I recently came across an article on one of my favorite blogs, Sociological Images, called "The Gender Politics of the Dollhouse" by Lisa Wade, PhD. In her article, Wade analyzes this ancient toy in its various forms. Reading the article prompted me to think about my own experience with dollhouses growing up. I was never a "girly-girl," but I did enjoy "playing house" when I was little. I had one of those kid kitchens that I spent hours making pretend grilled cheese for my older brother and I. It seemed only natural that this type of "playing house" would transform into playing house-in-a-dollhouse (deep, I know).
I got my first dollhouse when I was 4-years-old at Christmas. My dad had spent most of December building it, I later found out. Thus, this "toy" meant much more to me than any store-bought one. My dad worked long hours on it in the basement each night leading up to Christmas. When I saw it Christmas morning, I was ecstatic. It was enormous! There were so many rooms, and people, too!
I probably spent the next six years buying things for my dollhouse. I got new dolls for it, furniture, little accents like a tea kettle, and tiny fake food! It was an interior decorator's dream!
As I grew older, the dollhouse began to take a different form. It was less of a toy, and more of an art piece. It sat in my bedroom, untouched, but looking at it always gave me a smile. I liked having it around. I liked that it was built by my dad.
Looking back at my dollhouse with wider feminist eyes, I know the toy was (and probably still is) very much gendered, and usually represents a heteronormative lifestyle. This being said, even as a 4-, 5-, or 6-year-old, I didn't come away thinking this was how little girls must play with things. Maybe it's because my parents divorced around the same time I got my dollhouse, but any idea of a "perfect, heteronormative, 2-parent household" went out the window pretty early on in life. For me, the dollhouse was more a testament to my dad's love for me. And when I played with it, the child dolls didn't always have both a mom and dad; sometimes they had one or the other, and sometimes neither. Other times they were just a house full of children.
I think the all-mighty dollhouse can be a feminist gift. I know it to be. It's really all about the intention behind it, right? My dad's intention was to make something beautiful for me with love. And he succeeded--exponentially.
Today, the dollhouse sits in a closet at my dad's house--gathering dust. When I buy a house someday, I will certainly take the dollhouse with me, and showcase my dad's art work. And if I have a little girl (or boy!) someday, this dollhouse will then be theirs.