Making history less dull with a doll.

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July 7 2008 10:23 AM

All About the Story or All About the Outfits?

Making history less dull with a doll.

A group of females: Girls can choose one to identify with, and it could be Samantha. In the light of the new movie, is it all about the story or all about the outfits? Is it empowering to women or does it teach them the wrong lesson? Does the thinking feminist love them or hate them? We've been here before, and not that long ago, but this time it's not Sex and the City, it's American Girl (AG) dolls, discussed in a recent "IM" article.

We have mentioned that Slate's Fray team divides up the work very easily and casually, but American Girl was always going to be mine. This one is personal: I'm an even-handed defender of Barbies in Slate, but still, my daughter learned to read with a Samantha book because it was the only way to make me buy her the doll. On a recent trip to Manhattan, we spent an unplanned morning entirely at American Girl Place. I finally said that I would buy her—she's now 16—something for old time's sake. But the only thing she wanted was the (free) catalog—and that's going to resonate with the Fray posters because it featured in so many reminiscences: poring over the catalog comes up over and over.

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Nancyh posted a good analysis of ways to empower your daughters and resist consumerism, and it would take a mean-minded cynic to smile when she revealed that her daughter is all of 5 years old. Oh the years lie ahead, Nancy. Revrick posed a question: "Does such a thing as responsible consumerism exist … ? Consumerism, by its very nature, it seems to me, bulldozes right through such prudent concepts [as saving and budgeting]." He was roundly told off by alittlesense:

Yes, Heaven forfend! Buying a doll, the gateway to vice of all sorts. The only bulldozing I see is the idea that everyone except the posters here at the Fray are weak-minded fools who can't be trusted with a burnt-out match, much less money, dietary habits, voting habits, fireworks, the internet ... the list goes on and on and becomes more dreary with every issue of Slate.

Treefitz was one of many who wanted to share her memories with other readers, in this case of how the whole family got involved: "AG dolls are not just about little girls ... they are about mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters. They are about shaping human culture." Rather sadly, Fridhem wrote back to say:

You seem to be under a misconception of today's mother. Most of us aren't able to have all that time to spend making and creating the trunks, clothes, etc. ... in today's economy, most of us have to work just to make ends meet ... barely meet. I'm happy for you that your family sounds as though it was well off enough for you to have that extra time. Rare few do these days. … We are still shaping, just in a different way, dealing with the constraints we are given.

Jmv told us about a craze for customizing dolls:

More compelling is the DIY crowd that seeks to rebrand dolls to their own taste, or create special OOAK (one of a kind) editions, at times with completely home-made clothes. … Just search for OOAK. ... and you'll see a unique universe of personal creations.

Frankly I can't recommend this—looking at a page of these creations made me jump back in my seat in horror. But in terms of creativity, it's surprising the AG magazine wasn't mentioned more: It is a wonderful thing, completely unlike any other magazine for young girls. It has sensible advice, features about high-achieving girls, and terrific ideas for low-cost items to make, and cheap and easy ways to entertain.

Bookmama had her own money-saving idea: