The XX Factor

Gwen, the Homeless American Girl

It’s not often I find myself agreeing with Amanda Peyser , cranky-pants doyenne of the New York Post , but it must be said: Gwen, the new “homeless” doll from American Girl , is at best a head-scratcher and at worst a horribly offensive cultural trainwreck.

I don’t quite agree with Peyser on Gwen being a tool of political indoctrination. But selling a “homeless” doll for $95-without any of that money specifically going to homeless charities -is more than a little obscene. It’s also a bizarre choice for a company that makes its bones selling meticulously crafted clothes, furniture, and trinkets for each of its characters. Not a lot of accessory potential here. (Gwen does come with a “a pink headband that doubles as a belt.” Very thrift-store chic!)

Gwen is actually a sidekick in the American Girl-verse: The main attraction is the limited-edition Chrissa , a fourth-grader who moves to a new town and has to deal with a bunch of bullies. As far as I can tell, Gwen is there mostly to show how open-minded and generous the non-homeless Chrissa is.*

Given the extensive research that went into creating Rebecca Rubin, the Jewish American Girl that debuted this spring, I’m surprised at this gaucheness. On the other hand, AG has finally answered my nine-year-old dreams: Chrissa’s other sidekick is a (presumably) South Asian girl named Sonali , who has long beautiful hair and, thankfully, does not come with a sari.

* Which, incidentally, reminds me of the funniest, most brilliantly subtle bit of undermining I’ve ever read in a profile: In a 2005 Elle feature on Emmy Rossum , the Phantom of the Opera star is quoted as saying, “[My] parents taught me to be a very kind person, to be compassionate. That’s something that I have in common with Christine, something I could tap into. At Spence, one of my friends was a girl who was handicapped. And I have a friend who had a craniofacial deformity [like the Phantom].”