Let’s Go to the Playhouse!

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How many people had a playhouse growing up? Nearly everybody. If not you specifically, then you at least knew somebody else who did. They came in every shape and size; my playhouse was a couple of cardboard boxes that our washer and dryer came in, while my friend had one renovated out of a calf hutch. They are available at Walmart for $150, or they can be custom-built miniature houses with running appliances for upwards of $10,000. The exteriors of playhouses may not be similar, but the type of play done in them is very nearly identical. “Playing house” is one aspect of childhood that most girls take part in to imitate the everyday actions they observe in their home. Pretending to cook a meal, clean the house, or reprimand the “children” are common themes of playing house. The March girls in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women perform similar actions. In Little Women, the idea of “domesticity” represents the girls learning household duties, while modern playhouses propose “domesticity” as something done for fun. The chapter titled “Experiments” goes through how the girls prepare a meal and run the household with little success. In the end, they learn the lesson that working hard evokes “a sense of power and independence” (Alcott 118). In popular culture, the concept of playhouses encourages young girls to practice domestic tasks in a playful environment. Along with playing how to run their house, young girls in modern times learn they do not have to be confined to the home. A woman can have a job and career while still maintaining a domestic environment. The idea of having “the best of both worlds” is a modern notion, since the only option for the girls in Little Women is being a housewife; any other things they wanted to do would come second to running their household. The connotation of domesticity has changed over time, reaching its modern meaning of girls practicing domestic actions in the safety of their playhouse.

6 thoughts on “Let’s Go to the Playhouse!”

  1. Your argument of a playhouse as a domestic construct is very interesting. Even while kids experiment with domestic tasks in these “playhouses” that resemble actual houses, it is also interesting to think about forts and other makeshift “houses” that kids make (similar to the one that Kirsten’s cousins made) in order to practice these tasks. That, even if these kids’ parents are not deliberately offering a space for their kids to “play house” in, kids (including my sisters and I when we were young) will still go out and create these homes out of trees, grass, fallen branches and whatever they can find in their backyards.

  2. I think this idea of playhouses is very unique to the books we are discussing in this class. From what you mentioned, these houses in which girls play with are related to the work they do in the real world. If your claim is true, what if the four sisters didn’t have a house to play in? How do you think that would have changed their ability to do their house-duties independently? I think that the playhouse has a much larger role than we are giving it credit (which is why I think its cool that you decided to blog about this). So much so that I think Alcott could bring a lot to the table by writing a book solely focused on the relevance and relationship between life inside and out of the playhouse. Great ideas Faith!

  3. I agree with your point that it was quite common for young girls to have play houses and that it is typically seen as a feminine activity. I have started working in a preschool in a room with three year olds. We work on a high-scope philosophy that encourages the kids to make their own plans for playing. I have come to notice that a lot of young boys are very interested in the playhouse we have in our room and playing “babies” (aka dolls). I was surprised to see this as I remember my preschool subtly reinforcing heteronormative and gendered activities for us kids. I compare my experiences working in the preschool with my own growing up and with those we’ve read about it books. I wonder if many books show boys playing house or with babies.

  4. I completely agree with your point, and I love the modern idea that girls are learning about having “the best of both worlds”. I think another way to modernize the idea of “playing house” would be to not only limit it to girls. Looking at the design of many expensive playhouses, they typically have “girly” colors and shapes. Yet, more and more men are taking on the role of “stay at home dad”, so why not have playhouses that appeal to boys, or are gender neutral? I hope to see that in the future.

  5. I recall “playing house” as well as running a play daycare used to be two of my favorite activities. Thinking about it now I wonder why I enjoyed it so much. Domestic activities such as cooking, cleaning and looking after kids appealed to me because that is what I saw my mom doing. In society today I think we are seeing more and more stay at home dads and this makes me wonder if this could cause little boys to begin to enjoy “playing house” and other activities geared towards domesticity.

    1. I feel the exact same way as you do. I remember my childhood being full of “playing house” with my girl friends and taking care of our baby dolls by dressing them, cooking for them, or whatever else we had learned to do from observing our mothers and watching televison. Your comment about little boys “playing house” made me think of my own life with my twin brother. I remember growing up that I always wanted him to come and “play house” with me, but he rarely ever did, especially not when other people were around. I had always wondered why he wouldn’t “play house” with me and my friends, but looking back at it now I can see how gender roles may have already been imposed on him at that age, so he might have believed that “playing house” was strictly for girls and not boys.

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