by Peggy Orenstein
So, yeah. Disney has succeeded bigtime in capturing our daughter’s interest and a good part of our disposable income.
That’s the truth. They don’t ever look at each other, and that (as Orenstein says) is downright freaky and creepy. You can see how this sets the stage for how mean little girls can be to one another. (Orenstein gets into that into a later chapter.)
“Let’s review: princesses avoid female bonding. Their goals are to be saved by a prince, get married … and be taken care of for the rest of their lives. Their values drive largely from their appearance. They are rabid materialists. They might affect your daughter’s interest in math. And yet … parents cannot resist them. Princesses seem to have tapped into our unspoken, unrational wishes. They may also assuage our fears: Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty may be sources of comfort, of stability in a rapidly changing world. Our daughters will shortly be tweeting and Facebooking and doing things that have yet to be invented, things that are beyond our ken. Princesses are uncomplicated, classic, something solid that we can understand and share with them, even if they are a bit problematic. They provide a way to play with our girls that is similar to how we played, a common language of childhood fun. That certainly fits into what Disney found in a survey of preschool girls’ mothers: rather than ‘beautiful,’ the women more strongly associate princesses with ‘creating fantasy,’ ‘inspiring,’ ‘compassionate.’
And ‘safe.’ … By safe, I would wager that they mean that being a Princess fends off premature sexualization, or what parents often refer to as the pressure ‘to grow up too soon.’ …. Children’s wide-eyed excitement over the products we buy them pierces through our own boredom as consumers and as adults, reconnecting us to our childhoods: it makes us feel again. The problem is that our very dependence on our children’s joy erodes over time, they become jaded as we are by new purchases – perhaps more so.” (pg. 23-24)
(Jiminy Crickets, I could quote this whole damn book. It’s that good.)
To be sure, Orenstein packs a lot into these 192 pages. She not only takes on the Princesses, but the American Girls too. You’d think they would be better (I did) because they are educational at least, but they’ve got their issues too, mainly in the form of all the accoutrements that come along with them (for a price).
“Therein lies the paradox of American Girl: the books preach against materialism, but you could blow the college fund on the gear.” (pg. 30-31). “It is a peculiar inversion: the simplicity of American Girl is expensive, while the finery of Princess comes cheap. In the end, though, the appeal to parents is the same: both lines tacitly promise to keep girls “young” and safe from sexualization. Yet they also introduce them to a consumer culture that will ultimately encourage the opposite – one in which Matter and Disney (the parent companies, respectively, of the two brands) play a major role. Both Princess and American Girl promote shopping as the path to intimacy between mothers and daughters; as an expression, even for five-year-olds, of female identity.” (pg. 32)
It’s that identity that is at the heart of what Orenstein is trying to convey (and succeeds in doing) in Cinderella Ate My Daughter. She delves into the world of child beauty pageants, the pages of the original versions of fairy tales, and into the online worlds of inhabited by thousands of kids starting with the games found on Nick.com and Disney and moving into the virtual and social networking worlds where 3.7 million teens are logging on each month. “In short order – a matter of a few years – social networking and virtual worlds have transformed how young people, male as well as female, conceptualize both their selves and their relationships.” (pg. 165)
It’s hard to walk away from Cinderella Ate My Daughter feeling … well, empowered. Enlightened, yes, but there aren’t many answers as to what to do about the proliferation of the Princesses and how they are just the beginning of this slippery slope that we’re on. The answer isn’t to ban all this altogether (particularly the online stuff, because there are obviously many benefits to this Internet thing – and as someone who logs way more online hours than I probably should, I’d be a little hypocritical if I said there wasn’t.) And this stuff isn’t going away – not a chance, not when it is making upwards of $4 billion dollars a year.
Instead, it’s what we all know – having an awareness of the messages and psychology behind all of this and how it can and does affect our girls. And sometimes, from the most unexpected sources, there are good messages to be found. Like take today, for example. I finished Cinderella Ate My Daughter last night and was in the car with both kids heading home from the library today when The Cheetah Girls came on Radio Disney. The song? “Cinderella.”
I groaned … but kept it on, willing myself to listen to the words.
And I was rather pleasantly surprised.
“I don’t wanna be like Cinderella
Sitting in a dark, cold, dusty cellar
Waiting for somebody to come and set me free.
Come and set me free.
I don’t wanna be like someone waiting for a handsome prince to come and save me.”
I cranked up the radio to make sure the message was heard loud and clear.
“Don’t wanna depend on no one else.
I’d rather rescue myself.
Someday I’m gonna find someone who wants my soul, heart and mind.
Who’s not afraid to show that he loves me.
Somebody who will understand I’m happy just the way I am.
Don’t need nobody taking care of me.
I will be there, I will be there for him just as strong as he will be there for me.
When I give myself then it has got to be an equal thing.
I don’t wanna be like Cinderella, sitting in a dark, cold, dusty cellar ….”
Yes, indeed. Sing it, my Cheetah girlfriend. As loud as you possibly can.
What Other Bloggers Thought:
Dawn from 5 Minutes for Books
The Book Lady’s Blog
Nomadreader (who mentions a key part of this book that I wanted to include: that of the impact of girls having opposite-sex friendships in their early years. Yes … so important.)
Rhapsody in Books