For those of you who aren’t familiar with American Girl, I’ll summarize. American Girl is a collection of dolls, who all have an individual backstory and personality, and who are meant to help educate young girls about different significant historical periods. Felicity was from the American Revolution, Kirsten was a Swedish immigrant from the 1850s, Addy was a run-away slave from the Civil War period, Samantha was Victorian-era, and Molly grew up during World War II; since I was little, they’ve added plenty of more historical dolls, and there are series of books about each one (including a book about the “holidays,” namely Christmas or similar).
The company also started releasing modern dolls, which could be personalized to look JUST like you (but in doll form, and they didn’t introduce curly hair for a while, those weirdos). The clothing and accessories were modern, too. I wanted one, but since I already had a doll (Kirsten, who, by the way, is the best), my parents wouldn’t buy me a second. Boo.
One day, though, I was looking through the catalog, and I noticed that in the holiday section for the modern dolls, they now had a Chanukah outfit and accessories. Maybe it was a sign that I would some day turn into a feminist or something, but I showed it to my parents and told them that it upset me. “Why?” they asked. “Because they’re only doing it just to look like they’re including Jewish people,” I said. I pointed out how all of the accessories were ridiculously stereotypical (a dreidel and menorah), and the clothing was somewhat offensive; the clothing was white and blue, which I pointed out to my parents were the colors of the Israeli flag, but were only considered “Chanukah” colors because people think that if Christmas has colors, so do other, “Christmas-like” holidays. I also didn’t understand why there was a Chanukah outfit, but nothing about the high holy days or Pesach. My parents taught me the word “tokenism,” and I wrote a letter to the Pleasant Company, makers of the dolls, telling them that I, a young customer, was unhappy with the Chanukah outfit.
That’s right, folks. I got offended over something as a KID that today would offend the crap out of me now. This is really impressive, considering that when I was little, I wanted nothing more than to be a Disney Princess. Go figure.
For the record, a couple catalog seasons later, and for the rest of the time we subscribed, there was no Chanukah outfit.
So, why is this relevant? Well, meet Rebecca Rubin. She’s the first Jewish American Girl doll!
My feelings are conflicted. On the one hand, I still find it pretty insulting that the Pleasant Company has to make such a big deal out of their cultural dolls (they did the same thing with Addy, Kaya, and Josefina). I also need to wait and see exactly how they handle the doll’s story: are they JUST going to talk about Chanukah? Are they going to make a huge deal about explaining all of the Jewish culture and faith that’s in the story? Essentially, is Rebecca Rubin going to be “Jewish immigration for dummies?” or is it going to exist as a way for Jewish American Girl fans to connect better to the franchise?
The one thing I hope I’ll appreciate is that part of the character’s story is dealing with Christmas being celebrated in public schools. I still have trouble dealing with the pervasive nature of Christian commercial holidays.
This’ll be the first time I’ve read American Girl books in a million years, so once I actually get my hands on them and see what’s in them, I’ll be updating. American Girl, which is pretty famous for selling merchandise that costs more than a solid gold toilet, is also famous for teaching young girls American (and American immigrant) history through the historical dolls. The history is from the point of view of women and girls, which to me will always make the franchise somewhat positive, even if the commercial aspects drive me abso-positively nuts.