Monday, June 25, 2012

Cinderella Ate My Daughter

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, by Peggy Orenstein

I loved Peggy Orenstein's Waiting for Daisy: A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, an Oscar, an Atomic Bomb, a Romantic Night, and One Woman's Quest to Become a Mother, so as soon as I heard about this book, I knew I would read it. Even though I do not have daughters, I am greatly concerned about the heightened stereotypes both genders face while they are growing up.

I must admit that I enjoyed playing dress-up with my sister and friends when I was a child. We had a dress-up trunk with cast-off long dresses with full skirts, and we made up a game where we imagined we were princesses with the power to do magic when we waved our antique hankerchiefs. But nowadays girls do not need to improvise: with the accessibility of inexpensive toys, most young girls have far more pink princess items than anyone would have dreamed of when I was a girl. In fact, anyone with a girl must feel like pink princesses are exploding all over. I actually have an active dislike of the color pink for this reason.

Orenstein, whose writing style reminds me a bit of Anne Lamott, begins by telling us how she really did not expect or want a daughter...she wanted a son. I could relate in a way, because in my case, I always thought I would have a daughter. Of course, Mike often teased me that if I were to have a daughter, I'd be force-feeding her copies of Ms. while she hid her Seventeen and Glamour mags under her mattress. He's probably right. I'd probably have had a prissy princess and would have been dumbstruck.

Orenstein decided to write this book when, to her horror, her own daughter became princess obsessed. What harm does a little pink princess love do? Well, "according to the American Psychological Association, the girlie-girl culture's emphasis on beauty and play-sexiness can increase girls' vulnerability to the pitfalls that most concern parents: depression, eating disorders, distorted body image, risky sexual behavior." We've all read the studies showing how many young girls are overly concerned with their weight and their appearance and how that affects their self-esteem. Orenstein struggled to see these risks in her own capable, self-confident daughter, but study after study show that "girls can be derailed by stereotypes."

I learned why it seemed that Disney princesses began popping up everywhere I looked: they were created by a Disney executive who attended a "Disney on Ice" show and saw all the little girls in their cheap, handmade Disney princess costume. Eureka: a marketing extravaganza is born!

She looks at the transformation of Barbie, who in the beginning not only had unrealistic proportions but also was a career woman, into the cute, princess Barbie she has become today.
"The astronauts, surgeons, and presidents of her glory days have been largely replaced by fairies, butterflies, ballerinas, mermaids, and princesses whose wardrobes are almost exclusively pink and lavender...Original Barbie would have been appalled: her palette was never so narrow--even her tutu was silver lame."
Now girls can choose from pink ouija boards, pink cell phones, pink laptops, Monopoly Pink Boutique edition, Pink Yahtzee, and ad nauseum. When Orenstein visits a toy fair, she is told that pink is the way to sell toys. How many girls do you know who do not profess to have pink as their favorite color (and are brave enough to admit it)?

Orenstein shares many of her internal battles, such as how to handle her daughter Daisy's request for a blue Fairytopia Barbie or a pink gun. She is noncommittal about the gun (leaning toward purchasing it) until discussing it with her husband, who reminds her, "No war toys." She visits the American Girl palace, but sans Daisy, trying to postpone her daughter's immersion in the need for expensive, unnecessary doll toys that are completely inaccessible to anyone without scads of money.

She explores the history of fairy tales (actually reading the original ones unedited to her daughter) and decides she doesn't like the modern version of some of those fairy tales much better. For example, she doesn't like The Paper Bag Princess (a story I rather like) because the prince rejects the princess for wearing a paper bag. She doesn't like the end (in fact compares it to "Thelma & Louise"), in which the princess dumps the prince and skips off into the sunset. Is that such a bad thing, teaching our daughters that they don't have to have a man to be happy? Sometimes I think she's being a bit too picky. She realizes, when she shares some stories from Free to Be You and Me that she's actually introducing some stereotypes to her daughter rather than teaching her lessons (for example, her daughter asks her what the word "sissy" means). I think it's good for children to be aware of how people do have the tendency to stereotype, but I understand her concern.

Then she takes on Twilight, and you all know what I think about Twilight (if you don't, read all about my opinions here). "Compared with Stephenie Meyer, the Grimms come off like Andrea Dworkin." Good line. "It is Bella, not the supernaturals she falls in love with, who is the true horror show here, at least as a female role model. She lives solely for her man; when he leaves her in New Moon...she is willing to die for him as well...Oh yeah, I want my daughter to be that girl." And that, my friends, is also why you will not find this voracious reader diving into 50 Shades of Grey, which started out as Twilight fan fiction! No thank you.

Orenstein also explores the trajectories of various girl celebrities--Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, etc.--and their bizarre virgin/whore dances. Later she discusses the Scholastic Publishers' tendency to publish books full of sexist stereotypes, which I recently wrote about in my other blog.

Similar to The Mama Boy's Myth, this is an important book about what we are exposing our girls to and the risks they face by being pressured to be princesses instead of heroes. Yes, they all grow out of the princess phase, but what fallout remains as they move into adolescence?

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