This study examines the socio-cultural significance of dolls as Roman girls' toys. It focuses on a sample of ivory, bone, and cloth dolls, many of which have ornate hairstyles, molded breasts and, in some cases, delineated genitalia. As the only explicitly gendered toys from the Roman world, these constitute unique bodies of evidence for exploring questions of socialization and identity formation, and assessing ancient ideals. Often treated as relatively straightforward objects that prepared girls for futures as wives and mothers, this study argues instead that they were more complex and conveyed mixed messages to their young owners. By isolating three specific features of the dolls (an emphasis on adornment, capacity for movement, and resemblance to imperial figures), situating these in their historical and ideological milieux, and linking them with expectations for girls known from literary sources, the dolls' multivalence as artifacts of gender and status is revealed.
Playing with Gender: Girls, Dolls, and Adult Ideals in the Roman World
This study has benefited from the generosity of a number of colleagues and I am grateful to each of them. Keith Bradley, Ari Bryen, Justin Leidwanger, Shauna Pomerantz, and Phil Venticinque read the article at different stages and offered helpful critique and encouragement that has improved the present version significantly. Stacie Raucci and Terry Wilfong shared useful resources on Barbie and Egyptian dolls respectively. Much of this material was presented orally on different occasions and I have profited from the comments and suggestions of audiences at the following universities: Brock, Michigan, Trent, and Wilfrid Laurier. A grant from the Humanities Research Institute of Brock University supported a critical period of summer research in 2009 at Columbia University and the University of Chicago, and funded permissions for the images, with the exception of Figure 5 which the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology in London kindly provided free of charge.
Fanny Dolansky; Playing with Gender: Girls, Dolls, and Adult Ideals in the Roman World. Classical Antiquity 1 October 2012; 31 (2): 256–292. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/CA.2012.31.2.256
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