One of the subplots in Sleigh Ride revolves around Arthur’s nephew, Thomas, who is six years old and has a doll. Thomas appeared in the story after I’d been writing for a month. Something seemed to be missing, and then one day when revisiting the opening, Arthur started talking to his nephew, which was delightful—and then Thomas trotted out his best girl, Soupy. It’s never been revealed to me why this name was chosen, but I suspect it’s like Ramona Quimby’s doll Chevrolet. What sounds good to a child doesn’t always translate socially.
A lot of what Thomas loves and desires doesn’t necessarily sit well with a small, dying town in the Minnesota Northwoods. His mother in particular obsesses with how her son is perceived, and though some of her choices hurt Thomas, she means well. She legitimately loves her son and wants what’s best for him.
My own child has taught me a lot about how in some ways, though we seem to be more aware of gender identity and roles, we’re also somehow more backwards than ever. She loved purple as a young child, until she realized purple and pink were codes for girly. Abruptly one day she switched to green, and then became annoyed at how she was being forced into purple and pink in clothing, toys, and décor.
She chose dinosaur pajamas because she liked them, but resented that she had to go to the boy’s department to have that option. She liked Legos until she realized the company didn’t want to include her in its marketing—then when it did, relegated her to a horrible pink and purple ghetto of stereotyped activities, separate from the cool boy toys. She finally rejected any current systems and used her father’s set from 1970. Now she plays Minecraft, but gets annoyed when she plays online: if she shows the slightest bit of femininity she gets either sexually harassed or dismissed. She is upset at the hazing done to boys who love one of her passions, My Little Pony.
The book Gabriel reads at storytime in Sleigh Ride is called William’s Doll, and it’s a real book, written in 1972. It’s startlingly current for a forty-year-old story, and it’s sad to see how little has changed in how we code toys and roles for boys and girls. In some ways I feel we’ve become worse. Take the 1981 “What it is is beautiful ad” from Lego contrasted with the company’s offerings for girls in 2014. If you don’t have children, take a walk through the toy aisle sometime. Not only are the toys nothing but marketing junk now, they’re absolutely, utterly coded into boy and girl. Even infant clothing, once a haven, seems more gendered than ever.
There are some silver linings. Children have always been more open-minded than their adult supervisors, and many of them aren’t taking their gender force-feeding lying down. This little girl has a lot to say about it. When a trans student in Brazil was fined for wearing a skirt, her male classmates wore skirts too to show their solidarity. The bottom line is when adults get out of the way, gender identity doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it’s one of the more natural navigations there is. It’s society that makes it tricky.
When I was young, my aunt bought me tractors. In fact her gifts were always either coded the other way or absolutely gender neutral. At the time, I was annoyed because I didn’t really want a tractor. I wanted Barbies because they could act out my stories. I did appreciate the gender non-specific Fisher Price people, though. So did my brother. He loved the tractors—but he was known to play Barbies too, and he lovingly put babies to bed with my sister and I.
This past week that brother had his own baby, a son, and he’s already an incredible dad. He’s taking care of his wife and insisting he will take off whatever time necessary to be with his family. On the shelf in his living room is a little bear I recognized from our childhood. One he loved to bits and saved over the years, and now I suspect will pass on to his boy.
If my nephew August wants a doll, my brother will give him one. And help him put it to bed, and change its diaper, and feed it and love it. If my nephew is gay or informs them at some point that actually, he is not a he at all, my brother and sister-in-law will love their child in whatever incarnation presented.
I’m pretty sure my brother was going to be a great parent no matter what happened. But all that doll-playing and caretaking he did when we were little? I can’t see that it hurt him any or took away from this moment. And yeah. It might have even helped.
I hope you enjoy reading about Thomas and his doll, and Arthur and Gabriel and how they support him in his passion. And I hope if you find a boy in your life who wants a baby to take care of that you do your best to help him get one too.
Blurb: Book Two of the Minnesota Christmas Series, Sequel to Let It Snow
The way to a man’s heart is on a sleigh.
Arthur Anderson doesn’t want anything to do with love and romance, and he certainly doesn’t want to play Santa in his mother’s library fundraising scheme. He knows full well what she really wants is to hook him up with the town’s lanky, prissy librarian.
It’s clear Gabriel Higgins doesn’t want him, either—as a Santa, as a boyfriend, as anyone at all. But when Arthur’s efforts to wiggle out of the fundraiser lead to getting to know the man behind the storytime idol, he can’t help but be charmed. The least he can do is be neighborly and help Gabriel find a few local friends.
As their fiery arguments strike hotter sparks, two men who insist they don’t date wind up doing an awful lot of dating. And it looks like the sleigh they both tried not to board could send them jingling all the way to happily ever after.
Warning: Contains a feisty librarian, a boorish bear, small town politics, deer sausage, and a boy who wants a doll.
Buy links: Samhain, Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, iTunes
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About the Author: Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, knitting, listening to music, and watching television with her husband and teenaged daughter. Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and is proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality. Find out more about Heidi, including her social networks, at www.heidicullinan.com.
THE GIVEAWAY: Heidi Cullinan is giving readers two ways to win as we make our way into the holiday season.
THE COMMENT TO WIN PORTION OF THE CONTEST IS CLOSED
The second way to win some great prizes is via Heidi’s Rafflecopter contest. The image you see here lists the prizes up for grabs, so just click on the image to take you to the entry page.
27 thoughts on “Guest Post and Giveaway – Boys and Dolls: The Power and Prison of Gender Roles by Heidi Cullinan”
Love this. It is so true about the gender bias pushed on kids. I was one of those girls that hated ruffles, loved trucks and the only doll I willingly bought was a Cher doll in high school because, well, Cher. ;-) Can’t wait to read Sleigh Ride.
Reblogged this on Books,Coffee & Captured Moments and commented:
Great blog post from Heidi Cullinan on The Novel Approach
I read the first book in this series and would love to sink my teeth into this one. Thanks for including me.
Love how you have worked this predicament into the story. My girls too had tractors and my son pushed his doll in the dump truck. Even children’s TV perpetuates the problem.
I loved this article and it even spurred a conversation between my mother and I. My children are very much in their gender roles, my son likes Dino’s and trucks, my girl loves pink, purple, and playing house but they chose to be that way. We encouraged them to be themselves without being told “no,no your a boy/girl” I think people forget that gender issues are even there. It has become so natural for everyone to separate people and interests in boy or girl. I totally agree that if we left it up to the children without the influence of an adult saying “hey your not supposed to like that” the idea of being gendered would eventually fade away.
I don’t have children but I do shop for the ones in my life and the insistence that toys are either “boy” or “girl” makes me crazy. I have long refused to buy things that are pink or blue for the new babies that become part of my life but it has become increasingly difficult to find toys that aren’t gendered.
Fantastic post – it is like you are speaking for me! We have had very similar experiences with our two kids and toys, clothes etc. Another difficult aspect that I have seen is that their peers (especially the boys) sometimes mimic what they learn from adults and reinforce the gender divide. My son never worried whether something was “for girls” until he started school. :-( Fortunately, he still loves his stuffed animals and loves to read Dork Diaries and Judy Moody. My daughter appears to be fairly impervious and likes what she likes (or doesn’t like).
Great blog post! When my daughter was very young all her hand me down toys came from her boy cousins, so she was always playing with trucks and a tool bench alongside her dolls and princess castles. It was never a question, but I imagine it must be harder for boys who want to play with “girl” dolls as that choice is not traditionally seen in the same way as a girl playing with cars. Hopefully parents are more open to that today though.
This is a FANTASTIC post, Heidi. The storyline involving Thomas and Soupy was one of my favorite parts of the books – and was a perfect way to showcase how amazing Gabriel is. <3
I’m right along with all of you in my love for this topic. I think so many people perpetuate the boy/girl toy stereotypes without even being conscious of it, not because we’re trying to foster specific parameters for male/female play but because, speaking for myself, it’s simply how I was raised and it’s taken a lot of years for me to overcome my upbringing.
I don’t ever recall telling my sons they couldn’t play with their older sister’s dolls, but I also don’t remember them being particularly interested in them either. Maybe it’s simply not memorable because we didn’t care. One thing I can remember is that both my boys wore an awful lot of makeup when their sissy went through her beauty shop phase. :-D
Wonderful post, Heidi. I remember when my brother was little he loved playing in the kitchen with my mom’s pot and pans. One Christmas my parents bought him his own kid sized kitchen appliances (oven, sink, fridge). This also came with dishes, silverware, pots, and pans. He loved it! He’s married now with a young son. He usually gets home in the afternoon before his wife does do to her very long commute. He is responsible for preparing dinner and cleaning up the mess. Maybe his exposure to his own “kid kitchen” has stayed with him all these years later. :) Thanks for the giveaway. :)
Looking forward to reading Christmas stories from my favorite authors. This one is definitely on the list.
I had Barbies growing up – also a Hot Wheels race track that my dad set up in the garage for me. I played with blocks and dolls and Lincoln Logs and Legos (back before Legos were gender-specific). I didn’t appreciate that until years later. Also, my parents didn’t censor my reading at any age that I can remember. These days, that would be considered an extremely liberal attitude, but they were very conservative Southern Baptists.
Thomas’s doll was a beautiful sub-plot. Well done.
Really enjoyed the post, and I’m really enjoying Sleigh Ride. The anecdote about your daughter and pink and purple reminded me of a very sad incident concerning a friend’s child. She’s only in kindegarten and her best friend is/was a little boy. For several months all was well, and my friend’s child came home saying her favourite colours were pink and purple, because they were her best friend’s favourite colours. Then one day she came home and explained that pink was for girls and blue was for boys, and her best friend’s brother said pink and purple were only for girls, and that playing with girls was apparently not the done thing. So, no best friend anymore, because his brother gives him hell for playing with girls and liking girly things. So, while this attitude has clearly come down from adults, parents and the wider world, even an eight year old can carry on an agenda (that he’s parroted from elsewhere) to make two kindergarten children ‘conform’. It’s so damn scary and sad. I say long live non-conformity.
Oh, and no need to go in the draw.
Please count me in too. I’m a fan of Heidi’s writing.
I never thought that gender would be so binary in the 21st century…
I always hated girly crap as a kid too….I was always defiantly wanting to be a “boy”
please count me in
I agree with all above, love the post. When I was younger I hated having to play with Barbies because that was the excepted role. Not saying that I played with soldiers either, but I wanted to have different choices. Thanks for the giveaway!
Thanks for the fabulous post Heidi! As a child, even a baby, I wanted nothing to do with dolls. When I got older I got tired of all the pink clothes that I was getting from relatives, I started wearing a lot of black at that point. I now have my own son, who (when he gets to watch tv) I let watch Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony if that’s what he wants. I would get him a doll if he wanted one. He’s more likely to want trucks and cars, but I wouldn’t stop him from playing with any of it.
Thanks for this great post. This drives me crazy and I don’t even have kids of my own yet. I got so annoyed in Disney World recently because they were selling swords and shields in boy colors (normal silver/gold with blue and red decorations) and girl colors (pink). I just didn’t understand it. Why did a play sword have to be pink? I remember thinking that I wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with the pink one when I was little. I liked my dolls and ponies and Disney princesses, but I also liked cars and trucks and legos (before they had specific girl legos). My parents bought me clothes in all colors, not just pink, and all different books. And I remember playing My Little Ponies with a friend who was a boy when were little – before people told him he shouldn’t be playing with them. Thanks again for the post and the giveaway. I’m looking forward to reading Sleigh Ride.
Yes, I’ve noticed it too. My sister in law and I have discussed the same topic when trying to pick out clothes for her kids. She doesn’t just want pink or blue for her kids and she doesn’t want to them to think that there are gender roles that can’t be crossed.
What a fantastic post. I remember sitting down with friends to play Barbies. I would dress the doll and think “okay now what.” Maybe if someone had just given me a “boy toy” like a Lego set I wouldn’t have spent so much time with my nose in a book. Well – never mind that. I loved every minute with my books! I look forward to reading Sleigh Ride. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.
My brother and sister were raised that it didn’t matter. My brother also would play dolls with us and we in turn would ply “boy stuff”. I raised my daughter the same way! Great post
Great post! When my nephew was a kid, he used to love playing with dolls and dressing up like a princess. We never saw anything wrong in it, nor was he encouraged to act any other way. Now he’s grown out of it, and he is your average teenager with his average activities and so on… But he is also a very open-minded boy who respects everybody around. I like to think that feeling free to play as he wanted as a kid helped him to develop his open frame of mind.
I was complaining about this at the store the other day. My sister thinks I’m nuts. If people didn’t steer their children towards gender specific toys, they might be surprised at what the child would choose to play with. :-)
I grew up a tomboy, and my three kids always had access to whatever type of toy they preferred. My son, being the youngest, played with his sisters’ dolls, as well as his own trucks and things.
Greetings, everyone, and thanks so much to all of you for dropping by to read Heidi’s wonderful article, and to enter in her comment-to-win giveaway. That portion of the contest is now closed, and today’s winner of an e-copy of Sleigh Ride is
The Romantic Sampler
Congratulations to you! I’ve just emailed Heidi’s Helpers with your contact information, so expect to hear something soon.