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Playing with Gender: Girls, Dolls, and Adult Ideals in the Roman World

Fanny Dolansky
Classical Antiquity
Vol. 31, No. 2 (October 2012), pp. 256-292
DOI: 10.1525/ca.2012.31.2.256
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/ca.2012.31.2.256
Page Count: 41
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Playing with Gender: Girls, Dolls, and Adult Ideals in the Roman World
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Abstract

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.

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