Every year, American Girl, a company known primarily for its 18-inch dolls meant to represent girls from all eras of American history, up to the modern era, reveals a brand new Girl of the Year who is made into a doll, given a profession, and marketed to young girls. This year's Girl of the Year is a doll named Grace Thomas, a businesswoman — or as American Girl calls her, a baker.
American Girl dolls aren't cheap. A doll alone will run you around $114, and that's before accessories, outfits, and pets. Consumers can easily spend upwards of $400 buying extras for the dolls. Yet girls still waited in line for hours and drove hundreds of miles to buy Grace on Thursday.
"She's not a pop star or a celebrity," a newscaster reported for Click2Houston over images of young girls playing with Grace. "She's a baker."
The blurb for Grace Thomas on the American Girl site reads:
"This enthusiastic girl loves to bake with friends and invent new recipes. Then a trip to Paris inspires her to try new things — including turning her passion for baking into a business. Will she learn the best way to succeed?"
On the one hand, it's admirable to have a product that holds tremendous sway with 3 to 12-year-old girls pointing out to those girls that they can be successful in the world of business, even at a young age. But there's something slightly troubling about Grace Thomas all the same. In short, she's being relegated all over again to the same old job fictional women too often are.
While running a bakery is just as difficult as running any other small business, it's a job that these fictional businesswomen are pushed into over and over again. Business isn't the goal, nor is running a company or creating a sustainable enterprise. The goal for Grace is warm, cuddly baking, at least according to the products American Girl is selling. For your "business doll" you can buy a "travel coat," and "opening night set" including a pastry dolly with some cakes on it, and a "bistro set" that includes a table and a cute chair.
There will always be some accessorizing for a doll. It's part of the fun, after all. And certainly, there's something to be said for a tiny toy kitchen set being more interesting than a tiny toy accountant's ledger. But this is still a product that reinforces gender norms in a way that can feel downright regressive. And that's disappointing coming from this company especially.
American Girl genuinely tries to focus on presenting positive body images for young girls (unlike, say, Barbie), and it uses its products to try and better society. Grace, for example, uses her books to encourage a year-long fundraising initiative in support of No Kid Hungry, a campaign to end childhood hunger in America.
But if American Girl is going to have a doll that's an "entrepreneur" like Grace, why can't she be a coder, or a CPA, or launch her own news site? For that matter, why can't she just be an "entrepreneur"? Young girls use dolls to imagine a new world, and by making Grace a baker, American Girl has missed a great opportunity to open imaginations to the entire world of opportunity that exists for its most ardent fans.