Peggy Orenstein struggls with the princess phase.
Orenstein's book School Girls was pivotal in my growth as a young feminist. It detailed the trials of being a middle school girl with such genius that if she was a mom at my daughter's school, I would have totally turned to her for guidance.
So why is the princess phase such a challenge for moms today? If it's a phase, can't we just sit back and wait it out? In her new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, Orenstein reveals why this phase isn't as innocent as the glitter makes it appear.
Orenstein talks to the moms of her daughter's classmates to find that they also have rules about princesses in their homes. Only costumes - for imagination/play sake. No movies though. Yet the girls still know the plots and have their favorite princesses. She attends toys trade shows to talk to the toys peddlers themselves. "Pink is what girls want," is the official line. But how much choice do girls have in the first place if everyone buys into the "If it's not pink, it won't sell" line? Orenstein even gives us a quick historical view of how baby dolls became a girl toy -- let's say that the feminist movement seems older than the baby doll conspiracy.
As parents we are told to expect our girls to want to play with just girls and our boys to play with just boys after the age of about two or three. "It's natural," they say, "Watch." Orenstein talks with an expert who explains why allowing our kids to self-select into single-sex groups is not something to encourage. If we allow our kids to "naturally" only know how to play with the same sex at 4 and all the way up, how the hell do we expect them to communicate with each other as teens who are dating? Working together? Leading Student Council? We shouldn't. And the princess thing helps to divide our kids into BOY and GIRL buckets. Which is why experts say if you see the same sex play divide happen, force interaction.
Orenstein points out our hypocrisies, such as gasping in horror when we see young girls dancing to suggestive music, but not thinking twice when we take them to children's movies that include those songs. Are "not too skanky" dolls really worthy to be in our daughters' rooms? Do we really need to buy hundred dollar dolls so our girls can play with a doll that looks like a girl and not a college student?
At one point of the book, Orenstein reflects on the challenge of buying a gift for another girl. Not just a friend's daughter, but a princess-loving-pinkified girl. Oh, I know that feeling. You want to buy her something she'll love, but loathe the idea of buying something you would never buy your own daughter. And your feminist credentials are TOTALLY on the line too. If you select a bad toy, it will reflect on the whole community. This by the way, would make an excellent game show.
Orenstein doesn't get it all right. She misses the mark on 1990s feminism or "girlie feminism" by fusing the reclamation of feminine trades like sewing and knitting to women who feel that being sexy is empowering. They emerged at the same time, but are from two different camps.
Early in the book Orenstein talks about the evolution of girlhood and how 2/3 of women today classified themselves as being tomboys as children. Yet only 1/3 of girls today would classify themselves as tomboys. This confuses her. Are women today over emphasizing their tomboy status? Rather I contend that tomboy is a label from the past. My daughter asked me what a tomboy was about a year ago. "Tomboy was a name people use to use for girls who were sporty, liked to climb trees because not a lot of girls did those things. Now we don't need to use it because so many girls are athletic." So if you asked my daughter, she might say she's not a tomboy. I even got her a shirt that said, "I'm not a tomboy, I'm an athlete." It's not a bad word to use, but I think it's a relic of a time long gone, pre-Mia, pre-Williams sisters.
And that's where we are. In a world where girls can look up to Mia Hamm and the Williams sisters. They can go out every morning and practice their sport. Yet the media will still take time to evaluate who looked the best during the opening rounds of a Grand Slam tournament or ponder who is pregnant. That's the world our girls are growing up in and we not only need to figure our own way through this forest of pink princesses, but we need to guide them through it too.
Not only are our girls faced with being girly and sporty, but Orenstein takes a moment to link the academic pressure our children, girls and boys, are under. The pressure to be super academic early on can and often does alienate them from the joy of learning. Friends know that I fear this for my own smartypants daughter.
Orenstein offers few solid solutions, but what she does is walk herself through the challenges and asks us to come with her. She does answer the "How did we get here?" question in respect to dolls, clothes, sexiness and pink. There is also a MUST READ section on children's websites/social networks. While they may be safe from dirty old men, they are NOT safe from the pressure of commercialization. I know some of you poo-poo my anti-commercialization rants, but please, please, if you read this book, you will know why the intense commercialization our children are living in is robbing them of the childhood we experienced.
I hope it's not a surprise that I'm highly recommending this book. Seriously go get this book, read it and let's get back to raising our daughters instead of the marketers doing it.
Get a copy from an indie bookstore or Powells.com. Like now.
Disclaimer: I contacted the author in order to receive a copy of this book. I just had to have a sneak peek.
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