Monday, February 21, 2011

Book Review: Cinderella Ate My Daughter

First off, I should say that Cinderella Ate My Daughter is a book for people who are parents and who have some sort of an interest in gender politics and what that means in their role as parent. It is not for kids who are into blood lust. My kids found this book on the couch one morning and thought it was something very, very different.
As a mother of two girls who worries on the regular about the kind of things that they are exposed to, I found this to be a very good, worthwhile book. It detailed things that I worry about and came to conclusions that were smart, interesting and not preachy. I really liked that Orenstein wrote like an informed, but delightfully imperfect parent. One particular passage where she writes about a trip to Target and feeling very, very unsure as how to proceed when her daughter wants a fairy-winged Barbie was particularly relatable and interesting. I also liked that she used the lens of the princess phenomenon to write about other aspects of "girly-girl" culture that I find disturbing/worrisome. In short, this is not just a book about how to deal with Disney--it is more of a book on girlhood as a whole. Her writing is clear and pleasant, much like what you would find on a well-written and friendly blog. She also displays a very empathetic vibe and nice view of things. There is no outright comdemnation of people others would find repugnant (the chapter on child beauty pageants comes to mind)--she seems to generally look for positives when negatives seem to abound.
We escaped the princess phenomenon with Gabby, although we should have been immersed in it totally. The Disney Princesses debuted in 2000, and Gab was born in 1999. My cousin's daughter was born in 2000 and was totally covered up in the stuff. However, Gabby never really showed an interest, and I'm not exactly sure how that happened. A lot of it, I guess, is Gabby's personality. She is just not the princess type, I suppose, and never really has been. Even as a very young child, she seemed put off by extremely girly things, preferring things that were unisex (for instance, she had a long-running obsession with Blues Clues). We owned a few Disney items--on VHS, if you can believe it--but it was nowhere near an obsession, and to be honest, I don't really remember much about it. In fact, I only became aware of Disney as a brand when Gabby got into the Disney channel and Miley and all of that stuff, a stage that we have thankfully left behind.
Although a lot of this I attribute to Gab's particular "Gabby-ness" (as my mom calls it), some of it, I think is that she was a first child to a couple of very young parents. And because she was that, we saw her immediately as "one of us." I don't remember dressing her in a lot of pink, except during this one phase where she liked it a lot (around 3) and then it was eye-searing HOT PINK, and not the pastel Barbie-esque tones Orenstein writes about. Instead, we dressed her much as we dressed. For instance, during the year that Old Navy hocked those Performance Fleece vests, we all had one, and sported them together (which is just asking to be documented on Awkward Family Photos). Gabby's was turquoise, not pink. She wore jeans a lot, and little corduroys, and graphic tees with pictures of people that Matt and I liked--superheroes, The Rolling Stones, a jedi or two. There wasn't so much of an emphasis on her being "our little girl" but rather on her being part of the whole, part of our young, emerging family. When we went to college, she did too, and I look back and realize that she very much dressed and looked the part.
Fast forward to now, 11 years later, with Big Al. Now that we have seen how fast our Gabby has grown, I think that we have resisted her being "one of us" just yet. Therefore, I have noticed a lot more pink in the ole wardrobe, and instead of little jeans, we're doing a lot more dresses (although mostly of the comfy, Hanna Andersson variety). This was especially true of Alice pre-12 mo. Now, with the walking and daily destruction, I have found myself doing a lot more BabyGap yoga pants (we have at least 4 pairs and counting) with various BabyGap tees. But whatever we put on her, I notice that it is much more childlike, much more in keeping with the age. Although I will admit to buying her a pair of skinny jeans and boots (much like my own), my favorite Alice buys have been a red tutu and her pink striped daydress. There is a certain wonderment in her personality, a certain je ne sais quoi that forces me to look at her as a baby. And I want to keep her that way.
And, of course, Matt calls Alice "Princess" on a regular basis. I'm not sure how it happened--he never called Gabby "Princess." (He also, inexplicably, calls Alice "Baby Nut" and has since her birth, but we'll not get into that one.) In fact, when this book arrived from Amazon, Matt took one look at it and said, "I'm going to have to quit doing that, aren't I?" At first, I laughed. Now, after reading the book, I agree that he does. I feel that because we love our "baby," we are in very near danger of turning her into a "princess." And that is not what I want.
This book does a nice job, I feel, of not only elucidating the problems with "princess culture," but also tying them to other things (the Twilight phenomenon, for instance, and I promise, this will be the first and last time you'll see those words on this blog--even 11 year old Gabby read about half of one book and goes, "The writing's kinda bad, Mom."). And, surprisingly, it ties things up very nicely at the end and gives you concrete ways to avoid this stuff, something I found very helpful since I have come to terms with what we could be capable of foisting on Alice. I feel more informed having read it, and more able to talk with both girls about some of the issues. No, I'm not instituting some kind of Disney ban for Alice (because that would be damn near impossible since my brother in law is getting married at Disney World in a few months--another story for another time), but I am going into the whole thing more mindfully and more aware than I was before. And the book helped me to have a conversation with Gabby about Ke$ha the other night, one in which I acknowledged the fact that the songs were catchy, but that they did not stand for things that I found important or role model worthy in being a girl.
I encourage you to pick up the book (if anyone is super interested, they can email me and I can loan it to you), and read it. Although you may not find it as helpful as I have (Amazon reviews point me to a few folks who weren't pleased), it is definitely an interesting read for those of us with awesome, interesting, and delightfully Un-Princess-y girls.

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