On Christmas morning, untold numbers of girls will rip open packages hoping to find an American Girl doll. The lucky ones will receive a prized possession of modern childhood, a little figurine to dress, comb, hug, and otherwise dote upon. Because these dolls are so loved, there aren't many companies with a more wholesome image than American Girl.
So why is this popular dollmaker now giving money to a group that supports abortion rights?
That's what a growing number of consumers want to know. Since 1986, they've bought more than 11 million American Girl dolls. They've also purchased more than 105 million "character books" that teach lessons about history, patriotism, and family values. Yet none of this has inoculated the company against a problem that began in September, when American Girl launched its "I CAN" program. According to a press release, this endeavor helps girls "tell the world they are capable of anything they set their minds to." They are encouraged to buy $1 plastic bracelets and sign pledge cards that declare, "I can be myself, follow my dreams, and always do my best. I can reach for the stars, lend a hand to others, and be a good friend. I can make a difference! I promise to try."
Nobody on this side of the He-Man Woman Haters Club has an issue with that kind of rhetoric, of course. A central feature of the "I CAN" campaign, however, is American Girl's financial support of Girls Inc., a non-profit group that endorses abortion rights. American Girl has pledged $50,000 to the group, in addition to 70 cents for every "I CAN" bracelet it sells.
On its website, Girls Inc. calls itself "a national nonprofit youth organization dedicated to inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold." Its "major programs" include "math and science education, pregnancy and drug abuse prevention, media literacy, economic literacy, adolescent health, violence prevention, and sports participation."
Girls Inc. is based it New York, but it also has an office in Washington, D.C., where it lobbies for something called the Girls' Bill of Rights. This document has six planks. Here's the fourth: "Girls have the right to accept and appreciate their bodies." Although Girls Inc. says that "family is the primary source of information about sex," it also declares that "girls need and have a right to ... convenient access to safe, effective methods of contraception." Girls Inc. goes on to proclaim its support for "a woman's freedom of choice, a constitutional right established by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 in Roe vs. Wade."
Shortly after American Girl announced its financial partnership with Girls Inc., the American Family Association and the Pro-Life Action League expressed their dismay. They urged their members to contact American Girl by phone, fax, and e-mail. The Pro-Life Action League has threatened to launch a consumer boycott of American Girl if the company does not end its relationship with Girls Inc. by November 1.
In response, American Girl, which is owned by Mattel, issued a statement: "We are profoundly disappointed that certain groups have chosen to misconstrue American Girl's purely altruistic efforts and turn them into a broader political statement on issues that we, as a corporation, have no position." The company also said that its support of Girls Inc. was limited to "three distinct programs": "One builds girls' skills in science, math, and technology, another develops leadership skills, and a third encourages athletic skills and a collaborative spirit."