Speaking of pseudo-multiculturalism and a girly shopaholic attitude. Check out Elizabeth Marshall’s excellent article on American Girl dolls in the magazine Rethinking Schools: “Marketing an American Girlhood.”
We couldn’t agree more with Marshall’s analysis of the historical fictions (they “encourage a limited independence and emphasize conventional “good girl” behaviors), of race (“this inclusion is superficial and represents the ways in which “difference”, like “girl power” has become a commodity that American Girl market to its consumers”), and the way AG products exemplify some of the worst marketing patterns (that is, “how corporations play on the feminist and/or educative aspirations of parents, teachers, girls, and young women and turn these toward consumption”).
We wrote about American Girl dolls in Packaging Girlhood (“A Series to Buy For’) as an example of the clever marketing of girl power. Because we made a factual error about which dolls were marketed first, our analysis was criticized by some. We have to wonder if people were actually angry because we called out a cultural icon. To many, American Girl promises something different, something akin to valuing the inner girl -- her strength, tenacity, and courage. Maybe that’s why it’s so difficult and disappointing to see how these qualities are tied closely to expensive products interwoven with tired themes about female restraint and accommodation. There’s more too. In the history books, pay attention to what mothers teach their daughters, to the representation of boys, and to who gets called “pretty” or “beautiful” over and over (hint: it’s not African American Addy). As psychologists studying and working with girls, perhaps what bothers us most is the way American Girl, by price alone, sets girls who have against girls who have-not. So much for the inner girl!
We’re back, after a push to finish the manuscript for Packaging Boyhood (to be published this coming November).
Just spoke with a reporter interested in a variety of products targeting girls and promoting self-esteem, like the Rebelle Friendship Bag, a purse that unzips down the middle to make two purses, so girls can exchange with their BFFs, Groovy Girls RSVP line (Respect, Self-expression, Values and Play), and C-Thru perfume, whose spokesperson is a cancer survivor with a message about inner beauty. Guess the marketers who came up with these campaigns were watching the Superbowl when Dove’s “True Colors” commercial interrupted the steady stream of sexist beer fare to launch the company’s enormously successful “Campaign for True Beauty”. (Dang, that was audaciously clever.)
But here’s the difference, and it’s an important difference. Selling a product in a girl- or woman- affirming way and using a percentage of profits to support girl affirming movements, as Dove did for the Girl Scouts, is not the same as using girls’ struggles with self-esteem and anxieties about their appearance as a way to sell a product to girls themselves. As psychologists, we know that self esteem is to often connected to the very things these products cleverly undermine or create anxiety around – being included, having friends, having the right look (or smell?), the right products with the right brands.
In PG, we talk a lot about how marketers co-opt girl power to sell an image of a girl empowered. There’s some of that here (yeah, sure, a girl can “Rebelle” like a teen by buying a cute little purse; she can “express herself” by buying a look that someone else created), but the Rebelle and Groovy Girls campaigns add an online dimension with diverse girls hawking their self-esteem enhancing wares. The girls don’t really embody difficult cultural identities— it’s a pseudo-multiculturalism because it all comes down to what these different girls have in common—their love of these products, and a girly shopaholic attitude.
If people behind these products were really interested in girls' friendships across racial lines, they wouldn’t reduce race to the shared love of shopping; if they really wanted to support girls’ relationships, they wouldn’t sell them products designed to announce their exclusivity and popularity; and if they were really interested in girls self esteem they wouldn't reduce it to having things. Come on girls, rebel for real—don’t buy it!
Well, you've heard from us quite a bit about the trend in dollZ to encourage little girls to play with teen dolls and everything marketers think that "teen" means. That is, Bratz and their followers party, have a passion for fashion, drink "juice" drinks in cosmo glasses, fly in jet planes, shop, and hang out in hot tubs. WELCOME MALIA AND SASHA to the world of teens. TY has made two dolls, Sasha and Malia, to match their other dolls. They're the same height, look very teen, and even have breasts. What's going on here? And they surround them with butterflies and hearts... typical little girls, soon to be partying little teens? Why couldn't they have found out what Sasha and Malia really like? Give them each a dog and a leash? Nope -- reduced to stereotyped little girls but advanced to preteen age. If I were Michelle, I'd call up TY and say while you might want other little girls to grow up too soon,leave mine alone!