An Open Letter to Mattel and American Girl

I recently read an article in the Atlantic that highlighted the drastic change in the American Girl doll brand over the last fifteen years, from which one of two truths is evident: either your company is sexist, or you are too lazy to be innovative and rely on the brand name for your revenue. I refuse to accept either of these objectives, but it would seem that one of them must be reality.

I am 21-years-old and grew up in suburban New Jersey. Like many girls who grew up in the late 90s, I had American Girl dolls and I owned all of their stories, books which chronicled their lives in various periods of American history and how the girls grappled with the limitations on women in their day. Addie was a slave girl who escapes to the North, Samantha was a rich New York suburbanite who joins the labor movement, and Felicity was a Revolutionary feminist who dared to wear pants and work in her father's store. These are just a few of these American Girls who participated in American history, even in fiction, and served as strong, intelligent, and brave role models for the girls of my generation. In fact, I believe that my love for Molly and Felicity in particular stimulated my interest in American history from a young age and eventually would lead me to becoming a history major in college. 

I was extremely disappointed to read that the American Girl line has "archived" some of its most important characters, among them Samantha and Felicity, and that American Girl dolls these days are running bake sales instead of leading movements. I don't know why this change occurred or why the values changed in the decade since I have played with my American Girl dolls, but I am appalled and disgusted by the move away from women's champions towards women's stereotypes. The American Girl doll brand should represent strong, educated girls who are unafraid of fighting for social change and unselfishly helping those around them. Why not make a new American Girl who is fighting for gay rights so that her moms can marry or a Girl who is a Muslim in a post 9/11 America? Why not create a Girl who grows up during McCarthyism in the 1950s and befriends another girl whose parents have been blacklisted?

I was recently discussing this disturbing revelation with some friends of mine from high school, who also had enjoyed playing with American Girls and reading their stories, and between us we came up with at least ten great ideas for new characters from across the scope of American history who could be role models for today's generation of American girls. 

I refuse to accept that this change is indicative of Mattel's belief that women are not strong or intelligent and that they belong solely in the scope of domestic life. I also refuse to accept that Mattel is so lazy and uncreative that they cannot come up with anything possibly more exciting for an American Girl to do besides bake organic muffins. But it's one of these realities that I must accept — either your company does not believe in empowering women, or it is thriving enough off of its own brand that it does not believe in innovation. 

What does our society value? What do we want our young girls and boys to value? As a company that serves to entertain (and once educate) American children, it is your duty to provide the best entertainment and the strongest window towards education as possible. American Girls represent girls of all different races, religions, and creeds from every era; their struggles are the American struggle. By not representing these girls anymore, you no longer have the right to represent America. 

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Daniela Quintanilla

Daniela recently graduated from Columbia University where she served on the managing board of the Columbia Daily Spectator and was an opinion editor and columnist. She has previously contributed to PolitickerNJ.com and served a term as editor in chief of Inside New York.

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