Raising a daughter these days is a daunting task. As parents, we have to worry about everything from boys and sex to body image and eating disorders to whether or not we should buy our 8-year-old that push-up bikini after all.
Oh, yeah, and those damn Disney princesses. Because apparently they're single-handedly responsible for the downfall of women everywhere.
Peggy Orenstein Tackles the Princess Problem
Parents have been complaining about the Disney princesses for years. In fact, I recently wrote about the princess problem and the concern over Disney's aggressive marketing tactics myself.
But, until now, no one has tackled the issue of princess culture and how it affects our daughters quite so thoroughly as Peggy Orenstein does in her newly released book Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.
It might seem like the Disney princesses have always been an unavoidable part of girlhood, but, in fact, Orenstein points out that it wasn't until the year 2000 that Disney began marketing the individual heroines — Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and all the others who came after them — as the princesses we know today.
And as you can probably guess, Orenstein is not a fan of this recent princess craze or what it teaches young girls.
"[P]rincesses 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 value derives largely from their appearance. They are rabid materialists."
Clearly, Orenstein doesn't like the princesses. And overall, she is not impressed by the other options we're offering our daughters either.
Cinderella, as it turns out, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Beyond the Disney Princesses
Orenstein doesn't mince words as she moves from Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty to the many other toys and characters who are often dear to little girls.
She describes Sesame Street's Abby Cadabby as the "same old sweet-and-cute, pink-and-sparkly version of girlhood," thinks Barbie was the first "'I am woman see me shop' feminist," and believes that Bratz and Moxie dolls are toys which "define individuality entirely through appearance and consumption."
Orenstein also believes that, as girls get older, the messages they receive only get worse. Her book is loaded with condemnations of beauty pageants, teen pop sensations, and online girl games and social media networks.
Once I finished reading the book, I had the distinct urge to lock my 7-year-old daughter in the freezer. The picture that Orenstein paints is bleak, and I was left wondering if anything is safe for girls anymore.
Marketing Is the Real Menace
Ultimately, Peggy Orenstein seems to reach the conclusion that it is not the damsels in distress or the gyrating pop stars or the pink dolls with pouty lips that are harmful to today's girls. It is the mass marketing of so many of these products that bombards our daughters every day that she believes to be the real menace.
"It would be disingenuous to claim that Disney Princess diapers or Ty Girl or Hannah Montana or Twilight or the latest Shakira video or a Facebook account is inherently harmful. Each is, however, a cog in the round-the-clock, all-pervasive media machine aimed at our daughters — and at us — from womb to tomb; one that, again and again, presents femininity as performance, sexuality as performance, identity as performance, and each of those traits as available for a price."
A Worthwhile Read?
Cinderella Ate My Daughter is an easy, entertaining, and occasionally thought-provoking read. Orenstein writes in the first-person, and filters all of her research through the lens of her own experience as a staunch feminist who has been shocked to suddenly find herself raising a princess-obsessed daughter.
The book has achieved tremendous popularity since its release in January of 2011, so Orenstein has clearly touched a nerve. She raises many valid points about the cultural forces and stereotypes that influence our daughters, and warns parents that we have to be both mindful and vigilant when it comes to protecting our girls from the dangerous messages that are so pervasive in our world today.
While I don't agree that Cinderella and her Disney princess cohorts are quite the villains that Orenstein makes them out to be, I do agree that, as parents, we have an obligation to think carefully and critically about the media our daughters consume and the choices we make for them.
The Disney princesses won't ruin girls for life, but there are better choices out there. You just have to look a little harder to find them.
But thanks to Peggy Orenstein, and the conversation she's started, maybe we'll soon start seeing those options a little bit more often.