Monday, September 17, 2007

New From Mattel: Happy Divorce Girl

My girls had American Girl dolls -- Addy and Kirsten, respectively, for those who know and love the idea. American Girl was born just a couple of years before they were, and the first dolls were just the thing needful when they were ready for dolls. American Girl dolls are fully formed historical characters, with a whole backstory and books to fill in the historical narrative. One of the features that my wife and I, schooled in '70s feminism, most treasured was that each girl had some money of her own.

A few years ago Mattel bought American Girl. They did maintain the old characters, and developed them in coherent ways, but we worried that the American Girls would be Barbie-ized. My own kids aged out of dolls, so I have not kept up carefully. Lately, though, Mattel has brought out a new American Girl doll, Julie Albright, set in 1974. The crucial distinction that Julie has from previous dolls is that her parents are divorced. This is how Mattel describes her:

For Julie Albright, life after her parents’ divorce holds as many ups and downs as the hilly streets of San Francisco. Julie misses her old bedroom, her pet rabbit, her best friend, Ivy—and most of all, having her whole family together.
But Julie begins to see that change also brings new possibilities. By taking charge of her new life, she learns to believe in herself—and that love can hold a family together even when they live apart.


Ah, the "happy talk" divorce of the mid-1970s, when parents had to be free, and kids were expected to just suck it up. Divorce was not treated as a disaster that ended their childhood, but a change that brings new possibilities. You can buy Julie's school locker, complete with Brady Bunch poster (the happy blended family) and a "Hang in there, Baby" poster showing a kitten literally at the end of its rope.

Perhaps the later Julie books in the AG series can include Julie Torn Between Two Worlds and The Unexpected Legacy of Julie's Parents' Divorce When Julie Tries Dating.

6 comments:

Fitz said...

Nice spot...

Truly a "blast from the past", very retro.

The social science is deep and widespread, yet it still runs into the fantasies of entrenched libertines.

And some of them work for toy companies.

david hayes said...

I love dolls that come from divorce...

LMR said...

But there are still alot of kids out there with divorced parents. I would see this toy aimed more at girls coping with their parents' divorce rather than encouraging divorce.

Anonymous said...

Why do dolls have to come with a story? Can't they just be fun to play with? Let's not let political correctness squeeze the fun out of children's toys!

Jessica said...

Kind of annoyed that after making a doll with african american, hispanic and native american heritage they went back to make nothing but blonde blue eyed dolls. Couldn't they have made the asian friend the main character and the blonde as a friend?

Gruntled said...

I agree that it would have been better to have the Asian friend be the main doll. However, the doll designer said that he really wanted to talk about the division in the country in the '70s, and made this poor girl suffer a divorce in order to be a symbol.