So. This thing.
If you know me in real life, you know that I have always been OBSESSED with American Girl. I can still rattle off the descriptions of items for sale in the catalog. I remember the magazine so well that there are still probably a few crafts and recipes I know because of it. I recall an especially chilling ghost story in one issue that was written by a girl my age. I remember begging my mother for a doll. I remember reading all the books. I remember starting my own, because you could buy blank books that looked just like the ones in the series (I only ever wrote two, but I hope I still have them somewhere). I remember the billions of letters and book proposals I wrote and sent, hoping to get published. I remember the two times I was published in the magazine. I remember buying the CD-ROM game that allowed you to make “theatre productions” starring the historical characters. I remember when they bought the rights to Amelia’s Notebook. I remember when they bought the rights to Angelina Ballerina. I remember when they launched their first Girl of Today (now My American Girl). I remember fucking everything from about 1995 on. And I loved it.
When I was finally lucky enough to get a doll, I picked Addy, and I don’t know why, because she was rather uninteresting. Actually, I know exactly why – because she was black, and she was my only option if I wanted a doll that looked like me. To be honest, the historical character that spoke most to me was Josefina, probably because her life in Santa Fe was more familiar to me as a Tucsonan than Addy’s life as a runaway slave and then living in Philadelphia was. Also, Josefina had personality and a story, and Addy had no personality. But that’s the doll I bought, and I pretty much exclusively played games with her that made her a contemporary character at boarding school, because that’s what I was into. My Addy lived in a world that was half contemporary, half historical, kind of like Pushing Daisies. I mostly made things for her myself, even going so far as to weave my own fabric that I hoped to make into a skirt (I bought all the character dress patterns when they went on clearance), though that part didn’t pan out. The weaving was beautiful, though, and I would show you if it weren’t at my mother’s house. The amazing thing about American Girl dolls were that they provided you with lots of cool stuff (I’ve always had a thing for miniatures – talk to me about Kitchen Littles, Polly Pockets, or Playmobils sometime) but also forced you to be very imaginative if you were going to have any fun. My friends and I staged photo shoots with our dolls, we wrote letters from one doll to another, we made them books and magazines (okay, that was mostly me. I was doing all of this from about 5th to 7th grade, when other girls were learning that boys didn’t actually have cooties). They were great.
But the company, for all that amazing stuff it does, is totally full of shit. They claim to be dedicated to diversity, which is no surprise, because any corporation that exists has to claim that it’s committed to diversity. Nobody requires or expects them to follow through on their claims. And we keep giving them our money anyway, so they see fit to continue to put out white doll after white doll, privileged character after privileged character. They might make My American Girl dolls with different skin tones, but they use the same face molds every time, so all the dolls are like black Barbie – white doll painted black. Everyone is Christian, except Rebecca and Kaya. Everyone is upper or middle class, except maybe Kit and Addy. Of the five characters of color, two (Ivy and Cecile) are sidekicks, and those same two are already retired.
I could go on and on, and I will in some other post another day, but I want to get to the point of this post in particular. I wrote this letter to American Girl and Mattel, and I’m hoping to get 5000 people to sign it. Won’t you please?
More importantly, today (that’s weird, because I am writing this last night) in just a few minutes, we (my friend Kaye and I – and all of you!) are starting a Twitterstorm so that American Girl can’t ignore this anymore. We won’t accept their platitudes about being dedicated to diversity. They need to show us that they are.
In ten minutes, at 11:30amPST/2:30pmEST, I need you to start tweeting. This is the hashtag: #LiveUpToAmericanGirl. What does it mean? Well, we want them to reassess what it means to be “American” and start honoring all of the types of girls that identify as such. Contrary to popular belief, “American” is not and should not be shorthand for “Blonde upper-middle-class ablebodied WASP from a nuclear family.”
What can you do? A few things.
- Tweet the link to the petition: http://chn.ge/1xrTzYx
- Use the hashtag as a fill-in-the-blank: #LiveUpToAmericanGirl and show us a Girl of the Year/Historical Character with/from [characteristic/marginalized identity/diverse quality].
- Append the hashtag to your tweet about what American Girl means to you now, as an adult, and/or what it meant to you as a child.
- Tell us about your experiences working or shopping in an American Girl store.
- Use the hashtag AND American Girl’s corporate Twitter account, @American_Girl.
- Don’t accept platitudes or bullshit responses if they write back. “We are dedicated” is not an answer. Challenge them. Don’t let up. Make them dig in. Make the people running the Twitter account have to run to their higher-ups to get direction.
- Call out some problematic shit in one of the books. It’s there. They’re great books in many ways, but they’re not perfect.
- Reminisce about the good times.
- Don’t feed the trolls. There will be trolls. Trolls are a sign that you’re doing good work.
- Email your friends and family who are not on Twitter and ask them to watch the hashtag anyway (you can send them a link), or send them a link to the petition, since anybody with internet can sign it, Twitter not required.
- Remind people (unless they are trolls) that this is not about hating American Girl. I’m heading this thing up, so I get to decide. This is not about taking their bullshit, but it’s also not about people hating or talking shit. I am doing this precisely because I love American Girl so much and it hurts that they don’t love me. It is because I think that so much of what American Girl does is so good, so valuable, so fun, that I think they need to cut the bullshit and be better at what they’re bad at. So call out their bad shit, occasionally (but probably less often) tell them what you like, and just don’t let up until they give us some real responses, okay?
Umm. So. I’ll be at work at my regular full-time day job and then at my second job, because that’s the life of a person in her twenties who has two master’s degrees, but I’ll be tweeting as much as possible and checking in at lunch and on my break and so forth. But I can’t do it alone. Even if I didn’t have to work a 12-hour day, I wouldn’t be able to. We were powerful enough to get our parents to buy us these things. We made the company powerful enough to stay alive. Now let’s be powerful together and make them better.