No childhood left behind

by Rob Horning

14 December 2005


First, the war on Christmas. Now, courtesy of, comes this report of dollmaker American Girl’s attempts to “save childhood.”, the centerpiece of American Girl’s campaign, opens with this mini-manifesto: “Save unicorns. Save dreams. Save rainbows. Save girlhood.” It includes faux testimonials—“By 2010, only 2% of girls will dot their i’s with smiley face”—as well as suggestions for games, tips on dealing with bullies and body image and links to buy merchandise. The copy on the page reads, “The way we see it, girls are growing up too fast. From every angle, today’s girls are bombarded by influences pushing them toward womanhood at too early an age—at the expense of their innocence, their playfulness, their imagination.”

Because we all know women have no imagination. Very thoughtful of the company to include fake accounts of how their product helps children remain childish, too. And the links to buy stuff, well, that’s what being a girl is all about. “Parents know ‘the American Girl products are something they can really do for their daughters versus just another thing they can get,’ said a spokeswoman for American Girl.” Yes, rather than merely burying them underneath an avalanche of toys, you can “do” a gender straitjacket for them by getting toys that prescribe traditional (and subservient) behavior patterns. May as well buy them a copy of Fascinating Womanhood as well.

If corporations weren’t around to tell our children how they should behave, what their youth should be like and what memories they should have, they would really be lost; childhood after all is best defined by the marketeers who seek to exploit it. And if children grow up too fast, if they escape their age bracket before corporations have fully taken advantage of them at that stage and sold them all the expected junk, then “childhood” will truly be dead. We need marketers to enforce the age groups and their product-specific behaviors lest these concepts slip through our fingers. We wouldn’t want our children to have grown up with fewer toys then they might have had otherwise right? How would we face ourselves as parents, if we couldn’t at least fill a moving van with all the useless crap we bought for our kids once they are grown.

What’s really disturbing about this is how the campaign is directed at parents who want to “protect” their kids from the hassles and ambiguities of growing up. It sells childhood as a prison, where your offspring can remain a compliant little treasure to be admired forever. It encourages parents to force their own childhood on their children, so they can later grow up with the same disappointments.

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