My favorite doll when I was in second grade was a soft-featured, frizzy-bunned, slightly plump version of Barbie. (She was less expensive than an actual Barbie because my mother saved money every way she could, and my toys were often cheaper versions of popular playthings.)
My best friend Sarah owned a Real Barbie, as well as a Ken, and many changes of clothes for them. Our absolute favorite games were the sex games we invented with both dolls, Real and Fake Barbie, alternating them on alternating days — Real Barbie on Wednesday, Fake Barbie on Thursday. One of our favorites was what we called The Bad Game, in which Fake and Real Barbie had sex with Ken. It began with Ken throwing Barbie to the ground, forcing his way on top of her. Immediately, however, Barbie rose and threw him to the ground, where she remained on top. We didn’t know about either feminism or the concept of egalitarian sexual relationships; we just liked the idea of Barbie being the one calling the shots.
The sex itself was brief and vague, since we didn't really understand what went where, and how. None of our parents were the type to easily speak to us about sex, so any knowledge we had was from the streets, books, movies and TV. We gleaned what we could and interpreted things selectively, as best as we were able. So we just rubbed Ken and Barbie together, while Barbie gasped, "Oh! Oh! Oh!" and Ken shouted, “Go, Barbie, go!”
For better or worse, Barbie always got pregnant during The Bad Game, which led to another favorite: The Birth Game, in which she gave birth to a premature baby. It was my idea for the baby to be premature instead of full-term, because I imagined such babies as especially adorable, pushy, brazen little brats emerging too early from their mothers' wombs, wreaking a fetching kind of havoc on everyone from day one. (Just as I didn’t know about feminism, or what real intercourse entailed, I didn't yet comprehend the potential tragedy of premature birth.)
Sarah’s cupid-mouthed, curly-haired baby doll was enlisted as Premature Baby. Sarah held Barbie very still, in a prone position. Barbie’s legs didn’t spread much, but that didn't matter to us since we also didn't really understand the true physical nature of giving birth.
First, I hung back while Sarah held Barbie still for as long as she could tolerate, which was probably all of ten seconds. Then Sarah cried out, as Barbie: "Ouch! What's happening?" She twisted and turned, trying to appear in desperate pain. This was my cue to run forward, baby doll in hand and shove her into Barbie’s arms, to show that Premature Baby was in the process of being born.
I then took on Premature Baby's voice — loud, bratty, nasal — and sang an original song that went: "I'm a premature baby! I'm a-comin' out! And I like it!" Finally, to show the birth was complete, I held Premature Baby aloft, wiggling her around in a manic, hula-type dance. Sarah and I bowed before an imaginary audience.
We had a couple of other sex games, among them The Feel-Up Game and The French-Kissing Game, and we kept Fake and Real Barbie busy. Not for us were games like House (in which Barbie might be the loveable matriarch or the big sister in a nice, wholesome family) or Hospital (in which Barbie might be a caring, nurturing nurse or doctor).
Eventually, Sarah and I outgrew our desire to play with dolls, and I relegated Fake Barbie to the back of my closet, and at some point she was lost or discarded — I no longer remember which. Sarah is also gone, from a sudden aneurysm a few years ago. But I remember our games so well; I’ve spoken of them to my other women friends and have discovered how many of them also used their dolls to enact those mysterious, hazy rituals in which one day they would willingly participate in the flesh (sex and childbirth).
And I now think of my eleven-year-old daughter, who has never been much into dolls, and with whom I’ve had the birds-and-the-bees talk numerous times, and I wonder how she and her friends have played their version of The Bad Game and the rest, because surely they have. I hope that doing so gave them pleasure, and helped them to navigate the increasingly complex world in which they live. And I’m grateful that Sarah and I had Real and Fake Barbie to begin to show us the way.