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Monday, July 2, 2012

"horrifying historical content built into supposedly innocent items of everyday culture "

The journal Girlhood Studies has run a special issue, edited by Miriam Forman-Brunell, on dolls and girls' culture. The issue includes Elizabeth Chin's great review of my book. Here's an excerpt:

“It is a great pleasure to see a book of this sophistication that takes on children and childhood to argue their centrality in larger issues. From the outset, Bernstein makes it clear that both childhood and child material culture have been key in the discourse and practices of making race and racism in the United States. Especially important is the chapter on Raggedy Ann, which highlights that doll’s ancestral ties to the golliwog and other racist characters. After reading Bernstein’s careful and compelling account of that particular staple of many a girl’s childhood, I find it hard to imagine buying one ever again.

“This focus on the horrifying historical content built into supposedly innocent items of everyday culture is surely the book’s most important point. It is one that I imagine will hit home quite hard with undergraduates in particular; this book would be a great resource for courses on race, children and childhood, power, and U.S. culture. Bernstein is at her best when demonstrating the ways in which the everyday walks a tightrope with balancing exactly those dilemmas most of us claim to have avoided: racism, sexism, and hegemony more broadly. Perhaps more than almost any book I have seen, this one is a vehicle for showing students the paradoxical ways in which even against our will, we are drawn into dynamics of power and inequality in the most subtle and everyday ways. . . .

"It is certainly both striking and disheartening how easily the scripts identified by Bernstein can be applied to . . . present-day items of material culture. The power and relevance of her analysis is thus something we are likely to discover not just in our own everyday lives, but in those of girls for whom [present-day] dolls are ostensibly intended. As the stuff through which much of their understanding of the world around them begins to take shape, these objects of material culture are, as Bernstein richly demonstrates, powerful vehicles for complex agendas usually thought to be far outside the realm of childhood innocence.”

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