Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book Review: Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein

One of my facebook friends recommended this book a couple of weeks ago. I'd purchased Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine back in December and had been intending to read it for a while, but Cinderella Ate My Daughter proved slightly more appealing: it's much shorter and focuses heavily on pop culture analysis, both of which are qualities I like to see in books. Don't get me wrong, I fully intend on reading Delusions of Gender, but it's three hundred pages of theory. WAAAAH.

Anyway. I liked this book quite a bit, as it confirmed some things that the cynical part of me had been suspecting for a while (mainly, it doesn't matter how gender-progressive your house is. Your son can play with Barbies, your daughter can play with dump trucks, but it will all go out the window the second they start school or daycare and encounter the children of less enlightened parents, who will inevitably bully and shame them into adopting traditionally gendered behavior. It has happened to my friends, it happened to Orenstein despite her best efforts, and if I have kids, it will almost certainly happen to me. Sigh) as well as providing a lot of valuable information about Princess Culture. I was born in 1984, so I was sixteen and well past the age of being obsessed with Disney cartoons when the Princesses line launched in 2000, which meant I dodged that particular bullet.

I use that language deliberately. As a child, I always felt like an outcast because I didn't really like to play with dolls (I had an American Girl doll that I loved, but Kirsten came with books). I preferred reading, playing with stuffed animals, and exploring outside to dressing up, having tea parties, or pretending that I was a character in Disney movie playground re-enactments (especially since all the "good" characters were boys). My little sister (Hi, Linds!), on the other hand, was a permanent resident of PrincessLand and loved all of the things I hated. I am very, very thankful that we were born in 1984 and 1986 rather than 1994 and 1996, because I surely would have had to deal with way more princess-related games, tea parties, movies, and costumes than I did (with god as my witness, I will never play Pretty Pretty Princess again). I'm also glad that I didn't have to deal with all the extra imposed femininity that would have been thrust upon me by friends and classmates had the Princesses been a thing back then.

Orenstein's journey into the Land of Princesses began when her daughter, Daisy, started preschool and all of her carefully constructed gender neutrality was laid to waste by one kid telling her daughter that, "Girls don't like trains!" when she showed up on her first day of pre-school with a Thomas the Tank Engine lunchbox. There commenced Orenstein's off-and-on conflict with girlie-girl culture, punctuated by skirmishes over lunchboxes, fairy Barbie dolls, and, of course, Princesses. Many of the issues that Orenstein has with the Princess phenomenon reflect thoughts I've had on the subject while babysitting and shopping for friends' children. Beyond the fact that gender stereotyping of children is inevitable unless you're willing to raise them in a remote cave, Princesses appear to be the gateway drug of the more sinister girlie culture of tweendom and adolescence (she also discusses Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, and other "princesses" who are geared towards older girls), which encourages young women to predicate their value upon their relative hotness factor, which, in turn, leads to the anti-aging neuroses of adulthood.

Orenstein does a really great job examining the pop cultural appeal of Princess culture as well as delineating its potential negative effects on the self-esteem of young women. I enjoyed her down-to-earth, anecdote-laced style quite a bit. Despite being obviously passionate about the issue as well as something of an expert on the habits of girls, Orenstein manages to convey a great deal of sympathy towards more Princess-friendly parents as well as her own fallibility where raising her daughter is concerned (as it turns out, Wonder Woman is also a princess). Cinderella Ate My Daughter, while heavy at times, isn't preachy or sanctimonious. Ultimately, Orenstein argues that using media savvy, conversations, and teachable moments can help to counteract prevailing influences.

4 out of 5 stars.

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