Parents push to boot Bratz books from Scholastic fairs

Byline: Sarah Schmidt

February 28, 2007
CanWest News Service

OTTAWA - The decision by Canadian schools to sell books featuring the popular but controversial Bratz dolls is drawing fire from psychologists and parents, who want them pulled from school book clubs and fairs.

The group is targeting Scholastic Inc., North America's largest operator of school-based book clubs and fairs, which sells a line of Bratz books at discount prices at schools across the country through its Canadian subsidiary.

The books, including Lil' Bratz Dancin' Divas and Lil' Bratz Catwalk Cuties, are a spinoff of MGA Entertainment Inc.'s top-selling fashion doll notable for her skimpy wardrobe of miniskirts, high-heel boots and feather boas.

The group says the books promote "precocious sexuality" and shouldn't be marketed to a captive audience of impressionable young girls at school.

"I'm sending my daughter to school with $10 and she sees a whole shelf of Bratz books at the book fair. We're asking Scholastic to come to our schools to promote educational materials and they're promoting a book about dancing divas. What six-year-old needs to know what a diva is?" said Wendy Boyko, an Edmonton parent of a first grader.

"As a parent, if you want to go to stores and buy this for your kid, you can, but this is school. It's not the place."

Boyko has put her name to a new petition launched by Harvard University's Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, asking Scholastic Inc. to stop selling Bratz books through its school-based book fairs and student catalogues distributed at schools.

Scholastic Canada's licensing deal with MGA Canada to market the Bratz books in its school flyers and sell them at book fairs came into effect last month and is set to expire at the end of 2008. Schools that distribute the Scholastic catalogues and host the book fairs receive a share of profits from sales.

Last year, the Harvard group teamed up with the organization Dads and Daughters to stop Hasbro Inc. from producing a line of dolls designed for four- to eight-year-olds based on the Pussycat Dolls, a burlesque troupe known for their revealing clothing and sexualized song lyrics.

Susan Linn, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of the campaign, is hoping for the same outcome with the Bratz-Scholastic initiative.

"Any product marketed in the school carries that school's endorsement. That's one of the reasons marketers like to market in schools. They have a captive audience of kids."

The author of Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood, added, "Commercially driven sexual stereotypes have no place in schools. By joining with Scholastic to market the Bratz brand, schools are undermining their own efforts to educate girls to nurture themselves and nurture their own academic development."

Linn's message is bolstered by a new report of American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, which singles out the Bratz brand.

"The objectified sexuality presented by these dolls, as opposed to the healthy sexuality that develops as a normal part of adolescence, is limiting for adolescent girls, and even more so for the very young girls who represent the market for these dolls," the task force report notes.

Scholastic and MGA stand by their partnership - and the Bratz brand.

Kyle Good, Scholastic's vice-president of corporate communication, said the company's mission is to get kids reading. "To do that, we offer materials that appeal to children where they are, not where we would like them to be. This is particularly true for reluctant readers."

Besides, she said, the books feature "strong, capable girl characters . . . They are popular with girls because they speak to them in a voice that reflects their real world while encouraging kindness."

Bratz dolls, with their trademarked slogan "the only girls with a passion for fashion," have overtaken Barbie as the most popular fashion-themed doll in the United States. In Canada, the Bratz brand is gaining rapidly in market share; it has branched out from the dolls to a Bratz TV series, DVDs, accessories, clothing, and laptop computers.

The Bratz books "communicate the same positive, empowering messages about friendship, teamwork and self-confidence that the Bratz characters inspire and foster," said Diane Goveia-Gordon, president of MGA Canada.

Martha Zimmerman doesn't buy it. The London, Ont., mother of two wants the Bratz books pulled from schools. She says the characters are terrible role models for both her son in Grade 3, and daughter in Grade 6.

"They're so sexual with the pouting lips and the clothes," said Zimmerman. "Bratz is just another word for tramps. I just don't want that influence or image for my daughter especially, but for my son, too. I don't want him to look at girls like that."

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