Feminism, Pop-Culture | Posted by Julie Z on 06/11/2009

Rebecca Rubin: The First Jewish Doll

Kit, Josefina and Molly! YAY! 


Kit, Josefina and Molly! YAY!

Remember American Girl Dolls? It used to be a huge thing to have one of those dolls. Every one had its own little story. Dolls with identities. There was Samantha, who was from the Victorian era, and Felicity, who lived during the American Revolution and plenty of others. 

These dolls were fun because they actually had substance- a story, something to teach us. Maybe the lessons weren’t really expansive (I didn’t actually know anything about my Samantha doll other than the Victorian era epithet) but I preferred introducing a doll in that way rather than with an, “isn’t she pretty?” And I like that a doll company thinks that way, too. At least in theory.

Well, on June 2nd the first Jewish American Girl Doll, Rebecca Rubin, was introduced. Further proving that Mattel isn’t going to stop until they have a doll that represents all the girls in their targeted demographic. 

Rebecca Rubin: The Jewish Doll

Rebecca Rubin: The Jewish Doll

And I mean, it’s cool that there’s a Jewish doll. I’m glad there is some type of outreach towards Jewish girls, trying to get them to be proud of their heritage. If being able to say “my doll is Jewish, too” helps young girls deal with the fact that their religion is a minority and often grossly misunderstood, then great. But I’m still not entirely sure what it means for a doll to be Jewish.

Rebecca Rubin is a Russian-Jewish immigrant girl who moves with her parents and beloved grandmother Bubbie, and tries to assimilate into American culture. She even comes with her own challah and Sabbath candles! Which is not necessarily stereotypical…I mean they sort of have to prove that the doll whose face was made from the same molding as the Latina doll really is Jewish.

Now I’m sure there was a lot of thought that went into this doll: focus groups, research and many revisions in order to make sure the doll would be sensitive and accurate to real, live Jews. And I think it’s great that maybe this doll, and the books that are written along with the dolls, will help girls who never would have thought about Judaism at such a young age find religious diversity as a reality.

But by stereotyping diversity, which we believe is the only way a six year old girl can digest the concept, are we actually doing kids a disservice? Sure they’ll know a little about Judaism now, (I can see it now: “You’re Jewish? Do you have a bubbie too?”)…but what does that really mean? And what are we saying about cultures, not just this Jewish doll, but the African American doll and the Native American Doll, by deducing complicated worlds into manageable sizes?

I’m all for diversity, and I understand YES these are dolls and YES they’re for little kids. But in promoting this diversity it seems that they’re just creating more shallow stereotypes. It’s cool to try to get across the message that we should celebrate our differences- but we shouldn’t minimize the differences that do exist.

Just for funsies- ABC news made an excellent observation: Rebecca Rubin is also an eco -terorrist. Which leads me to wonder…after “years of research” did they not google the name? 

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  • Kyla @ at 11:46 am, June 16th, 2009

    Such a good point about these dolls and pseudo-diversity! I totally grew up reading American Girls (although I never had a doll…that I can recall). Thanks for the food for thought. And Welcome to NCRW, Julie! Good to have you with us :)

  • Gwen: The Homeless Doll | Pop-Culture | fbomb @ at 11:15 am, October 10th, 2009

    […] not kidding. The same people who brought you Rebecca Rubin,  Jewish doll by day, eco terrorist by night, are now introducing Gwen, the Homeless […]

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