28 July 2011

Review: Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein

I don't think you could ask for a more thought-provoking book than Cinderella Ate My Daughter. I had heard an interview with Peggy Orenstein (the author) on the Diane Rehm show back in January, so it had been on my to-read list for a while. Technically, it was Eric who heard the interview and alerted me to it. He was so interested in the topic that I went and listened to the interview from the website. Since then we'd talked often about the book and the interview with other people, despite the fact that neither of us had read the book. When I saw it at the library on display, I snatched it up.

The premise is that the author found her pre-school aged daughter totally obsessed with princesses, and she began to investigate the princess phenomenon. As she did so she learned a lot about the what this girlie-girl trend is doing and promoting. With that said, she doesn't go on a rampage against all things girlie, nor does she necessarily despise all the Dinsey princesses. She is not a militaristic feminist. However, she does worry that the princess craze, and its inherent emphasis on beauty, can have a long-term negative impact on our girls.

She writes at length about the Disney girl-stars turned wild (Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and particularly Miley Cyrus). What is it that turned these girls from fairly innocuous icons for girls aged 6-10 into sex icons? Why did they appeal to their sexuality in order to distinguish their careers as no longer targeted only at little girls?

Along with that, she talks about the idea that "kids are getting older younger." That is, toys that used to be targeted at 8-12 year-olds are now targeted at 3-4 year olds (Barbie, for example). The problem, of course, is that the toys the older girls want when they are too cool for Barbies tend to be fairly sleazy and rather inappropriate for their age (Bratz dolls, and Miley Cyrus, for examples).

Her discussion on self-image was also really fascinating, and I could never do it justice. You'll just have to read it yourself.

In talking about how hard it is to find books with good messages and good female characters she finds that many pro-girl books are anti-boy. Ultimately the protagonist girls decide they didn't want a boy at all; they're better off alone. She writes:

To me, that is Thelma & Louise all over again. Step out of line, and you end up solo or, worse, sailing crazily over a cliff to your doom. I may want my girl to do and be whatever she dreams of as an adult, but I also hope she will find her Prince (or Princess) Charming and make me a grandma. I do not want her to be a fish without a bicycle; I want her to be a fish with another fish. Preferably, a fish who loves and respects her and also does the dishes, his share of the laundry, and half the child care. Yet the typical "feminist alternative" to the marry-the prince ending either protrays men as simpletons or implies that the roles traditionally ascribed to women are worthless. (p. 101)
What I really loved about this book was how she talked about having chats with her own daughter about why certain toys, books and movies were not things she would buy. Of course there were plenty of items in which she just took a hard line and said "no." There were some things that she bought figuring that her daughter would eventually grow out of that phase. But mostly, she did her best to ask questions about certain characters, themes and messages. After taking her daughter to see The Princess and the Frog her daughter had questions about Lotte, the white "princess" in the film. Orenstein describes:

[. . .] but Daisy's mix-up gave me the opening I needed to talk with her ("with" being the operative word) about the way the film had presented girls and women, to solicit her own ideas about it. That, in the end, is the best weapon we parents have, short of enrolling our daughters in one of those schools where kids knit all day [. . .]. We have only so much control over the images and products to which they are exposed, and even that will diminish over time. It is strategic, then - absolutely vital - to think through our own values and limits early, to consider what we approve or disapprove of and why. (p. 182)
I loved that. We can't force our values on our kids, but we can show them what matters to us and why. And force doesn't do a lot of good anyway - they eventually will have to decide for themselves what they value, and hopefully it will be the right things.

Peggy Orenstein, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011).

1 comment:

heidikins said...

This is in my To Read pile!! I bought it a few weeks ago and I am SO GLAD you posted a review here! What a great book, I'm moving it up in "The Pile"