|Illustration by R. Anning Bell from Grimm's Household Tales, © 1912.|
The most important thing I took away from this book is that mass media and culture have an enormous impact on young children. Young children are unable to be critical of all of the advertising and marketing messages they are bombarded with hundreds of times a day. When my daughters see an advertisement for a drug that helps a woman control an overactive bladder, they will be the first to tell me that I should discuss this problem with my doctor. Nevermind that I don't have this problem. Or, they tell me that I should sign up for AAA because they'll be able to help me if my car ever breaks down.
I giggle about those kinds of things. But my girls are also being exposed to messages about what it means to be a girl and woman. Sexism, while often no longer overt, is still alive and well. Companies are no longer selling a Barbie who hates math (remember her from the 1990's?), but the toys and products that mainstream culture offers them encourage them to shop and be pretty and sexy--and not much else--in not at all subtle ways. If you're in doubt about how advertising encourages women and girls to dislike their bodies, you need only look at the two most recent examples: Dove is now selling deodorant for women that promises to make your underarms look better in 5 days, and Abercrombie and Fitch marketed a push-up bikini top to girls under 10.
As Orenstein writes, princesses "did mark my daughter's first foray into the mainstream culture, the first time the influences on her extended beyond the family. And what was the first thing that culture told her about being a girl? Not that she was competent, strong, creative, or smart but that every little girls wants--or should want--to be the Fairest of Them All."
We should be living in a time when girls have the world open wide before them. They should be able to play any sport they want, excel in any academic field, pursue any career they desire. But the focus in our mainstream culture is on pretty. And that focus starts early--ages 2, 3, and 4. Pretty clothes, pretty hair, makeup, big eyes, tiny waists, high heeled shoes. The princesses don't achieve anything, except for marrying a prince charming they've just met and barely know.
Over the past 7 years I have gone back and forth between hating the princesses and their insipid story lines and thinking they're not such a big deal. But Cinderella Ate My Daughter has confirmed my suspicion of all things princess. As Orenstein writes, "Even brief exposure to the typical, idealized images of women that we all see every day has been shown to lower girls' opinion of themselves, both physically and academically." There is enough in our culture that devalues women and girls--women are still paid less than men, women don't occupy as many positions of power in the public and private sector as they should, 3 women die at the hands of an intimate partner every day.
Orenstein struggles with the idea that just as women and girls seem to be gaining ground in our culture, these marketing forces come along that define girlhood in a narrow, restrictive way. Girls can now be smart, but they'd better be pretty and sexy too. And we may have thought these pressures were reserved for middle and high school aged girls, but they're extending to younger and younger girls. I don't need my girls thinking they are not good enough.
I want to thank Lori at Beneath the Rowan Tree for writing about this book. It's what motivated me to read it. Lori has been writing a series of posts on princess proofing that you should read if you're interested in this topic.