on gURL culture circa 1999

by Renee M. Powers on May 21, 2015

---on gURL culture circa 1999---

My early 2000s self was enraptured with online girl culture. I spent so many late nights contemplating teenage issues on gURL.com, editing my MySpace top 8, playing Spades on Pogo.com and many rounds of Kitten Cannon, going on adventures in Kingdom of Loathing, leaving cryptic Dashboard Confessional lyrics in my AIM away message, logging into my Hotmail account, meeting penpals on Teen Open Diary and Yahoo! Groups, all to the dulcet tune of a dial-up modem. I know I am not alone.

There is a specific demographic of women who were internet-savvy teenagers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. We have well-established, specific touchstones that come up quite frequently in conversation. Mean Girls is a cult classic, as is the music of New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, and *NSync. Every once in awhile, someone shares an article on social media featuring old dELiA*s catalogs. AIM away messages have been memorialized through a genius Twitter account. Buzzfeed is great for these nostalgic reminders.

But last night, something on Reddit sparked a fond memory. Before selfies, before SecondLife, before highly customizable WoW characters, even before Yahoo! avatars, teenage girls had Unique Dolls. I hadn’t been reminded of nor thought about Unique Dolls in about 15 years.

doll-image (2)

Unique Dolls were simple graphic dolls that could be built from a library of images. They had bodies like Barbie and poses like Bratz dolls. The variety of clothes and hairstyles were influenced by Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Mandy Moore. Image libraries were sorted by theme: School, Coffee, Winter, Concert, Beach. You could add boyfriends (all reminiscent of boyband members), pets, backgrounds, furniture, and animated stars. When a doll or scene was completed, you could save the image or copy the HTML code to embed it.

I showed my husband my creation last night and he asked, “Does it do anything? Is it interactive?” No. It was meant for LiveJournal, duh.

Many dollmakers still exist and live on domains like Geocities and Angelfire (though I’m sad to say, my favorite from that era has a note that says, “Sorry about the broken images, one of my servers was deleted”). When I found these dollmakers, I nearly cried. I loved building those dolls.

A part of me wants to interrogate Unique Dolls a little further, as my critical academic brain has been trained to do: Why hasn’t this aspect of girl culture been appropriately archived? What do the images say about race/class/teenage culture? Should I be bothered that some of the available libraries are “Chubby,” “Housework,” and “Pregnant?” 

But a bigger part of me just wants to sit with this nostalgia and appreciate it for what it was — fun.

Unique Dolls were a part of my life where I taught myself HTML, wrote in my Teen Open Diary with code names for all my friends and crushes, learned how to navigate discussion forums, and began cultivating my search engine skills. These experiences shaped my interest in internet culture, and here I am today, literally getting my PhD in the internet.

Here’s the best dollmaker I can find that is still available. Under “Dollmakers” click “Preps” and then choose your theme. Give yourself a few hours to play. :-)



Strong Objectivity, some thoughts on Sandra Harding

by Renee M. Powers on March 26, 2015



Research is socially situated, and it can be more objectively conducted without aiming for or claiming to be value-free. The requirements for achieving strong objectivity permit one to abandon notions of perfect, mirrorlike representations of the world, the self as a defended fortress, and the ‘truly scientific’ as disinterested with regard to morals and politics, yet still apply rational standards to sorting less from more partial and distorted belief (Harding, 1991, p. 159).

Objectivity is often touted as “the view from nowhere,” celebrating an unbiased approach to research. Feminist researchers point out that this is an unrealistic goal, as no one can be truly objective. Bias is unavoidable, a fact complicated by the privileged identities of those who have conducted scientific research for much of modern times, i.e. Western white men. These researchers end up developing a science that is not universal. Instead, modern science is heavily influenced by local, historical, and subjective realities of the ruling class. Sandra Harding aptly points out: “’The view from nowhere’ is generated by those who can afford the luxury of ‘the dream of everywhere’” (1991, p. 276). Thus, Harding suggests repositioning objectivity through a feminist standpoint epistemological lens that acknowledges the self as a socially located being with inherent biases.

Strong objectivity requires the researcher to constantly reflect on the situation around her as it relates to her place in the research environment. The self is not an empty vessel for conducting research; it is a socially situated being with values and beliefs that inevitably influence the research process. Harding indicates that the only surefire way to conduct unbiased research is by acknowledging one’s social location through strong objectivity. She writes, “[Feminist standpoint epistemologists] call for the acknowledgement that all human beliefs—including our best scientific beliefs—are socially situated, but they also require a critical evaluation to determine which social situations tend to generate the most objective knowledge claims” (1991, p. 142). Harding goes on to suggest that science cannot be done in a vacuum. As a scientist, refusing to acknowledge one’s position in society negatively impacts the objectivity of the scientific observations. Thus, strong objectivity is a systematic examination of our personal cultures throughout the research project. This can be achieved through rigorous reflexivity. The decisions she makes in the research process must be recorded and justified, with no decisions taken for granted.

Harding, S. (1991). Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Thinking from Women’s Lives. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.


**I am currently writing my dissertation proposal (among other things) and want to share bits and pieces of it as I write. This is what came together today.**


Who Are Millennials?

February 25, 2015

This post originally ran on TwentyTwenty. — There has been a lot of press in the recent years about Generation Y, also known as Millennials. Much of that press has been incredibly negative. We have a great discussion happening in our forums about why Millennials get such a bad reputation, but let’s break down who Millennials are. […]

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August 28, 2014

I’ve been thinking a lot about selfies lately. I’ve been taking them for years, before camera phones turned them into something to share on Facebook and Twitter. Back in my day (circa 2008 lol), we had DailyBooth (RIP) to catalogue our images each day. I don’t see my love of selfies as an act of […]

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A critical scholar’s dilemma: On whose backs are we building our CVs?

August 14, 2014

Last night I added #Ferguson to my Tweetdeck so I could follow the hashtag. Tweets streamed in so quickly that Tweetdeck crashed. My first thought was, “Shit, I wish I had been collecting these tweets.” Because… data. I received a message from a colleague and friend asking if I’d be interested in putting together a panel […]

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Starting a new research project

March 27, 2014

As part of my Digital Ethnography class project on YouTube communities, I’ve created a YouTube channel. You can follow it here and its corresponding Twitter account here. I will be participating in VEDA, or Vlog Every Day in April, in order to look at the ways community and relationships are formed through video blogs. I’m […]

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[What I’m Reading] Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub: Masculinities and Relationships Online

March 12, 2014

Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub: Masculinities and Relationships Online by Lori Kendall (2002) One of the assignments for the Digital Ethnography class I’m taking this semester was to choose a digital ethnography to read and provide a review and critique in class. What drew me to Kendall’s book was its explicit emphasis on gender online. […]

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[Sunday Standouts] February Beauty Favorites

March 9, 2014

I know it’s March, but here’s what I was loving in February! (Follow me on Luvocracy for sneak peaks.) Garnier Skin Renew BB Cream – I love this because it gives a little bit of coverage while evening out my skin tone, moisturizing, and protecting with SPF 15. Coach Poppy Freesia Blossom – I’m super picky […]

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#WomenInspire: International Women’s Day & My Day with Chelsea Clinton

March 8, 2014

Happy International Women’s Day! At the end of my senior year at Saint Mary’s, I interned for Senator Evan Bayh. Through that position, I became involved in the Hillary Clinton campaign and had the opportunity to drive Chelsea Clinton around South Bend. Chelsea is one of the most down-to-earth women I’ve ever met. She is […]

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Why Women’s Privacy is a Feminist Issue

March 6, 2014

A man who took cellphone photos up the skirts of women riding the Boston subway did not violate state law because the women were not nude or partially nude, Massachusetts’ highest court ruled Wednesday. [The Guardian]   Women’s bodies are on display for public consumption, whether we like it or not. Donath (1999) reasons that the body […]

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