A Doll to Improve Boys’ Empathy? Leonard Sax and I Think Not

June 4, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

I was going to respond to this article (New York Times, 5/14/18) a couple of weeks ago, but other posts intervened and now Dr. Leonard Sax has beaten me to the punch (ahem) (IFS Studies, 5/29/18). The Times piece is just the usual baying at the moon on the part of the Social Justice crowd. Sax rightly rebuts it, but leaves out one very important point that I’d like to add.

The NYT article is about a new toy for boys – a doll. Yes, I know, those who believe that gender is a social construct have tried to peddle dolls to boys before and yes I know they failed miserably. But hey, why not try the same thing again? Maybe this time they’ll get different results!

Why do boys need dolls and not action figures or trucks or footballs? Because they lack empathy, because masculinity is deficient and it would greatly improve if it were more like femininity. Ergo, boys need to play with dolls. Needless to say, there’s not a word in the article about biology, not a word about the fact that gender isn’t constructed by the culture, but decided in the womb, not a peep about the fact that, when we meet a new person, the very first thing our minds register is his/her sex.

And of course the many “experts” quoted in the Times article never once broach the subject of whether playing with dolls or the particular doll in question changes boys. As Sax points out,

One might reasonably expect that the author of the NY Times piece would provide some shred of evidence that such dolls do, in fact, nurture boys’ empathy: that boys who play with such toys actually become more empathetic. But no such evidence is provided—because no such evidence exists.

Yes, one might expect that if one weren’t quite so inured to the Social Justice way of doing things. SJWs have their take on various issues like gender and have never and I suspect will never allow facts that contradict that take to either get in the way or even be acknowledged. It is an article of faith with these people that (a) gender is fluid, (b) gender is a cultural phenomenon, (c) masculinity is defective and (d) men would be better if they’d behave more like women.

Therefore of course masculinity needs to change and, if we want to do that, we must begin as early in a child’s life as possible. That denying a male child his legitimate desires and his legitimate self might qualify as a particularly odious form of child abuse never occurs to these people. (One commenter to the piece suggests, sardonic tongue in cheek, that the Ludovico Technique, a.k.a. aversive therapy, would work better than dolls.) They have the received wisdom, you see, so why should they second-guess themselves?

Part of that wisdom they received from on High is that males lack empathy, hence the need for a doll that, mysteriously and magically, gives it to them. But do males lack empathy? What do these people do with the knowledge that, throughout history, our standards of love and generosity have so often been male? Have they ever heard of Jesus, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama? Have they ever seen a father caring for his child?

I suppose not.

But the issue of fathers and children is the one I’d like to add to what Dr. Sax had to say. To the extent boys lack empathy and grow into adults who do likewise, there is a very clear cause we can point to and it has nothing to do with dolls or the lack thereof. It has to do with dads. More precisely, it has to do with the absence of fathers from children’s lives and the terrible toll that takes on them lifelong.

I’ve written before about the various mass murderers who’ve made the news over the past several years. Almost all of them grew up deprived of his father. Fathers’ special form of caring for children, including rough-and-tumble play is one of the chief sources of empathy, particularly in boys. If we’re truly serious about a lack of empathy in some boys and men, we need look no further than our society’s headlong drive to separate fathers from their children.

We do that of course in a wide variety of ways, including through our laws and practices regarding child custody, child support, adoption, paternity fraud and the like. We also wield our popular culture as a bludgeon against the very idea of fatherhood and yes, masculinity.

Any article that pretends that dolls have something to contribute to the empathy level of boys, published in a newspaper that would never dream of telling the truth about the many ways fathers are marginalized in their children’s lives, is an article that cares not one whit about the issue of boys and empathy. It’s like hanging a mobile above a child’s bed in hopes that the pretty colors will take its mind off its troubles instead of cuddling and caring for the child so those troubles go away. The NYT piece is just an effort to deflect attention from the real issue that the self-proclaimed “paper of record” has never taken on in any serious way.

Meanwhile, thanks to Leonard Sax for taking down the absurdity of the Times piece. It has no basis in fact, only in a bankrupt ideology that, for whatever reason still holds in thrall many people who should know better.

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