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A Requiem for Molly, the “Archived” American Girl Doll

Cover of Meet Molly

Molly looked EXACTLY like me, so of course she was the American Girl I was least interested in. Kirsten was my favorite.

Anne Helen Petersen reflects on American Girl dolls, childhood consumerism, and the values we absorbed in spite of ourselves in a piece that articulates feelings I didn’t even know I had.

I’m not, strictly speaking, a Molly. I had a Samantha and a Kirsten, and both of them spoke volumes about who I wanted to be (privileged, so well dressed, urban) and who I was (Scandinavian, solidly built, rural). Chiara Atik has already written the definitive statement on what your doll says about you, and I don’t disagree with her assessment of Molly-owners:

If you had Molly, you probably wanted Samantha instead, but contented yourself with Molly because you too wore glasses, liked books, were bad at math, and would concoct various schemes to get attention. (Oh, Molly.) If you were a Molly, and had a Molly (as opposed to being a Molly and aspirationally owning a Felicity), you were imbued, then and now, with an immutable sense of self. At least Molly could tap dance, which is frankly more talent than any of the other girls exhibited.

Truth: Molly was the least showy and, at least of the original, lily-white, middle-class American dolls, the only one with any sort of class consciousness. It was a consciousness enforced by the war, but still, the book’s renderings of thrift were my introduction, other than A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, to what it meant to sacrifice, and how to substitute the feelings of resentment with those of purpose and solidarity.

I look back on my own years spent poring over the American Girl catalog with a red pen, circling the exceedingly expensive swag I wanted from Santa for Christmas, and baking petit fours for the American Girl Doll Club, and it’s hard not to view it all with a strong sense of cynicism. But the books were another matter: sure, they were another way for the Pleasant Company and later Mattel to get me to empty my parents’ wallets, but I think they taught me more than I realized. For better or for worse, maybe, but mostly I think for better.

Au revoir, Molly McIntire.

not a pretty girl: THE GIRLENING

The response to not a pretty girl has been INCREDIBLE (I had nearly more than 600 visitors and more than 1000 views on October 11, at which point I had to go have a lie down with Elysian Brewery’s imperial stout). People have been bringing up awesome points all over the place that I want to discuss at greater length. But first! I totally forgot in my rush to get that thing finished in the first place that one topic I wanted to talk about was YA media that I think do a good job of dealing with the many different ways of being a teenage girl — the stuff that I would steer a teen toward if she asked me for recommendations. So here are some of those!

You don't always have to be who they want you to be, you know.

I didn’t see this movie until SENIOR YEAR because something was dreadfully wrong with me.

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Aside

not a pretty girl, epilogue

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

And I REALLY love Xena and Hilary Clinton and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman and Wonder Woman and Sandra Day O'Connor and Oprah...

Hey, thanks for sticking through all of that!

Because I’m only human and my thoughts on these kinds of identity politics are constantly evolving, and because I ended up covering several more topics than I originally intended to, and because I’ve only had one cup of coffee today (what???), I may have said stuff you disagree with, or stuff you want to discuss more, or stuff that’s just straight-up confusing. I love conversation and I always appreciate the chance to learn more and hear other viewpoints. In the interest of keeping any discussion streamlined, though, I’m restricting comments to just this post.

Thanks for reading!

Further recommended reading/viewing:

Got other stuff we should be reading? Drop it in the comments below!

not a pretty girl, pt. 3

Done looking for the critics ’cause they’re everywhere
They don’t like my jeans, they don’t get my hair
Strange ourselves and we do it all the time
Why do we do that? Why do I do that? Why do I do that?

-P!nk, “F**kin’ Perfect”

Part 1
Part 2

While working on this post (originally it was just going to be one post, WHOOPS), I emailed my mom and asked her what books she read with female protagonists growing up. My mom was (and is) a great reader, and got in trouble as a kid for reading when she was supposed to be napping. So what was she reading under the covers when she was our age? What were the heroines like, pre-1970 and the Womens’ Rights movement? She wrote back:

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not a pretty girl, pt. 2

I am not a pretty girl
that is not what I do
I ain’t no damsel in distess
and I don’t need to be rescued
so put me down punk
maybe you’d prefer a maiden fair
isn’t there a kitten stuck up a tree somewhere

-Ani Difranco, “Not a Pretty Girl

Part 1

We get these ideas from a few different places, I think.

First, we define the Other Girl. We may not even know any Other Girls — I certainly didn’t. Every girl in my class was as smart or smarter, as nerdy or nerdier, as I was, and I can’t think of anyone I knew before college who even got close to the Other Girl stereotype. But the Other Girl is very much what we’re fed as an ideal by all kinds of American media. She’s the Covergirl. She’s bouncing through our movies and our advertising and our books, blonde by hook or by crook and there to attract men. She’s Cosmopolitan, she’s Sex and the City, she’s years upon years of Miss America pageants, she’s Barbie, she’s most of the contestants on America’s Next Top Model.

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not a pretty girl, pt. 1

God help you if you are an ugly girl
‘Course too pretty is also your doom
‘Cause everyone harbors a secret hatred
For the prettiest girl in the room
And God help you if you are a phoenix
And you dare to rise up from the ash

-Ani DiFranco, “32 Flavors

There’s a trope in YA lit that I’ve seen get called out a fair amount in recent months on the tumblogs, arising in part from the boom in YA speculative fiction aimed at girls that followed Twilight‘s success. Our heroine, introducing herself/being introduced, describes herself as roughly this:

  • i just never felt attractive even though by some standards i’m kind of okay i guess i’m thin and white with shoulder length brown hair and big eyes
  • i’m very mature for my age very grown up yes yes serious

That’s from Tumblr user delladilly’s list of tropes that are getting too much play in YA lit at the moment. (The first part is also well worth reading, as are her follow-up posts on how hard it is to find diverse characters and plotlines in YA and why YA is great in spite of the work it still needs to do on itself.)

Bella Swan (and her adult counterpart Anastasia Steele) is by far the best example of this. She describes herself as plain, pale, brunette, klutzy; she has trouble connecting with her peers and prefers to bookworm away with classic literature like Wuthering Heights. She wears flannels and drives a pickup truck and doesn’t like to shop:

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The Geek’s Prayer: Spirituality, comfort, and conviction in SF lit

Rowena Morrill's cover for "A Swiftly Tilting Planet" by Madeleine L'Engle

“A Swiftly Tilting Planet.” Novel by Madeleine L’Engle; painting by Rowena Morrill.

… That’s a very long title for a post that probably won’t live up to it.

I’ve been rereading a bunch of books lately, including some of Diane Duane‘s Young Wizards series. (I just bought her revised and updated versions of the first seven books for my Kindle; she has a sale that I think ends today that you should totally go take advantage of.) A couple nights ago a friend got me thinking about the intersection of Shakespeare and the Young Wizards universe, and I ended up rereading the Wizard’s Oath in order to translate it into iambic pentameter, as one does:

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