Sunday, January 23, 2011

New Book: Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein is officially released on Tuesday. I received a review copy of this through Amazon's Vine Program, wondering how much it would pertain to fairy tales and SurLaLune readers. Well, actually, it does much more than I expected. The topic of fairy tales and their influence on children, especially girls, as well as pop culture is one of the more popular topics on SurLaLune. I had to build pages to Children and Fairy Tales and Women and Fairy Tales to help answer all the many, many queries I receive about these topics. Then there's the whole kettle of fish under Disney and Fairy Tales, too. This book can be added to all three lists to some degree.

The book developed from a somewhat famous article by Orenstein in the New York Times on December 2006, What’s Wrong With Cinderella? It is no surprise it developed into a book deal. The article is rather inflammatory and received quite a bit of response on the web.

One of my complaints about these types of articles and books--usually--is the lumping of fairy tales in general with Disney fairy tales in particular. Orenstein avoids this. In her book, she discusses Disney as a separate entity and also goes back to the source tales. Of course, most of the direct fairy tale interpretation and criticism she invokes is Bettelheim, no surprise really, despite Bettelheim's fall from grace with academia. Not that the there is much discussion of fairy tales at all, some pages, not even a full chapter. The relief is that fairy tales are not really blamed for anything, treated more as symptoms and representations of issues. The focus is on Cinderella with Little Mermaid, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty getting pretty much equal second billing together. She admits that not all Cinderellas are created equal. She is actually somewhat enamored with Aschenputtel.

That said, fairy tales are not really the case in point here although they are represented. The book covers Orenstein's interactions with Disney, American Girl, Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana, beauty pageants and even Twilight. The surprise to me was that despite my assumptions from the book description as well as the original inspiration article, the book is not very inflammatory. Orenstein is sincere and tries to find a balance between the extremes as she explores American pop culture of young girls and its influence upon them. She doesn't offer solutions--which other reviewers have wanted--but she makes the point that parents pretty much have to circumnavigate this difficult period in history to their best style and choices according to their daughters, and sons for that matter.

Overall, this is not a scientific book although Orenstein references some research and other sources, such as the well-reviewed Girls on the Edge. The examples are mostly anecdotal, and in this case that means the anecdotes are mostly from San Francisco and New York, not cities that represent most of the country's experience although there are certainly commonalities. That was also my issue with the Babies movie in which the children from tecnhologically advanced countries were from Tokyo and San Francisco.  Those children's experiences are almost as foreign to the average American kid as the Mongolian and African children. That said, I certainly enjoyed the movie all the same. Mostly, I don't know many children as materially privileged as the ones discussed in this book. This is a book for sparking thought and discussion, starting the discussion of girls' needs and wants under the influence of a supersaturated media culture. I can see it really sparking in a book club meeting. Nevertheless, many of Orenstein's anecdotal experiences are similar to my own. The Princess culture lives and breathes just about everywhere little girls live in the US.

So, yes, I recommend the book if the topic interests or even scares you. The book offers benefits to the princess culture--and surprisingly enough Twilight--despite the author's initial apprehensions. It doesn't celebrate, mind you, but it doesn't wholeheartedly condemn them either, seeing value. The nature vs. nurture debate is also strong and discussed--this is where the most scientific research is shared. There are no easy answers and Orenstein serves only to ask the questions and give a little comfort, surprisingly enough. She admits to her own imperfections and wobbles, too. In the end, she is another mom wanting her daughter to grow-up with the freedom and inspiration to be whoever and whatever she wants to be without insecurities or hang-ups, or at least the minimum amount possible.

The marketing, I admit, fascinates me for it is more inflammatory than the book itself. I fear it may alienate some of its needed audience, those who throw it all out due to the extreme sounding descriptions. I left the book with more of a loathing for marketing to children in general. I am of the last generation that didn't get the full court press from media marketing although I experienced my fair share. My younger siblings did get it in the 80s and I experienced a little bit of it with them. It's a scary, scary machine.
Product description from the publisher:

The acclaimed author of the groundbreaking bestseller Schoolgirls reveals the dark side of pink and pretty: the rise of the girlie-girl, she warns, is not that innocent.

Pink and pretty or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. Somewhere between the exhilarating rise of Girl Power in the 1990s and today, the pursuit of physical perfection has been recast as a source—the source—of female empowerment. And commercialization has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages.

But, realistically, how many times can you say no when your daughter begs for a pint-size wedding gown or the latest Hannah Montana CD? And how dangerous is pink and pretty anyway—especially given girls' successes in the classroom and on the playing field? Being a princess is just make-believe, after all; eventually they grow out of it. Or do they? Does playing Cinderella shield girls from early sexualization—or prime them for it? Could today's little princess become tomorrow's sexting teen? And what if she does? Would that make her in charge of her sexuality—or an unwitting captive to it?

Those questions hit home with Peggy Orenstein, so she went sleuthing. She visited Disneyland and the international toy fair, trolled American Girl Place and Pottery Barn Kids, and met beauty pageant parents with preschoolers tricked out like Vegas showgirls. She dissected the science, created an online avatar, and parsed the original fairy tales. The stakes turn out to be higher than she—or we—ever imagined: nothing less than the health, development, and futures of our girls. From premature sexualization to the risk of depression to rising rates of narcissism, the potential negative impact of this new girlie-girl culture is undeniable—yet armed with awareness and recognition, parents can effectively counterbalance its influence in their daughters' lives.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter is a must-read for anyone who cares about girls, and for parents helping their daughters navigate the rocky road to adulthood.

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