Tuesday, October 25, 2005

"American Girl" Under Fire

Most are familiar by now with the "American Girl" line of products: the dolls and storybooks that are modeled after various parts of American history. Originally a Wisconsin start-up, "American Girl" is now owned by Mattel, though the products are still manufactured in Madison.

Not surprisingly, "American Girl" products have been quite popular with conservative Americans. But that could be changing. "American Girl" has recently begun offering an "I Can" bracelets promotion, which is designed to raise money for Girls, Inc., an organization dedicated to empowering and educating girls and young women. One of the areas they teach about is reproductive rights, which has conservative religious groups up in arms.

From the Baptist Press:

The popular American Girl doll and book series has entertained millions of young girls through the years, but could one of its products actually be benefiting an organization supportive of abortion rights and homosexual causes?


"Parents need to know that this effort to promote self-esteem among girls is not as innocent as it seems," Ann Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, said in a statement. "While Girls Inc. has some good programs, they also support abortion, oppose abstinence-only education for girls, and condone lesbianism."

(Just as an aside: I love the air of breathless titillation the Baptist Press uses to stir latent horror at this lusty sinfulness. Oh, the shame!)

So what does Girls Inc. have to say about these accusations?

We recognize that any sizable group of girls includes those who face issues related to their sexual orientation or that of a family member and who face discrimination based on this sexual orientation. Girls have a right to positive, supportive environments and linkages to community resources for dealing with issues of sexual orientation.


We recognize the right of all women to choose whether, when, and under what circumstances to bear children. Reproductive freedom and responsibility are essential to other rights and opportunities, including pursuit of education, employment, financial security and a stable and fulfilling family life. Restrictions of reproductive choice are especially burdensome for young women and poor women. Girls Incorporated supports a woman’s freedom of choice, a constitutional right established by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 in Roe vs. Wade.

Elsewhere on their website, Girls Inc. does encourage an abstinence-only lifestyle, though they clearly advocate for responsible use of birth control if the alternative is chosen.

Leading the charge against the forces of female empowerment is the American Family Association, an anti-choice advocacy group pushing a petition to boycott "American Girl" products.

From their site:

Girls Inc. has on their webpage a statement saying they particularly support abortion and a girl's right to abort an unwanted baby. They were quite clear about their support for Roe, so there is no mistake or room for confusion on that count. Additionally, Girls Inc. supports contraceptives for girls.

They also support and offer resources encouraging lesbian and bi-sexual lifestyles, actually offering resources for girls. One of their publications states, "The emergence of a lesbian identity is an ongoing process, rather than an event."

Once again, it's a conservative group dead-set against women having any rights over their own bodies. Sex is somehow ordained to be the "property" of men and women are immoral if they want any control over their sexuality. How this archaic mindset can continue is a mystery.

Opposition to abortion I can understand, at least on its face. If a person really and truly believes that abortion is murder, then they cannot help but be opposed to it. But contraceptives? The number one cause of abortions is unwanted pregnancies, which, oddly enough, is exactly what contraception is designed to prevent. Put another way: it is impossible to be against abortion and against birth control at the same time and remain morally consistent. Unless, of course, the purpose of anti-choice groups is not to stop abortions but instead to control the sexuality of women...

The stance against lesbianism makes no sense either. There is no way to support the stance that homosexuality is morally wrong. Contrary to what conservative Christians believe, the Scripture does not support the view that homosexuality is a sin unless certain verses are either mistranslated or taken out of context. Surely there must be many conservative Christian scholars who realize this; they're as educated a group as any. That means that their discomfort with homosexuality has little to do with faith, and a whole lot more to do with being uncomfortable with those who are different.

The bottom line: "American Girl" is a good, wholesome (if expensive) product that supports organizations which work towards empowering young women. Despite what the social conservatives may wish, some American girls are lesbians. Some American girls have had abortions. Some American girls use contraception.

They are all American girls and deserve their rights.

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