We continue our Special Guest Dad series with this contribution from reader Kevin McKeever. Kevin describes himself as “a recovering journalist, corporate-chaos survivor and former full-time telecommuter.” He’s a WAHD; you can read his work-related stuff here, and his everything-else-related stuff here. In this piece, Kevin considers the American Girl Phenomenon, which, frankly, I know nothing about, but probably should, since I have a daughter who may end up liking dolls and Louisa May Alcott books and such.
You go, American Girl. Go, now.
Nothing says “female empowerment” quite like women using capitalism to cash in on female empowerment.
I have seen it up close, dear friend. It is called the American Girl doll/book/movie phenomenon.
For those without little girls or good credit lines, American Girl dolls were created by a mid-Western woman who wanted better role models for girls than the bodacious airline hostess Barbie dolls of her day.
She succeeded. She succeeded so well, she sold the company in 1998 for $700 million … to Barbie’s maker, Mattel. Now, the woman, Pleasant Rowland, is taking her money and essentially remaking Aurora, N.Y., in her own American Girl image, much to the displeasure of some of the natives.
Conceptually, I have no problem with AG. The dolls all have historical, fill-the-world-with-love-and-goodness backstories (Slave girl helps with the Underground Railroad! Hippie chick saves bald eagles!) supported through books, videos and a soon-to-be-released Major Motion Picture.
Values, character, etc. – I’m down with that. Beats Bratz and their “passion for fashion.”
But, being in the Land of the Free Enterprise System, they tie all that wholesomeness into selling you not just the dolls at 90 bucks a pop but also the doll’s accessories (Own the slave girl doll’s bird in a cage for $18! Buy the hippie chick doll’s picnic gear for camping out to watch bald eagles for $48!). Don’t forget life-size clothes for your girl that look like the dolls’ clothes.
And, your precious girl needs them ALL!
I’ll give AG props for chutzpah and quality. The stuff they shill is definitely more substantial in terms of size and material than say those flimsy, teeny Polly Pocket toys my daughter was into for a while. I still occasionally find them under furniture or in the dog’s digestive remains.
Well, in April, me and the 8-year-old took a day trip to Chicago for her quarterly appointment with the juvenile dermatomyositis specialist (she’s doing very well, thanks for asking). As part of our appointments, we always visit the American Girl Place there. It’s her reward for enduring all the blood draws, pills, injections, nights in traction boots to stretch her ankle muscles and periodic medical procedures over the past six years. They should make an American Girl doll out of her, for crying out loud.
So, there she is, skipping up the “Miracle Mile” of Chicago’s glitzy Michigan Avenue shopping district. Arms swaying, safari hat perched on her head, a blissful blur in pink and white stripes that only stops to ask how many more blocks ’til we get there.
We arrive five minute before the store opens. She’s looking at the window displays, telling me what she likes and doesn’t like.
Now, she’s detailing exactly what three things she wants. She knows because she has pored through the AG catalog (which seems to arrive weekly in our mailbox), made thick colored marker circles around 85 percent of the items, and then narrowed it down to a Holy Trinity of American Girlness. This is because she knows that while I am a sucker, I am a sucker with financial limitations.
“I added it up with the calculator,” she exclaims, “and they only cost $126!”
Hey, math skills being learned here. American Girl is THAT good!
It’s now 10 a.m. on the dot. A man in a navy blue custodial uniform unlocks the door. “Come on in,” he says.
The AG store in Chicago is three floors of red, pink and purple pre-teen paradise (add green if you own stock in Mattel, of course). Being a Wednesday morning, this is the first time I’ve been in the place without it being wall-to-wall girls dressed just like the AG dolls they are cradling in their arms.
There was also no snaking queue of moms waiting to pay an AG stylist $20 to give a ponytail-flip-with-braid ‘do to their princesses’ “Just Like You” doll. The café was silent, waiting for parent-child bonding over afternoon tea at $17 a head.
Then I saw a fellow Dad. He asked a saleswoman if they sold Girl Scout uniforms for the dolls.
No, she said, but the closest thing would be this doll’s summer camp outfit. Then you could get the camp tent and backpack and camping accessories …
I now know exactly what that vacant, dead man’s stare of helplessness looks like that I give my wife every time she tells me about the latest home improvement idea she got from watching HGTV.
So, $137.66 later (note: must teach girl about sales tax), we were on our way. But first, I needed to make a pit stop.
I stopped a male security guard walking past me on the basement level. “I see the big ‘Women’s Restroom’ sign,” I said, pointing out the obvious in front of us, “but where is the men’s room?”
His eyes rolled.
“You’re not going to like this,” he sighed. “Two floors up, in the back, tucked around a corner from the customer service desk.”
“We all complain about it,” he then added. By “we,” he was obviously referring to only the other male members of the store staff. You could tell.
“Well, I’m sure they are fixing that when you move to the new, bigger store across the street this fall,” I said.
“Oh, no,” he said. “Same location in the store. But it’s a bigger store and a longer walk. We all fought for that one, but it’s not happening.”
I guess it’s true. Payback is a bitch.