I've never been comfortable with babies. I don't dislike them or anything—I even enjoy making faces at perplexed babies staring at me in supermarkets—but I always feel awkward holding them. It's a near paralyzing fear that I might crack a knuckle and accidentally break its ribs or sneeze and somehow give the baby the swine flu. The source of this awkwardness is no mystery. With no kids and no little brothers or sisters, I've never been around babies. I never had to baby sit, never changed a diaper (although, to be honest, it doesn't really seem all that difficult), and I've just generally led a blissfully baby-free existence.
I brought this up to a friend a few weeks ago. She mentioned something about a baby shower, and the conversation eventually segued to babies in general. After I went through my entire "I'm awkward around babies" spiel, her response caught me off guard.
"It makes no sense that so many men—grown men—are so weird around babies."
When I replied that the weirdness is usually due to the lack of exposure, her reply surprised me even more.
"I know. It just doesn't make sense that women are socialized to play with and take care of babies, but men aren't. If both men and women are supposed to raise children together, why don't little boys play with baby dolls too?"
Before I continue, I want to make it clear that I'm fully aware that some little boys do in fact play with baby dolls and some grown women are just as uncomfortable around babies as I am. Still, there's an unmistakable amount of gender-based socialization at play here. When my friend asked why don't little boys play with dolls too, my first response was that we don't do that because, well, that's just not the way things are done. It's just…weird.
Yet, despite this very real weirdness, there really isn't a solid logical leg for it to stand on. Babies are made by both genders. In fact, the things associated with baby making—convincing women to have sex with you, having sex with women, possessing the ability to impregnate women, etc—are considered by many to be inherently masculine acts. Perhaps the most masculine acts. But, a boy playing with baby dolls—effectively "practicing" to play daddy—is considered to be feminine. Saying "this doesn't have a logical leg to stand on" was being kind. It makes no damn sense.
I can't help but to wonder, is the lack of socialization around parenting why so many men feel comfortable abandoning their children? Is this why a great number of dads feel just fine visiting their children only on weekends and holidays? Could this explain why even women who have their children's fathers living in the house with them often complain that the heavy lifting of parenthood tends to fall on their plate, especially during infancy?
That being said, I still have trouble wrapping my mind around the idea of it being "normal" for little boys to receive dolls and Hasbro diapers along with their toy Transformers and plastic basketballs this Christmas. Maybe I need to be re-socialized to accept that it's ok. Because, well, you know what's even less "masculine" than baby dolls? A grown man being scared to death to hold an infant.