BROOKFIELD, Wis. — Father Frank Malloy was simply looking for a way to raise money to improve the school library and build a new playground.
The pastor of St. Luke parish in Brookfield, Wis., Father Malloy approached American Girl doll company about a fashion show fund-raiser. But when the parish of 1,200 families discovered American Girl was supporting an organization which promotes abortion and “sexual experimentation” and opposes abstinence training, they decided to pull out.
They gave up the prospect of raising $10,000 to $30,000 for their school.
Father Malloy called American Girl — character dolls and accompanying books from U.S. history — “a wonderful product.”
“Lots of girls have bought them, learned a lot and enjoyed them,” he told the Register. “I'm the one that approached American Girl looking for fund-raising help, but now that I know what their values are it seems hypocritical for me to finish off the church construction projects with money from a company that has values different than ours.” He said he has no ill will toward Wisconsin-based American Girl or its parent company, Mattel, nor does he regret losing a potentially lucrative fund-raising opportunity.
“We can find another way: we'll do more bake sales, spaghetti dinners or fish fries. We'll raise the funds the right way. We're willing to do that,” Father Malloy said.
On Sept. 19, American Girl launched its new “I Can” project to raise money for Girls Inc. — formerly known as the Girls Club of America — pledging to give 70 cents for every dollar of “I Can” bracelet sales, plus a $50,000 donation.
What the girls — or their parents — who buy the bracelet aren't told up front is that Girls Inc. is pro-abortion and pro-contraception, lobbies against abstinence-only sex education, and encourages young girls to explore their “sexuality” and be open to lesbianism.
Neither presidents for Girls Inc. or American Girl were available for comment, but each company released statements in response to the controversy.
The Girls Inc. statement said, “Recently, our mission to help girls develop their self-esteem and self-reliance has become the target of false, inflammatory statements from people who are pursuing a narrow political agenda. Girls Incorporated stands on its long positive history. The millions of lives we have touched speak for who we are and our values.”
In American Girl's statement, the company does not back down from its association with Girls Inc. and claims to be true to its value of wholesomeness.
“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 American Girl brand exemplifies the values of wholesomeness and responsibility that we would expect any organization to commend.”
The Girls Inc. website declares in a pro-abortion advocacy statement:
“Girls Incorporated affirms that girls and young women should make responsible decisions about sexuality, pregnancy and parenthood. We recognize the right of all women to choose whether, when, and under what circumstances to bear children. … 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.”
“Freedom of choice” was not mentioned in the Supreme Court decision; but what it established was the legality of abortion.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life” (No. 2270).
The advocacy statement continues: “To make responsible decisions about sexuality, pregnancy and parenthood, girls need and have a right to sensitive, truthful sexuality education; convenient access to safe, effective methods of contraception and protection from disease; and referral to comprehensive information, counseling, clinical and other services that support their responsible decisions.”
The site also promotes books on investigating sexual orientation, bi-sexuality and lesbianism. The American Girl website describes Girls Inc. as “a national organization dedicated to inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.”
The Catechism teaches that chastity is the only way to be strong, smart, bold — and happy, saying “Either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy” (No. 2339).
Eileen Peterson of Stony Brook, N.Y., used to buy American Girl dolls for her daughters, who are now young adults. But the 48-year-old mother of seven says her future granddaughters won't be getting them.
“I cannot believe this organization that promotes wholesomeness and family values is supporting abortion and what we believe is against God's teachings,” Peterson told the Register.
Peterson, who volunteers her time to serve women who have had abortions, has fought the public funding of Planned Parenthood for decades, said she has seen how money talks and boycotts work.
If pro-lifers “used their purchase power,” she said, “you would see those alliances drop like flies.”
One group calling for a boycott of American Girl is the Pro-Life Action League of Chicago. President Ann Scheidler says she's always liked American Girl dolls and has taken her granddaughters to American Girl Place, its local store. But now she is hoping consumers will refrain from buying the products.
“American Girl invites girls to be interested in reading and history and has a wholesome image,” she said. “But to connect with a pro-abortion outlet seems to be a real betrayal; little girls buying bracelets have no idea where the money is going.”
LetGirlsBeGirls.org, a grassroots organization established by a small group of concerned mothers in Peoria, Ill., in response to the controversy, is asking parents to write letters rather than boycott the company.
“I think we're trying to be ‘in the world but not of it’ — trying to engage the culture in a non-toxic way,” organizer Nancy Piccione said. “We want to meet these challenges and concerns in a pro-active, positive way.”
The mother of three acknowledged that the controversy is frustrating because American Girl has had a long record of wholesomeness.
“For them to associate with Girls Inc. just didn't fit,” she said. “I thought, there has got to be a way to get the message to the company without being condemning or making an ultimatum. … It's easy to see how perhaps people at American Girl could have been misled or made this mistaken decision without realizing that so many of their customers would be so deeply offended,” Piccione said.
Scheidler said she tried that approach. She says she contacted American Girl to make sure they knew Girls Inc. was pro-abortion, and they confirmed that they knew. Scheidler's multiple attempts to speak with American Girl President Ellen Brothers were fruitless, so she and her group are asking concerned individuals to sign an online boycott. The Register's attempt to get answers also failed.
“I tried appealing to their concern for the customer,” said Scheidler, “but they have not backed down. The only way you can make an impact is in the pocketbook.”
So what's a concerned parent to do?
“A Life of Faith” Dolls from Mission City Press in Franklin, Tenn., may be one alternative. The non-denominational Christian company publishes books on four fictional Christian young girls, and has a line of 18-inch, soft-vinyl character dolls.
“We started our brand for girls because we want to help them develop a lifestyle of faith, ignite passion in them for Jesus Christ and the Word of God, and help them learn and understand how to live out their faith in daily situations,” Sandi Shelton, president of Mission City Press, told the Register.
American Girls publishes book series of historical fiction as well as doll collecting supplies.
For a Catholic alternative to the books, a small start is the Polish American Girls series of books which have recently been reprinted. Anne Pellowski's novels about a Polish-American frontier immigrant family are often called a “Catholic Little House on the Prairie.”
Annamarie Adkins is based in St. Paul, Minnesota.
- November 20-26, 2005