The American Girl line includes now a doll named Gwen that’s based on a character that is homeless. Created by longstanding manufacturer Mattel, Gwen has come under serious fire
because, as some put it, it sends the wrong message to children playing with it, leaving aside the fact that it shamelessly capitalizes on a very painful and ever-present issue, that of homeless children, The Telegraph
Gwen’s story is a tragic one: she lives with her mother in a car, after her father abandons them and they are left with no means to sustain themselves. Now, Mattel and American Girl have taken this story and this particular character and are making money off it in the most shameless manner.
The homeless doll is priced at a whopping $95, which means that no homeless, little girl will ever be able to afford it, and, what’s even sadder, it’s not even used to raise some sort of awareness on the issue of homeless children, critics say.
“‘What message is being sent with Gwen?’ said New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser. ‘For starters, men are bad. Fathers abandon women without cause. She’s also telling me that women are helpless.’ The dolls send the wrong message to children, argued Tanya Tull, president of Beyond Shelter. She said she was ‘afraid that they’re going to pick up the idea that it’s OK, that it’s an accepted segment of society that some children are homeless and some children are not.’” The Telegraph writes, summing up some of what Gwen’s critics say.
Of course, there are also those who say Gwen can act like a teaching tool, like many other products from Mattel
and American Girl have. By simply basing the doll on the story of a homeless little girl, Gwen can raise awareness on the ever-burning issue of child abandonment without even specifically setting out to do so, those who come to the doll’s defense say. Brian Reid of The Washington Post
, for instance, believes that those who take hits at Gwen have not even read the story to see that it’s in no way meant to send off the message that homelessness is a defining quality of the character.
“If you read the book, it’s a powerful (if over-dramatized) part of the story, underscoring the suddenness of change and the way that it can affect a kid. Homelessness doesn’t define Gwen, but it is part of her story. […] Included in the price of the doll is a ready invitation to talk about the reality of homelessness and the importance of supporting groups that help people back up on their feet. It humanizes an issue that is generally driven beneath the surface, especially with kids. You can argue about whether it ever makes sense to drop nearly a hundred dollars on a doll, but given the thought that went into the Gwen storyline, I certainly don’t see the doll as exploiting anyone.” Reid writes in Gwen’s defense.