This post is part of the Cabinet of Curiosities - 2nd Edition hosted by Tim at Walking the Berkshires. Check out his great site on December 17, 2007 for similar posts by other genea-bloggers.
Yes, I am a man with dolls. I didn't always have a love of dolls, especially the female type, but those in the picture to the left have special meaning to me. They are six of the over 100 dolls my mother had at her house in New York. I remember, not fondly however, sleeping in my former bedroom, which had become the guest room and more akin to It's A Small World, and it was downright creepy. Imagine falling asleep with over 200 eyes staring down at you, waiting, waiting . . .
During a two year project of cleaning out the house, I had to decide what to do with all these dolls. Mom started collecting them when she inherited my great-grandmother's Floradora doll which was made in the late 1890's. Manufactured by Armand Marseille in Germany, it had a bisque head with a kid leather body. As a man, I probably shouldn't have wanted a doll since I grew up in a time where certain boys who liked dolls were subjected to certain cruel names and taunts.
After setting aside the six dolls, which I will give to my niece when she is older, my aunt who helped me with the cleanup had a great idea: donate the rest to a shelter for battered women and their children. I thought this was the perfect way to let these dolls loved by my mother do what they do best: bring joy to a young girl. They would be restored to their original role of bringing joy to my mother.
The Floradora doll, not shown in the photo, is in desperate need of repair since the mice had eaten into the doll's body during the two years that the house was closed up. It looked as if poor Floradora had been waterboarded or otherwise tortured.
My interaction with dolls, mostly those of the female persuasion, was this: as a child I was known as the "doll torturer" among my 41 first cousins. My brother and I had GI Joe "action figures" and we would make it a point to kidnap Barbie from her Malibu Dream House and invariably threaten to inflict great harm upon her. Although reminiscing provides some great laughs when I tell the stories to friends and family, I am sure it was not fun for Barbie's owners. My brother and I hated Barbie because she was stupid and vapid. She didn't do anything all day except sit around in the Dream House and look pretty. GI Joe had missions to go on. Barbie shopped.
We communicated to the hostage's owners using our Mister Microphone (when we weren't driving around saying "Hey good lookin! We'll be back to pick you up later!") and speaking in stern voices filled with military lingo. Barbie was kidnapped not for being a blond bimbo, but because the Army needed women - lots of women.
Our favorite methods of torture included the use of scissors and nail polish remover. We recruited Barbie by giving her a very butch haircut, sort of a flat top like I wear these days, and she agreed to join our missions. Private Benjamin meet Private Barbie. We made her smart and intelligent but she also brought flair and a sense of style to boot camp. Army fatigues and a Versace scarf around the neck always passed inspection call each morning.
Nail polish was used on abandoned Barbies, the ones missing a limb or that the dog had played with as a chew toy. We discovered that using Mom's nail polish remover made Barbie's skin bubble and ooze. Thus was born the game of Nuclear Holocaust Barbie. GI Joe's missions then involved invading foreign lands that either had been bombed or were in possession of the A-bomb. Our goal was to kill the leaders that had the bomb and save the population, even Barbie of the Bubbling Skin. I think back to that game now, and realize that at least I knew what the WMDs were and that they actually existed before I invaded.
I soon learned though that my female cousins could fight back. In my family every one of those girls was tough, smart-alecky and a formidable opponent. These gals didn't run to Mommy, crying that Barbie was being held captive. No, they played along and played for keeps. Soon, without warning, the battle started with a barrage of Malibu Beach Condo furniture, random Barbie heads with long hair that I had somehow overlooked, and the Dream Car serving as a tank filled with fierce Barbies and their friends Midge, Skipper and Francie. Ken was nowhere to be found. He had been barred from the Army years earlier since he was too perfect and too busy surfing or getting a great tan. Plus my female cousins had already emasculated Ken by giving him a non-physical form of castration: he was relegated to cooking, childcare and swapping recipes with Allan, Brad and Todd. These girls were years ahead of their time.
Surrounded by the Amazons, one of our GI Joes would go missing when we weren't looking and days later we'd see his head impaled on a twig stuck in the ground marking the girls' territory. Right out of the Tower of London or Vlad the Impaler. This is how I learned that, in all reality, girls rule and guys drool.
Years later, I would be reminded of that female hegemony when the Barbie Liberation Organization appeared in San Francisco in 1989. The new Teen Talk Barbie was the last straw for women who saw Barbie as a throw back to the days of mopping and waxing the floor in high heels, making sure you looked pretty for your husband when he came home from work, and having no other role than running a house and having children.
Teen Talk Barbie had un-empowering phrases like "Math is hard. Let's go shopping!" falling from her mouth like some beauty pageant contestant. So the BLO had an ingenious idea: abscond with talking Barbies and GI Joes, switch their mechanical voice boxes, and return them to the store shelves - sort of a reverse-shoplifting scheme. Soon girls and boys would bring home an empowered Barbie who would be saying "Vengance is mine!" and "Dead men tell no lies!" and a newly emasculated GI Joe who was reduced to important phrases like "Will we ever have enough clothes?"
I've sinced learned that it is okay for a man to have dolls, and even to play with dolls. As long as he plays nicely and offers them the respect they deserve. So, one of my 2008 resolutions is to take that tortured Floradora doll to The Doll Lady's Hospital here in Chicago. I'd like it restored to its former glory as my mother and her grandmother remember it. And it will make me remember that a long time ago my cousins taught me that any female, doll or real, is a female worthy of respect and love.
Photo: My mother's dolls, Chicago, 2007