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American Doll Introduces: Homeless Girl ($95)

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Andrea Peyser for the New York Post: Barbie she's not. Meet Gwen Thompson, the newest addition to the American Girl canon of dolls -- the wildly successful, extremely expensive brand of faux children that are sold out of a four-story town house in the heart of Fifth Avenue.

American Girl Doll

Little children as young as 4 are addicted to these pricey little monsters. It's like middle-American crack.

You have an African-American doll, an American Indian doll. A Jewish one. A doll who "lived" during the Great Depression, and one from the Roaring '20s.

And while you were snoozing, the creators of American Girl, which is sold by Mattel, got bold. They engaged in all-out political indoctrination.

Snuck into the collection is a doll that comes with a biography that is weird and potentially offensive enough to keep Mom running to the Maalox. Gwen, you see, is harboring a terrible secret.

She is homeless. A homeless doll.

In the history books that come with every American Girl doll -- bringing to life these little monsters until impressionable little ones believe they are actual people -- you learn that Gwen's father walked out on the family. Her mother lost her job.

As the little kiddies learn to read about this doll as if she's a human being, one learns that, as fall turned into winter, Gwen's mom lost her grip.

Mother and daughter started bedding down in a car.

For $95 -- more than your average homeless person would dream of spending on a rather mediocre baby substitute -- Gwen Thompson can be yours. A mixed message if ever there was one.

If you'd like a doll desk, doll horse, doll clothes, doll trunk, a medical kit -- suitable for pretending to administer doll drugs -- that will cost you extra. A lot extra. Did I mention how wildly successful this series is?

I'd heard about this doll from a friend, and walked into the American Girl store in Midtown to investigate. I found not a store, but a cult.

I asked to see Gwen, and the saleswoman persisted in referring to the inanimate object as "she."

"She's right over here," she said, pointing me to the "limited edition" doll, identical to all other American Girl dolls except for eye, hair and skin color. And still, your kid will bug you to collect them all.

But what is Mattel subtly selling along with its outrageously expensive progeny?

It seems obscene that a company that prides itself on teaching impressionable children about history and grooming -- you can have your doll's hair done for $20! -- should engage in political preaching. What message is being sent with Gwen?

For starters, men are bad. Fathers abandon women without cause. She's also telling me that women are helpless. And that children in this great country, where dolls sell for nearly 100 bucks a pop, are allowed to sleep in motor vehicles. But mothers don't lose custody over this injustice. Because, you see, they are victims, too.

The saleswoman asked me the age of the child for whom I was buying. I told her 6 -- my kid, at 10, is already outgrowing these things. The woman informed me that the suggested age for American Girls was 8.

That's not who's buying them.

I know many girls as young as 4 who won't let their mothers sleep without the promise of an American Girl.

So take a close look at what your daughter is playing with. Barbie, the feminists long complained, gave girls body issues.

But she never attempted to politically indoctrinate me.

I'll stick with the thin girl.

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16 comments so far | Post a comment now
remaai September 25, 2009, 4:12 PM

I’m not sure what you are trying to imply here - that teaching young girls about the real world is somehow worse than teaching them an impossible standard? Why are you so disgusted by a homeless doll? It seems like you are suggesting to completely censor the real world for children, which when they are very young, is fine, but then you say it tells children “men are bad.” This is rather ridiculous (Or are there a lot of women who walk out on their children and husbands?).

Then what you say gets pretty radical. You described that the doll’s “mother” “allows” her child to sleep in a motor vehicle (an “injustice,” you said). Then you imply that this mother should lose custody (on some confused premise of gender equality), because she cannot afford a place to live. You can’t possibly be suggesting that the correct thing to happen would be for this “doll” to be sent back to her doll father who walked out on them? Then I guess you had doll foster care in mind?

You seem a lot more upset about the doll than about actual homeless people.

Just Sayin' September 25, 2009, 5:26 PM

Funny…I didn’t catch if any of that $95 goes to help the actual real live homeless? This is pure corporate greed right here…

Traci September 25, 2009, 7:23 PM

There is just so much wrong with this article, I don’t even know where to start. Gwen has been available for over 9 months and Ms. Peyser decides to write about her now? Writer’s block maybe?
Ms. Peyser also did not do a good job of checking her facts. American Girl does not have a doll from the Roaring 20’s, nor is Gwen supposed to be a “baby substitute” she is a 9 to 10 year old little girl. Yes, the dolls are expensive, but they can also be found rather cheaply on the secondary market. My daughter has Addy (the 1864 doll whose stories taught my daughter about the underground railroad and Harriet Tubman) and I purchased her for a fraction of her new price on Ebay. Currently I have 4 second hand American Girl dolls that I purchased to donate at Christmas. When I am done with them, they will be clean, have beautiful shiny hair, and new clothes. I can only hope they will bring a smile to some formerly (or almost) homeless little girl who currently resides at the shelter I am donating them to. I wonder what Ms. Peyser is doing for homeless children, besides suggesting that their parents lose custody of them.

Jean September 25, 2009, 8:19 PM

Ha Ha! Way too funny. I laughed as I read the article, but then I laughed harder when I read the comments. I think some people have a difficult time with reading comprehension, or at least understanding the point of the article so they attack to writer — too funny. On a different note, the doll is cute, pretty well dressed, and with clean ,neat hair. I guess she visits the doll shelter to shower. And, I too am curious as to what political statement the company is trying to make by creating this doll. I’ll take Barbie any day over this $95 doll, although, my daughter may feel differently.

Becky September 25, 2009, 9:13 PM

I think this doll is awesome. I wish all profits from the sale of this doll would go to support those children who are living in homeless shelters, or who have no parents, or who live in 3rd world countries who have nothing.
But for those children that do end up with this doll, I hope parents will teach children that sometimes, people do not have homes and they are to be respected and appreciated and valued for who they are, not where they live.
I hope for the parents who purchase this doll that they will write Matel and ask that the profits from this doll be devided between shelters, and those children who have never been adopted.

eb September 25, 2009, 10:25 PM

Don’t you worry, Ms Peyser. Plenty of girls who get this doll will still grow up to be heartless Republicans, just like you. Does Anne Coulter have a penn name?

Anonymous September 25, 2009, 10:52 PM

It is disappointing that an educated and intelligent woman would waste her time writing such an asinine position. There is nothing man bashing about a reality here in American and that reason we can go in our offices and stores so untroubled is we have conditioned ourselves to not notice and distance ourselves. If this doll can expand the dialogue and compassion than hats to Mattel and so sorry for you that you would prefer negative beliefs about your body than encourage an creative way to instill compassion and sensitivity in children and hope that they are not alone or unmentionable or unworthy of positive recogniztion, even if they cannot afford the doll. Their story is being told in a positive manner. Too bad you completely missed the boat.. the river… the message… the point… the opportunity to voice a more positive position for so many who recieve so few. Try again when you find your heart over your image.

rck September 25, 2009, 10:53 PM

Have you read the entire book? Did you miss the part where they move into a new apartment?

Crystal September 28, 2009, 8:22 AM

I don’t get it. How does having a homeless doll have anything to do with political indoctrination? There’s nothing here to be outraged about. If anything it would teach kids to have more sympathy and understanding for people who are less fortunate than them.

Christy Brown October 1, 2009, 6:13 AM

This is one of the worst written articles I have ever read. The logic is so twisted.

Kailey October 30, 2009, 12:05 PM

Do I think it’s ridiculous to pay $95 for a doll? Do I think its cruelly ironic that a homeless doll costs that much? Did I beg my mom for these as a child and end up having 3 of them?
The answer to all of these questions is yes.
The problems that I have with this article is that I think she was looking at two different issue and they did NOT mesh well together, and really just made her look like a terrible person. If you focused on the irony (or outrage) of the money you would spend on a homeless doll, that’s fine.
But the accusations that this doll’s story is either wrong or not worthy of being told is terrible. There’s plenty of girl who would LOVE to be able to connect their own story with a doll, which I believe they have been doing for years. And for others, they can learn about other people’s backgrounds (whether it race, time period, or economic status). Especially in these economic times, Gwen is a doll that can make such events comprehensible to these girls. If I remember correctly, I read an American Girl brand fiction book YEARS ago with a homeless girl in it.
If you lost your job, I’m assuming you would just simply wipe your hands clean of your children? Are you suddenly unworthy of being part of the life of the child you’ve put your last 10 years into?
This isn’t about political indoctrination, it’s about teaching these young girls about the world, history, cultures, and diversity. It certainly isn’t about man-hating. I believe one of the other doll’s closest confidants in the books was her father or grandfather.
If you want to say something about the consumer society we live in, I think you argued that well. But if you are trying to point out the political indoctrination that is going on, you need to work on that a bit, and make it a whole different article.

Lacy Gaito December 2, 2010, 8:00 PM

As the old saying goes, within expert’s thoughts there are few options, but for an individual with the learner’s mind, everything is wide open.

Sophia Gerhauser December 13, 2010, 10:56 PM

Keep all the blog posts coming. I really like reading through your site. Thanks.

Diane March 4, 2011, 10:26 PM

I agree with what everyone else said about the political indoctrination part. The logic is a bit skewed on that.

A lot of people have mentioned that they’re okay with the doll because it teaches children about real life issues and homelessness. Yeah, it teaches about that, but do you really need to pay $95 for that lesson? None of that goes to the homeless; it just goes to a company that’s already making a lot of money. I think there are a lot of other ways to teach your children about homelessness and showing compassion (like taking them to a soup kitchen) that actually help the homeless rather than dishing out $95 to fatten the wallets of rich people.

Megan March 7, 2011, 10:58 AM

Wow I really think that your a grown adult having a fit about what it means to be in the real world. Yes, it’s ridiculous that you have to pay $95 to have this doll, but it doesn’t have some underlying meaning. I think that you are implying that every homeless child’s story has to be the same or that there needs to be gender rights somehow involved in this American Dolls story. Get some dignity and write about things that matter, like homeless children, not homeless dolls.

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