Those of you who do not have daughters, granddaughters, or little girls who are a part of your life probably did not react to our title to this discussion. Those of you who do have connections to young girls in the early part of the twenty-first century know exactly what the title refers to and what it means. When our daughters were small, the doll of choice was called "Barbie." Barbie was a voluptuous doll with elaborate hair and with hardware to match everything you can imagine a female human doing. There was Barbie clothes for the beach, for the prom, for work, for skiing, for horseback riding, for playing soccer, and for camping, just to mention a few. Our youngest daughter was especially enamored with the Barbie phenomenon and wanted all the hardware that went with it--the furniture, the toy cars, the Barbie sunglasses, the hairbrushes and eye make up, and even Ken--the male Barbie.
I always resisted the Barbie business because so much emphasis was put on her figure, her clothes, her makeup, and her hair. I was glad to have my little girl playing with dolls because her older sister was usually out in the neighborhood beating the neighborhood boys at football, basketball, softball, and strength training; and one tomboy in the family was enough. I was not happy with the emphasis on things with sexual connotations.
Apparently the originator of the "American Girl" had a similar experience and decided to do something about it. The start of the American Doll phenomena was in the early 1980s with the company being formed in 1986. What has developed is a series of dolls portraying life as a little girl from 1764 to today. Here are some examples. The doll from 1764 is Kaya who is a Nez Perce girl. The doll from 1774 is Felicity Merriman, a colonial girl whose father wants America to be independent. The doll from 1824 is Josefina Montoya who lives on a ranch in New Mexico. Samantha Parkington is the 1904 doll who lives when telephones and automobiles are being invented. Kit Kittredge is a girl living during the Great Depression. Molly McIntire lives in Illinois during World War Two. Julie Albright lives in 1974.
Each doll has a series of books telling its history--what it was like to be a little girl at the time the doll represents. The dolls are little girls, not voluptuous divas from the tabloids. They have all kinds of hardware--beds, closets, bureaus, purses, shoes, pajamas, tape recorders, gym equipment, hats, dogs, horses, and even wheelchairs. You can take your doll to a place like their store in Chicago where we went with our granddaughter, and have the doll's hair done. There is a doll hospital where dolls can be fixed. We went to a tea and a floor show while we were there. This is a big business. The company has ten locations and employs 1,800 men and women, with 4,700 during the holiday season. The store we went to was packed with little girls and their parents and grandparents.
At this point you may be wondering why in the world we have all of this in a journal that is dedicated to apologetics and promoting the teachings of Jesus Christ as the only way to successful living. I believe the American Girl doll company can teach us all a lot of lessons, and here are a few that I learned while spending a whole day in their store.
Lesson 1: Little Girls Are Still Little Girls. Our culture has been saturated with the idea that gender equality means abandoning all traditional roles. The Barbie doll mentality presented successful womanhood as having a Dolly Parton type figure, having beautiful hair and skin, having wonderful sexy clothes, and having lots of toys--fancy cars, an airplane, jet setting around the globe, and a handsome boyfriend (Ken). All of these were toys to own and to show your womanliness. The American Girl store we were in is in downtown Chicago, and it was hard and expensive to get to. I could not believe how many little girls there were in the store. Our own granddaughter took two steps into the store and bee-lined to a doll she had already heard about and wanted. All over the store there were little girls hugging dolls, combing their hair, reading to them from the books that told about the doll, and begging their parents and grandparents for the books and other accessories that the store offers. The notion that our culture has outgrown the natural tendencies of girls to be mothers, to have families, to care about loving and caring for others, and to be interested in the past is not supported by the evidence.
I had expected the day in the American Girl store to be pretty boring. What I found was that there were a lot of fathers and grandfathers with whom I had a lot in common. All of us were concerned about helping our daughters and granddaughters grow up to be godly women who understand and want their role in life to be constructive, positive, and uplifting. All of us want our girls and granddaughters to have a positive view of males, and watching fathers and grandfathers interact with these girls was a wonderful experience. We see in the media the terrible pictures of abused girls and the vicious attempts of adults to make girls engage in activities of an adult nature. Some of the justification for these activities is the notion that the modern world has made dolls and dollhouses obsolete, that modern girls do not want to engage in the things that women in the past have had an interest in, and the American Girl success shows clearly that is not true.
God's word teaches clearly that there are roles for men and women. The role of men is an area that has boundaries that have been seriously challenged in recent years--that of leadership in the spiritual matters of the home. Perhaps one of the reasons for this leadership being challenged has been that the role of motherhood and caring and nurturing the children in a family has been denigrated by the media. Little girls are still little girls. They want to role play and have the opportunity to love and care for those who cannot care for themselves. Stifling that natural desire and minimizing the importance of it is a serious error our culture continues to make. Titus 2:4 instructs older women to "train the younger women to love their husbands and children, ... so that no one will malign the word of God." In our culture that is a command that has been neglected, and children show its importance and how receptive they are to this kind of instruction.
Lesson 2: The American Family as God Gave It Still Is Dominant in Our Culture. It was interesting to me that those of us who were adults in this doll store had so much in common. Grandfathers would cluster and share stories and experiences that all of us could relate to. Watching fathers and grandfathers interact with the little girls was amazing because there were so many similarities. As a public school teacher I have seen a huge number of girls who have been abused by male family members. These girls are fearful, suspicious of all males, defensive, and insecure with their own femininity and actions. The same games that I play with my granddaughters I saw other grandfathers playing. I can kid my granddaughters and they do not get offended. I can pick them up and hug them and they do not pull away. I can say "no" and they do not get upset. The girls are secure, free of fear, and happy. We did not hear crying and tantrums in the store. The theater presentation was in a room that held 161 people and at least 100 of those had to be little girls, and they were attentive and enthusiastic during a program of singing done by young teen girls.
In talking with the adults who were there we found that many had come from quite a distance to be at this doll store. They felt it was important to nurture their daughter's natural interest in dolls. Discussions with the adults revealed they were universally interested in spiritual things, and everyone I talked to was active in his local Church. These were fellow Americans who share my concerns about family and God and rejoice in what is right about America.
Lesson 3: Parents Do Still Have Positive Options. All of us know the warning in 1 Corinthians 15:33 that tells us that evil companions are a corrupting influence. In this age of filthy television, immoral movies, violent video games, and pornography on all sides there is a huge challenge to parents to provide children with entertaining things that do not promote immorality and violence. To see a doll store full of wide-eyed children who were excited and thrilled with what they were seeing and doing was a great experience. It was interesting that the day after going to the doll store we decided to take the children to the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The Field Museum is near Soldier Field, and the Bears were playing a game on the day we went to the Field Museum. People lugging liquor and swearing at each other were all around us as we parked. We visited the aquarium and the various museums, and inside we found kids watching the porpoise show, thrilled with the Komodo dragon, excited with watching chicks hatching, enjoying watching a toy made by a robot, and fascinated with the mummies from Egypt and the dioramas showing wildlife in their natural setting.
The children who were in all of these places had parents who cared about the education and influences upon their children. They sacrificed money, time, and energy to take their children to places where they could have positive experiences. Kids were not relegated to the television set or left to play video games for hours. God tells us to "train up the child" and that involves working at positive, exciting, educational experiences. We do have options, but we have to care enough about our children to exercise them and make the sacrifices that allow the best childhood possible. American parents do have options.
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