American Girl, Stories, and Representations of Disability

I hadn’t planned on blogging today, other than to reveal the cover for Mira’s Miracle and hint at a contest I’ll run in celebration of its release. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow for those details.

However, I saw a video and a petition, and I changed my mind. Over a year ago, I wrote a call to action decrying the over-representation of white characters in spanking fiction. We had a great discussion, but I was surprised at how many people felt that representation was an option, a privilege, or a luxury to be enjoyed when all other needs had been met. Some of the responses I have heard since then include, “I’m white, so why shouldn’t I write white characters?” Another common refrain is, “I want fantasy, and I don’t want to be bothered with issues of race or representation or equality.”

I wrote:

There is a false idea that all writers are white and all readers are straight and white, or that if there are writers/readers of other variations that they don’t really matter.

I support KT Grant’s Lesbian Fiction Appreciation Event (click for daily posts here) because women need to see strong female characters who aren’t dependent on men for identity and happiness. Lesbian or not, women deserve our own stories. Diverse women deserve our own stories. For KT’s inaugural post, I wrote:

For me, all social action begins with a story. I write for a paycheck (don’t we all?), but I also write to change minds. When we have alternate stories to challenge the mainstream myths that prompt inappropriate questions and comments, we broaden the discussions of what it means to meet and love another person. Why do we assume that M/F is normal and F/F is squicky? What if we lived in a world where the order were reversed?

We need and deserve stories of women, of diverse women, and of women who live complete and fulfilled lives beyond pining for the perfect man.

(click here for the entire post)

I believe that stories change lives, and that as an author my primary tool in effecting social change is to tell a good story.

Then I came across Melissa Shang’s petition, and I took my hat off to this 10-year-old child who is working for the same social change. She wants a doll that looks like her, and she wants one of the biggest doll companies in the US, American Girl, to create a Doll of the Year that has a disability.

No matter what criticisms we might make of American Girl as a company or the expensive nature of their products, American Girl has become one of the primary storytellers of girls’ experiences in the US. Each year, a new doll is launched with a set of books that tells a story of what it means to be an American Girl (a loaded term, for sure!)

We can argue the pitfalls of consumerism, expectations, entitlement, or whatever objections we might have, but what it boils down to is this:

Melissa wants a doll and a story who look like her.

Don’t we all?

I signed Melissa’s petition, and I hope that you will, too.

Please sign Melissa Shang’s petition here.