Cinderella ate my daughter

12 posts / 0 new
Last post
Catchfire Catchfire's picture
Cinderella ate my daughter

Excerpt from Peggy Orenstein's new book,  Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture (2011).

From the time she is born—in truth, well before—parents are bombarded with zillions of little decisions, made consciously or not, that will shape their daughter's ideas and understanding of her femininity, her sexuality, her self. How do you instill pride and resilience in her? Do you shower her with pink heart-strewn onesies? Reject the Disney Princess Pull-Ups for Lightning McQueen? Should you let your three-year-old wear her child-friendly nail polish to preschool? What's your policy on the latest Disney Channel "it" girl? Old Dora versus New Dora? Does a pink soccer ball celebrate girlhood? Do pink TinkerToys expand or contract its definition? And even if you think the message telegraphed by a pink Scrabble set with tiles on the box top that spell "F-A-S-H-I-O-N" is a tad retrograde, what are you supposed to do about it? Lock your daughter in a tower? Rely on the tedious "teachable moment" in which Mom natters on about how if Barbie were life-sized she'd pitch forward smack onto her bowling ball boobs (cue the eye rolling, please)?

Answering such questions has, surprisingly, become more complicated since the mid-1990s, when the war whoop of "Girl Power" celebrated ability over body. Somewhere along the line, that message became its own opposite. The pursuit of physical perfection was recast as a source—often the source—of young women's "empowerment." Rather than freedom from traditional constraints, then, girls were now free to "choose" them. Yet the line between "get to" and "have to" blurs awfully fast. Even as new educational and professional opportunities unfurl before my daughter and her peers, so does the path that encourages them to equate identity with image, self-expression with appearance, femininity with performance, pleasure with pleasing, and sexuality with sexualization. It feels both easier and harder to raise a girl in that new reality—and easier and harder to be one.

I didn't know whether Disney Princesses would be the first salvo in a Hundred Years' War of dieting, plucking, and painting (and perpetual dissatisfaction with the results). But for me they became a trigger for the larger question of how to help our daughters with the contradictions they will inevitably face as girls, the dissonance that is as endemic as ever to growing up female. It seemed, then, that I was not done, not only with the princesses but with the whole culture of little girlhood: what it had become, how it had changed in the decades since I was a child, what those changes meant, and how to navigate them as a parent.


Issues Pages: 

The best thing any parent with daughters, who is concerned by the girly-girl stuff, is to provide context to their daughters as they grow older and make sure they know they have choices.  Encourage non-gendered toys, books and games,  Buy clothes etc. that aren't branded with some TM Mattel or Disney crap, and teach them to think critically about the media they are exposed to.


You know... our daughter started getting into this last year in Kindergarten.

Fortunately I know her well enough to realize she's just doing drag. After all, I didn't freak when she slicked her hair back and started asking me to tie ties for her,

So far as I can see, she's totally in control.



ikosmos ikosmos's picture

Kindergarten. No wonder Quebec banned advertising directed at children. Capitalist bastards. Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out.



No, ikosmos, she got it from a dance class she wanted to take.

And as I said, if you met her I don't think you'd be concerned she was about to run away and join that beauty queen TV show.

Certainly not if you saw how she handles a sword and shield.



I feel the same way about our youngest daughter.  She went through a "princess phase" a while back, but she kinda tries these things on like costumes, but she's got a good sense of self.  Her current "costume" is a mix of goth and rock 'n roll.  She thinks the "girly girls" are missing out on a lot of fun.


Speaking of that beauty queen TV show. I have heard of it, but I only managed to sit through 20 seconds of it while we were in a hotel room down south. 

We happened to turn it on as the mother was reducing her kid (5 years old, I guess) to tears by trying to do something horrible and painful to her eyelashes. 

Here she is torturing and intimidating this kid on TV for entertainment (on THE LEARNING CHANNEL if I remember correctly).

Where were child and family services?



Is there any doll with more Healthy proportion? I wonder because my niece will reach that age soon enough

and i want to offer her toy that give a bad model!


Any way it not me who will offer such toy!


Also here some thinking material in the same line of idea:


Lefauve, you can avoid dolls altogether.  Games, arts and craft supplies, etc.



So babble allows me to post something this long, but not 12 lines of text.


As long as you realize that your daughter(s) may not be interested in the alternatives you provide, and you do not respond counter-productively. [And lecturing is not the only way you can do that.]
Couple of my sisters gave their kids everything and dumped 3 Barbies and huge mounds of clothes and all those tiny gee gaws on our daughter. Endless hours of fantasy worlds in that. [Generously gave the dog her own Barbie. And a wise practical move.]
Three years later it was Star Wars.... which makes feminist parents less squeamish. But really.
The adult version still recites dialogue at appropriate moments and does battle with all the boys she knows- the younger ones, because the big boys are too serious for that stuff.
I'm a carpenter, and my daughter has grown up with me at home doing everything. We gave her one of those little tool belts when she was little. Completely uninterested after a day or two. Ditto really for crafts and paper.
That said, the cultural messaging has got worse, and I'm glad I'm past the age where it gives me the willies in a really personal hit home matter. But one thing doesnt change: one of the most empowering messages you can give is to relax and have confidence. Just like you, she has to live her life. [And its not really in your hands anyway.]

Red Tory Tea Girl

I highly reccommend raising my boychick for a good source of gender-neutral parenting opinion and advice. I think one of the things I like is that she acknowledges that her child is only provisionally and most-likely male, but could easily be otherwise without her knowing it yet.