Made the mistake of looking at the american girl doll website. They do still have the old classics for sale… Samantha apparently solves mysteries now? And goes on adventures around Europe?
Girl power is fantastic, it really is. It’s great to tell girls they can do or be anything if they put the effort in. But Samantha was a normal edwardian era girl. She did cross-stitch and curled her hair and followed societal expectations with only the normal rebellion any bored little girl would have.
One of the most amazing things to me about her was that she befriended a lower class girl because she didn’t know better. She didn’t understand why classes needed to be separate because children can be amazing like that. I understood reading that why it was such a big deal too even as a kid.
What I got from reading her books and doing the craft kits and even directing a play about her in elementary school was that she was a normal girl, living in a very different time. But she had empathy for others because that’s what you do, and she made crafts and baked and did a whole bunch of “girly” stuff and that didn’t make her less of a person. I still remember how to curl my hair using rags, and I remember the little playbooks for the play.
The edwardian era was definitely not perfect, and women’s rights have come a long way, but there’s no shame in looking back on those times and remembering a normal little girl who showed empathy to others and didn’t need to solve mysteries or go on adventures to be amazing.
What does it tell girls today when you have to lead the cheer team or run a successful charity drive or solve a mystery or stop a bad guy or teach a bully a lesson to be an american girl? Why do we all have to be the stand out heroes that save the day instead of just a normal girl who befriends another girl because that’s what kids do? It may not be the best story but it taught me a lot more as a kid then any Nancy Drew book did. (I did love me some Nancy Drew though.)
It just makes me sad because the line used to teach us about the real past instead of sensationalizing it, and now the classic characters have to be big heroes and the new girls are all dancers or athletes or barely more than some other trope. Only of them has the elaborate backstory of “loves animals and nature” and wears bunny ears. People are more complex than this. People are never this perfect and teaching girls that they should pick the slot they fit in best is no better than telling them they have to choose dresses or pants, not both.
That being said I will always have a soft spot for the line. They try to do something good by empowering girls, I just feel their current approach is too general and dependent on finding a girl’s “type”.