Time: 10:50 a.m.
Place: In the Northbound lane of an unimproved road in Lenawee County, Michigan
Longtime readers might remember that during my visit to Michigan last June, I stumbled upon a lot of dolls–in antique shops, and in museums. Well, I almost literally stumbled over this one yesterday as I was out for my run. Here she is, complete with a homemade sarong. I put her on the side of the road in a patch of grass, in case the child who so carefully sewed the homemade dress for her drove back down that road to find her. But, six hours later I went back to check, and no one had claimed her. She’ll join the one I found on the beach in Maine last week on a run–a Barbie-like doll who had received an unfortunate haircut and was naked but appears otherwise uninjured. I’ll give them a sunny afterlife in my herb garden.
It’s never a stuffed animal or other child’s toy that I find along the roadside. It’s always beat-up or mutilated female dolls–baby dolls, Barbie-type representations of grown women, it doesn’t seem to matter. I find it disturbing–which is why I can never not pick up an abandoned doll. It may be a primitive impulse I’m responding to–one that demands that I never leave behind a sick or disabled humanoid. It may be more than that, though. There’s far too much tolerance and naturalization of violence against women in our culture. I suspect that the abandonment and cruel treatment of dolls–always female dolls–might be related to the violence against real women’s and children’s bodies. I don’t mean to suggest that violence against dolls and violence against women and children are related in a functional or direct way–that doll abusers become abusers of real children and women. Rather, I’m suggesting that we think about the fact that abusing dolls and (apparently) throwing them out of moving vehicles isn’t at all a taboo in our society, but rather is an expected aspect of play with tiny, female humanoids.
Time: 11:30 a.m.
Place: On a sand beach in southern Maine
Would we tolerate the widespread abandonment and mutilation of tiny representations of other members of society? What if only dolls of one phenotype were tossed out of windows, or burned with lighter fluid, and found on isolated, rural roads? What if only dolls of men in tiny suits were strung up in trees or buried on beaches? Would we dismiss them blithely as child’s play, or would we read them as more disturbing signs of symbolic violence against those members of society? But it’s only female dolls who are regularly stripped and subjected to mutilation, limb removal, torture, and violence. (Most, but not all, of my found dolls are phenotypically white, but all are or were at one point recognizably female.)
Sorry to get all serious in a post about dolls. But, these are serious questions.