An effigy is a representation of a person, especially in the form of sculpture or some other three-dimensional anthropomorphic form. A child’s doll. Most likely a female child. Little girls practice for motherhood with a doll such as this; a doll with wide, ever-open eyes, its pupils permanently dilated in wonder, it’s over-sized hands perpetually reaching for you, for me, for anybody to grab onto.
Little boys aren’t given effigies that beg to be held. Theirs are much smaller in scale – army men, plastic dinosaurs, G.I. Joes. They’re not to be cuddled, but posed, put into action, thrown, smashed, melted and burned. A smaller effigy is a more distant effigy. A more distant effigy is removed from us as a conceptual being, and what that teaches boys is far from nurturing, and anything but fatherhood. Not that a vinyl baby-doll was a substitute for a living child. But dolls such as this one were designed to be held; closely and with tenderness.
Most little girls did not set their dolls on fire or tie them to the end of their kites to see if they could fly. Dolls had names and pretty clothes. They were spoken to, softly, and they were given special privileges. They sat at the dinner table and took long trips in the car. But they don’t age well. An old doll is creepy and forlorn. The hair falls out and the flesh takes on a weird patina so in this way they begin to more accurately mirror people – people we’d rather not acknowledge.
A doll is intended to mimic those features in a child that play to our nurturing nature, but there is something very false about dolls. Beyond the plastic skin and stiffness. It’s trickery stops working at a certain age and the effect must be something akin to what a duck feels upon touching down beside a wooden decoy.
Man creates many different kinds of effigies for all sorts of purposes, but none have the impact of those we create for child’s play. Those first interactions with little fake people – the first and maybe only ‘people’ we ever fully control, the first ‘people’ whose fates lie in our hands, form our earliest interpersonal dynamics.
Girls were given dolls they could hold in their arms and have conversations with, boys were given tiny monochromatic men with no discernible features, bearing weapons or equipped to carry them. Both options seem disturbing in hindsight. And maybe that’s why dolls like this one are often found in flea markets and garage sales; the army men don’t survive the ravages of time. They were all melted years ago. Dolls last longer. They are treasured more often and kept in hope chests and stored away for future generations of women to admire and hold.
I don’t fault my mother or my father for giving me what I asked for – fighting men and astronauts and a rubber Evel Knievel whose body I mangled and destroyed. But I do wonder. What if I was given instead a little lifelike boy? What if somebody sat down on the floor with me and taught me how to be gentle and how to love him? What if I had learned that the remedy for my confusion was kisses and not fire? They taught me how to use a knife and fork and how to drive a car but I’m only just now learning how to give and how to love. Was geometry really more important than that? Was history or penmanship? We’ve got the concept of education all wrong.
Don’t give me effigies, give me the real boy. If you do, I promise not to melt him with a lighter next time. I promise to give him a name and to keep him safe and warm.