Dolls are in the news recently, particularly because American Girl, Inc., owned by Mattel and makers of the American Girl historical dolls, has come under very significant fire from Donald Wildmon’s right-wing American Family Association for teaming up with Girls, Inc. , an advocacy organization for young women which they claim is pro-choice. If you aren’t worried about appearing to support right-wing organizations by going to their sites, you can read the AFA’s own statement of its concerns. The Girls Inc. site doesn’t acknowledge the controversy, nor does it take an obvious stand on abortion (let alone lesbian rights).
We’ve also been reading about and researching Muslim dolls, thanks to a comparatively recent New York Times article. Fulla, the doll featured in this article, is very Barbie-like, with high-heeled feet and developed breasts. If you poke around on the manufacturer’s rather confusing (to Westerners, anyway) home page, you’ll find that most of her outfits are contemporary and stylish, and the hijab pictured in this article is hard to find.
In comparison, Razanne is a doll with flat feet, small breasts, and a wide variety of all-modest-dress outfits.
In other words, Razanne is in the same relationship to Fulla as the unsexy, historically grounded American Girl dolls are to Barbie.
And they all have related social purposes: they exist to train girls in how to be feminine consumers, and to reinforce parental values. One reason the American Girl controversy is so intense is that, although the American Girl line was not started for these reasons, some parents who want to inculcate conservative non-sexy “family values” have found these dolls very attractive. So those parents feel actively betrayed when the dolls which stand in opposition to the Barbies they distrust are linked to liberally-coded concepts like “empowerment” and “freedom.” Where’s a parent to turn if even the American historical dolls are behaving like feminists?
Similarly, Fulla and Razanne represent different sets of Islamic parental values, and two approaches to training young Islamic girls.
Actually, we agree with Donald Wildmon that dolls have power, and the values inherent in the design of the dolls we play with affect our view of the world.