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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Raising an American girl

My daughter never had an American Girl doll, because I was too cheap to spend that kind of money, even if each doll had a history back story and authentic clothing and accessories.

Instead, she read a series of books set during different historical eras. The heroine would interact with history while choosing between two suitors. (She usually went for the poor guy, but not always.) Much cheaper.

Girls can learn U.S. history through the wildly popular dolls, which include a pioneer girl, a Virginia colonist and a polio survivor, writes Meilan Solly in Smithsonian Magazine. In addition to the historical dolls, there's now a line of modern dolls whose stories are unwritten.

American Girl's earliest historic dolls. Photo: Smithsonian Magazine

American Girl dolls are smart, strong and capable of meeting challenges, writes Jessica Grose, who has two young daughters, in the New York Times. They have a can-do spirit.

Kit Kittredge, for example, is an aspiring journalist living through the Great Depression. Her tagline is “weather hard times with grit and gratitude.”
. . . There’s Nanea Mitchell, who lived through the attack on Pearl Harbor; Addy Walker, who escaped slavery in North Carolina; and Josefina Montoya, who lives in New Mexico when it’s still part of Mexico.

The stories "highlight a cultural narrative of continual progress for girls and women," writes Grose. "When I played with the dolls in the late 1980s and early ’90s, the prevailing message I absorbed was that girls could do anything and be anything — girl power!"

Now she worries that progress "doesn't feel inevitable." Her daughters' "right to bodily autonomy is more conditional."

American women who feel that way should meet the challenges of the day by campaigning and voting for state legislators who reflect their views on abortion rights. Kit Kittredge and Addy Walker wouldn't give up.

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Boys, on the other hand, are vulgar and violent. They can do nothing and be nothing.


As a young man, I read tons of historical fiction, especially the "You were there..." series of books. Most of these had strong male role models (although, not all. Marie Curie was in there and a couple of others). Given that we have eliminated strong male role models on TV, perhaps we could bring these books back.

I don't count superheroes, as I consider them fantasy. How can a boy try to emulate Superman or Batman? We also no longer have cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, army men or any of the other "male play" (my sister usually took part, bit never mind) we used to have. There is unquestionably a movement to remove strong men from the culture.

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