Amused to be covering this book at the same time as my friends over at Name That Mama.
Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein Why are girls only allowed to wear or use pink anymore? And why are girls of preschool age suddenly obsessed with Disney Princesses, in all their sparkly but bland glory? Journalist Orenstein sets out to investigate these questions in this fast-reading book which nevertheless has some good scholarly underpinnings. Many of the ideas are not new – the fine line, for example, between telling girls that they are pretty and that they need to be pretty. But Orenstein’s exploration gets everything nicely together in one place, and her personal explorations are entertaining. She talks to Disney executives and visits the American Girl store in Manhattan, noting the dichotomy between the affordable glitz of the Disney and the hugely expensive old-fashioned simplicity of American Girls. She visits the Toy Fair and talks with toy marketers who make everything in pink, and say they are just “honoring play patterns”. She visits child beauty pageants and talks to parents there. She reads unsanitized fairy tales to her daughter and watches for nightmares. The chapter “From Wholesome to Whoresome” examines the sad fate of former tween stars, following which she looks at the on-line culture and teens’ place in it. Parents of girls of all ages will pay almost anything for the illusions of innocence and protection that are marketed in varying aspects to girls of all ages. Although many of the major arguments were familiar, I did learn some new and interesting if troubling facts: Kindergarten girls when asked to write a sentence in which they pretend to be something limit themselves to one of four choice: princess, fairy, ballerina or butterfly, where boys’ choices are much more varied. Toy choices, we know, seem quite hard-wired to gender, even across species, but there is nothing else but mate selection that is as tied to gender. I was really disturbed to read that recent studies asking teens and college girls about their own sexual feelings have gotten answered with how the girls think they look, with no consciousness of their own possibility for arousal. And while I knew that “tweens” as an age group was a recent invention of marketers to create a new market, I hadn’t realized that toddlerhood started the same way a century ago. There are more problems and pitfalls pointed out here than hard-and-fast solutions. I still hope for balance for my daughter and for other girls, for the confidence to be themselves, embracing aspects both traditionally feminine and masculine, and yet still to fit in well enough not be as isolated as I felt especially during my teen years. This is well worth reading for parents and anyone else interested in modern girls.