Ciara's Reviews > Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein
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Mar 09, 2011

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bookshelves: feminist-y-books, read-in-2011
Read in March, 2011

an interesting look at how highly gendered girlie-girl culture is being marketed to increasingly younger girls. but in orenstein's quest to determine whether or not all things pink & princess-y hurt little girls, or whether there is a biological component to their attraction to pink & dolls & princesses, she takes on some pretty obvious targets. she criticizes bratz dolls for being too sexualized. she attends a high glitz little kid beauty pageant. she comments on how expensive american girl toys are. i mean, there's not a lot of groundbreaking insight here. i guess it might be new if you suddenly find yourself the mother of a little girl & you heretofore have not paid any attention at all to children's toys, movies, or clothing, but for those of us who have...

she doesn't really come to any conclusions. not even on the question of whether or not girls are biologically driven to dress up like princesses while boys play with toy swords. she seems downright reluctant to come to a conclusion, actually. my take on it is that babies start being gendered before they are even born. studies have shown that pregnant women who know they are giving birth to boys worry less about how much weight they are gaining than pregnant women who know they are having girls. they say things like, "he's robust & healthy--he likes to eat," reinforcing the idea that boys can eat all they want but girls have daintier appetites. once babies are born, girls are praised more for looking cute & boys are praised more for seeming alert (people think it's a sign of burgeoning intelligence). people play more roughly with boy children than with girl children. take three steps into a babies r' us & prepare to have your head explode from all the explicitly gendered baby accoutrements available for sale. red, green, or dark blue crib bumpers for boys, pink & pastels for girls. as if a gender-neutral crib bumper is going to affect the child's development or sense of identity. when kids are having all kinds of gendered assumptions & expectations dumped on them before they are even born, how can we have any idea what their natural preferences are? i remember i was out with a friend's baby one day & some stranger was all, "oh, she is beautiful!" my friend said, "he's a boy," & the person said, "& a big, handsome one too!" one of the moms in orenstein's book fretted over what she was doing to her kids by always praising her daughter for looking pretty & praising her son for being smart. she wanted to underscore the fact that her daughter was pretty to build up her self-esteem for when she gets older & starts thinking she's not...but isn't there a possibility that placing an emphasis on a little girl's looks from a really young age, even if what you're saying is positive, sets the stage for her to become more insecure about her appearance as she gets older? because she starts to internalize the idea that her appearance & her self-worth are one & the same?

i can't say for sure whether or not children are more gendered now than they were when i was little. i was really isolated from a gendering culture. my parents didn't actually let me wear pink & i didn't ask to wear it. my sister, my brother, & i all had long hair (as did my father). i remember playing with dolls & i remember playing with trucks, but mostly i just wanted to read books.

i don't think there's any denying, though, that marketing is skewing younger & younger. there are more advertisements during children's television programming, & there are more consumerist tie-ins with kids' media. i watched "sesame street" when i was a kid, but i don't remember there being any sesame street toys or anything. there probably were...but not on the have-to-have-it level of elmo dolls, which were introduced when i was a teenager. it definitely scares the crap out of me to think about how to have a child & try to shield her from wanting all these consumerist doodads...especially when all her friends have them & they are status symbols on the playground. but while orenstein's book was interesting & entertaining, it didn't really do much in the way of making sense of how to parent through these landmines, which is what i was seeking.
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message 1: by Joanne (new)

Joanne Great review. I have two daughters that I have trained (I hope I have innoculated them - to the extent a parent can do that) to "identify the marketing." They are now so effective at it that my eldest (12) actually refuses to wear any clothing with logos and is deeply frustrated that all the girls in her grade "only ever talk about dance." Neither of them have pierced ears - a fact that meant they were constantly assumed to be "handsome little guys" as babies (oh, and yes, they were often dressed in overalls and sweatshirts and ball caps). They also like to dress up and do their hair and look nice... even sometimes wear pink. They regularly come home from school offended that some boy said "girls are...[weaker, dumber,slower, etc.]" and some girl said "I just LOVE...[Justin Bieber, Hannah Montana, skinny jeans, etc.] Are they ostracized? In some ways yes, in other ways they are a fascination to their peers because they are both witty, confident and fearless. They are both popular but not because of their logos and cool gear. They are popular because they are smart, informed and independent and they like to challenge the stereotypes. It is NOT easy for them to be different all the time but life is not easy and if we make life easy we contribute to the puerile, infantalization that is already happening all across our society then we fail not just the girls but everyone. Marketers beware - my girls are on to you!


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