circus Amok last weekend because in our house, Clarice-the-deer is not the hyper-feminized bashful herbivore she is in the world of Rankin & Bass. Liam made her something else…

Last fall, for Liam’s birthday, we went to midtown with three of his friends, who have developed a tradition of going to Build-A-Bear Workshop for their birthdays. Why it’s become such a fixture with them, none of us can understand, but it’s easy and relatively painless as an outing, if you can resist the endless rows of bear-friendly accessories (wildly over-priced, just like accessories in the real world).

Liam spent long minutes perusing all his choices and then chose Clarice.

But then … what should Clarice wear?

The decision? Apparently, Clarice plays for the New York Rangers: blue plush pants, Rangers jersey, little blue pillbox “helmet” that sits awkwardly on top of Clarice’s permanently affixed red-and-white polka-dot bow.

The checkout clerk held up Liam’s creation to the other clerks and said “I’ve never seen this before.”


Given the almost endless permutation of ensembles available at BBW, it seems rather remarkable that Liam is the first to put together this combination. At Build-A-Bear, you can find every sports team, rock-n-roll, hip-hop, construction workers … You can even buy full combat uniforms for all branches of the military – with one significant omission, as one of Liam’s friends discovered: “WHERE ARE THE GUNS?” he bellowed. 

And it’s not a bad question, really. I mean, if you’re going to sell Army bears, Marine bears, SEAL bears, Air Force bears … why not be completely honest about what you’re selling? Why is it okay to sell fatigues and uniforms from all branches of the armed services and yet sidestep the one thing that all these uniforms have in common?

If we all have the right to bear arms, why isn’t it all right to arm bears?

Clarice, by the way, had a wonderful season with the Rangers and will be starting at forward this year.

I think Jennifer Miller would approve.

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Continue Reading · on October 1, 2008 in Gender, Politics

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