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An Afternoon of Productive Play with Problematic Dolls

The Importance of Foregrounding Children's Voices in Research

Rebecca C. Hains

Bratz dolls, popular among pre-adolescent girls, have been the subject of widespread criticism. Many scholars, activists, educators, and parents have argued that the scantily clad fashion dolls contribute to the sexualization of girls that has been decried by the American Psychological Association, among others. As is often the case in studies of girls' popular culture, however, these conversations about the problems with Bratz have rarely incorporated the voices of girls in the brand's target audience. To address this gap, this article analyzes an afternoon of Bratz doll play by a small group of African-American girls, aged between 8 and 10 years. This article suggests that although critical concerns about Bratz' sexualization are warranted, the dolls' racial diversity may benefit some girls' play, enabling them to productively negotiate complex issues of racial identity, racism, and history while paying little attention to the dolls' sexualized traits.

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The Doll “InbeTween”

Online Doll Videos and the Intertextuality of Tween Girl Culture

Jessica E. Johnston

Like many tweens in the late 1990s, I played with American Girl dolls. At the time, I would never have imagined that some years later girls would be filming and uploading videos to YouTube of their dolls dancing to Taylor Swift, sledding in the snow

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Sami Schalk

operates in the contemporary fictional books and doll accessories of the American Girl brand through the combined gendered discourses of education, empowerment, and national identity. I argue that disability’s inclusion in the brand is a means of touting

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Claudia Mitchell and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh

In this themed issue of GHS, “Interrogating the Meaning of Dolls: New Directions in Doll Studies,” guest edited by noted doll researcher Miriam Forman-Brunell, we are introduced to a new generation of doll researchers who continue to explore the connections between girls and dolls. Similar to girls’ other types of play such as domestic play with miniature kitchens and with dollhouses, their playing with dolls is far from being an uncontested area of study within feminist scholarship. In the eighteenth century Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Maria and Richard Edgeworth elaborated the function of the fashion doll as a way of preparing girls for their future life. Dolls became more of a problematic topic in the twentieth century when much of the discussion centered around Barbie. In an article we wrote on Barbie some years ago (Reid-Walsh and Mitchell 2000), for example, we played with the expression “just a doll” (175) arguing that, on the one hand, Barbie’s low cultural status as a doll called into question the vast amount of controversy generated by one piece of molded plastic, and, on the other, trivialized girls’ play objects.

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From American Girls into American Women

A Discussion of American Girl Doll Nostalgia

Molly Brookfield

The American Girl brand of historical dolls and books celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2011. The girls who first played with American Girl dolls in the 1980s and 1990s are now grown women; their nostalgia for the brand is passionate and complicated, and reminiscences from nineteen such women are the focus of this study. Their nostalgic responses are thoughtful and reflective, at turns unabashedly admiring and astutely critical. The women fondly recall American Girl whilst simultaneously criticizing the company for its consumerism and its representations of American history and American girlhood. Their memories show how nostalgia can be ambivalent and contradictory, and how adults can use childhood nostalgia to reinforce and construct identity narratives.

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Dolling Up History

Fictions of Jewish American Girlhood

Lisa Marcus

The launching of a Jewish American Girl doll in 2009 provides an occasion for exploring the fictions of Jewish American girlhood constructed and consumed in the twenty-first century. Though the Rebecca Rubin doll seemed to herald a progressive version of Jewish American girlhood, Rebecca and the box-set of books that accompany her repackage a nostalgic and triumphalist narrative in which America figures as a benevolent sanctuary and the Holocaust, American anti-Semitism, and the costs of assimilation are elided and smoothed away. This is a narrative we've seen before—most notably in the importing and Americanizing of Anne Frank as an icon of Jewish girlhood, and in Sydney Taylor's beloved All Of A Kind Family series of children's books. These dolled-up versions of history stand in stark contrast to the darker, more complex visions of childhood and history seen in the work of Adrienne Rich, which reminds us to be wary of buying into such nostalgic icons of girlhood.

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Interrogating the Meanings of Dolls

New Directions in Doll Studies

Miriam Forman-Brunell

The articles in this issue demonstrate that dolls are ubiquitous cultural forms central to girlhood and young womanhood. Yet understanding the historical and contemporary significance of dolls is a relatively recent development. Th e age-old trivialization of girls and devaluation of youth cultures led to the customary disregard of dolls as legitimate sources of documentary evidence even among scholars. It was not until the late nineteenth century that changing notions of childhood first gave rise to research on children, and a new appreciation of the meanings of play. In 1896, G. Stanley Hall, the founder of the child-study movement, a professor of psychology, and president of Clark University, co-authored with A.C. Ellis the pioneering, “A Study of Dolls,” in which he argued that doll play taught girls key lessons in femininity and maternity. Although Hall argued that “the educational value of toys was enormous” (160), dolls once again lapsed into scholarly obscurity. It was during the late 1930s that Mamie Phipps Clark, then a Master’s student in psychology, used dolls to study the self-esteem of African American children. Th e subsequent doll studies she conducted with her husband, Kenneth Clark, played a role in the 1954 landmark desegregation decision, yet failed to perpetuate doll research. It was on the (high) heels of Barbie who debuted a few years after Brown v. Board of Education, that dolls became the focus of a lively (and still on-going) discourse among parents and pundits but not among academics about their social meanings in the lives of girls.

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America's Favorite Doll?

Conflicting Discourses of Commodity Activism

Diana Leon-Boys

Book Review Emilie Zaslow. 2017. Playing with America's Doll: A Cultural Analysis of the American Girl Collection. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Since 1986, the American Girl (AG) line has promoted itself as a company that provides pedagogically

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Janet Seow

Doll play is critical in the formation of young black girls’ gender, race, and class identities. In this article, I use textual analysis that emphasizes how physical changes in dolls correspond to contextual shifts in society over the last seven decades, and qualitative research with ten Afro-Caribbean girls and young women in Toronto to reveal the racial and cultural meanings of dolls in young people’s everyday lives and how doll play is complicated by racist and classist representations of dolls. By exploring what doll play meant to them, I show how it helps black girls understand racial and gendered norms. Through doll play, girls reveal an understanding of their racialized identities and marginalization as they demonstrate unacknowledged skills in their ability to navigate barriers that reinforce racial inequalities and social hierarchies in girls’ material culture in a multicultural Toronto.

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Consuming Girlhood

Young Women, Femininities, and American Girl

Elizabeth Marshall

This article offers a textual analysis of how the American Girl corporation markets and sells particular ideas about girlhood to its consumers. Focusing on the historical fictions, catalogues, and website, the author discusses the ways in which the corporation brands girlhood as a set of ideas to purchase. This reading of the American Girl texts is supported with data from a semi-structured interview with eight undergraduate women enrolled in a pre-service education course who read and played with American Girl materials as children. Young women who intend to work as elementary school teachers offer a unique demographic for theorizing American Girl and its role in the everyday lives of girls. The author concludes that for the young women in this study, American Girl materials offered salient lessons in girlhood consumption.