Gender Issues and Psychology and Relationships16 Sep 2009 09:01 pm

Most high functioning animals learn their skills by playing while babies. They learn how to hunt, defend themselves, escape from danger and develop their most vital skills all while playing with siblings, peers and parents. Human children too, develop many of their skills and characteristics through play.

The following observations of human play are divided along gender lines due to the difference in play styles often exhibited by boys and girls. This is not to say that all boys play one way and girls another, but does seem to fit the standard ways in which children in the US play and use fantasy in their formative years.

While boys tend to prefer large motor activity spending much of their play running and moving about, girls tend to talk more and engage in relatively stationary activities. Having worked in day care during the late 70’s I observed quite a difference in play styles between most boys and girls. During the last decade or so I have been called upon to observe children having trouble in day care programs in order to help the staff develop strategies and interventions allowing a child to remain at a particular center. Though the roles of men and woman have changed greatly, the play styles amongst boys and girls have not changes much over the last 30 or so years.

Playing with dolls still remains a favorite activity of young girls. Girls are comfortable playing with dolls alone, side by side with others and will sometime even join others in small group doll play. Most girls prefer personal rather than group doll play and change to more social activities such as dress up, playing house and puppet shows when in groups. Girls also enjoy doing crafts and arts in groups while engaging in spirited conversation.

When playing with dolls most girls enter their own personal little fantasy land. They move the doll or dolls about while talking to them frequently. They often organize daily activities and events with the doll(s) such as tea parties, dinners, dances and the like. Many times the doll is taken care of like it is a baby, or the doll is a baby. Most of the time the child seems to enjoy having total control of the interactions with the doll. Though affectionate with their “dollies” most girls are quite verbally critical of their dolls behavior and dole out punishments and admonitions with great frequency.

To me the most striking aspect of standard doll play is the amount of verbal and physical energy the child puts into correcting and bossing their dolls Even though the doll is motionless the fantasy is that the doll is always in need of guidance and punishment for social errors in terms of behavior and verbals. The doll is both a person and a possession in need of the girl as mother.

This need to be in complete control is also demonstrated in other female dominated games. Most fathers of little girls who have been invited to a play tea party have experienced the harsh corrections of their almost every move. Dad picks up the tea cup, he’s often corrected on how to hold it. He takes a cookie that’s offered him and here’s his daughter cry out “no, no you’re supposed to say……” or some such thing. The entire tea party is spent with the daughter scripting every word and action with a running dialogue as director of the party.

Puppet shows given by a girl and a boy often go a similar route in which every line uttered by the boy is met with the girl saying, “no, no, now you say…..” or “now you do……”. I believe this aspect of verbal control of domestic and social interactions is often duplicated by girls as they grow into mothers and wives.

The social control aspect of a young girls early play and fantasy life often comes to the forefront on their wedding day. Many woman talk of how much they dreamed of and fantasized their wedding day since they were a young girl. Many a talk show has been spent discussing a wedding trauma experienced by a bride when things didn’t go as planned. Even without a major mishap many brides express a severe disappointment that the day did not live up to the dream. It’s tough for a man to live up to how the doll performed and was scripted to perform in the many dress rehearsals of the young girls fantasy play. She can’t interrupt the grooms every action and verbal with “no, no, now you say…. or no, no now you do”.

Real men make terrible dolls and even worse fantasy princes. They don’t talk right, act right and treat their wife with the kind of love and devotion that her dolls did with her expert guidance and control. While little girls dote on their baby dolls and feed and take care of them, when they fantasize about their future husbands little girls play is dominated by the love and devotion the man shows and feels for them. Girl’s fantasies as well as most fairy tales are centered around the girl being the prize. The prince loves and the heroine of the story is loved.

In most relationships I’m privy to, the woman controls most of the domestic and social venues while the man is in control of most everything else. It is not unusual for a woman to exert great influence over what a man wears at a given function. A husbands performance at a given social function is often cause for great concern over even a source for frequent arguments during the course of many a marriage.

When women complain that they “just want to be listened to”, I have a hard time not picturing the doll being propped up in the chair as the little girl talks on and on in fantasy dialogue. Dolls are the perfect playmate and the perfect possession. Men just don’t make the grade.

This is not to blame doll play for much of the problems in heterosexual relationships, but it is important to note that early play is the basic template most animals use for adult life. It is somewhat to be expected that the fantasy and habits formed during early play would be replayed during adult life.

Babies have a better chance of replicating many aspects of early doll play. A baby being helpless, vulnerable and mute for quite a span of time is in perfect need for the little girls constant teaching and guidance. The frequent talking to the doll is once again very beneficial when a young mother talks to her baby. A vulnerable baby needs to be someones prized possession.

Yet, many mother’s experience difficulties when their babies grow up and their verbal control and criticism causes conflict and turmoil. Having a human being come out of your body after being part of you for nine months has to be one of the most incredible experiences a human being can experience. The fetus was created in your body, lived and grew in your body, and every cell of their body was formed from your cells. The blood and air feeding the fetus are yours, so when the baby is born it must be hard to not continue to view it as part of you. In so many ways a baby is truly a possession of the mother.

These facts, coupled with the doll fantasy play, make viewing and treating a child as a separate and autonomous person a true hurdle for a woman.

While much of a little girls fantasy and doll play involves future hurdles regarding a need to control social and domestic environments a little boys early play and fantasy deal with other control issues. in fairness to women I’ll give a short synopsis of the male hurdle.

The typical boy’s fantasy and game world is dominated by action and adventure. While many today focus on a little boy’s desire to play with guns or win wars, this does not exhaust his areas of interest. Little boys love movement. They are either running, or imagining driving a car, plane, truck or space ship. Many crave super powers and either have super hero action figures, or imagine being in a world of dinosaurs or mythical beasts. Little boys, love to win, conquer, build and invent. They like to plan, design and take things apart. Many spend hours seeing how things work or exploring lawn, creek and forest life.

Young boys thirst for change and control of the world around them. Leaving things alone and just admiring them is not something most boys enjoy.

The need to build, control, invent, design and just plain tinker and monkey with everything natural or man made is a young man’s burden. The misuse and overuse of the planet’s resources is predictable with the play of young boys. Political conflict and war is also structured into the play and fantasy of young boys.

Entire books could easily be dedicated to the current and possible benefits and drawbacks of the play of both young girls and boys. This post was only meant to whet the appetite for exploration and discussion regarding this issue.

Jim Guido

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