Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cinderella Ate My Daughter

If you've been following my losing battle against the princess parasite, you will not be surprised to hear how excited I was when I heard there was a new book out entitled Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Now, I haven't read the book yet, but the Times review by Annie Murphy Paul, had me hooked and I am DYING to dig in. In the book, Peggy Orenstein heads to toy fairs, beauty pageants, American Girl stores and Miley Ciris concerts, trying to figure out why and how the "princess phase" has become a more or less inevitable milestone of childhood for girls, what that phase morphs into, and at what cost our daughters feed the princess machine. This is Paul summing up the book's explanation of the very calculated invention of "Disney Princess":

"in 2000 a Disney executive named Andy Mooney went to check out a “Disney on Ice” show and found himself “surrounded by little girls in princess costumes. Princess costumes that were — horrors! — homemade. How had such a massive branding opportunity been overlooked? The very next day he called together his team and they began working on what would become known in-house as ‘Princess.’ ”

Kind of creeps you out, right? But as far as I can tell, Orenstein isn't arguing that Disney and the rest of the toy companies have invented the yen for girliness, they've only found a way to sate it and make bank. Here's the part that really engrossed me:

"Orenstein finds one such enlightening explanation in developmental psychology research showing that until as late as age 7, children are convinced that external signs — clothing, hairstyle, favorite color, choice of toys — determine one’s sex. “It makes sense, then, that to ensure you will stay the sex you were born you’d adhere rigidly to the rules as you see them and hope for the best,” she writes. “That’s why 4-year-olds, who are in what is called ‘the inflexible stage,’ become the self-­appointed chiefs of the gender police. Suddenly the magnetic lure of the Disney Princesses became more clear to me: developmentally speaking, they were genius, dovetailing with the precise moment that girls need to prove they are girls, when they will latch on to the most exaggerated images their culture offers in order to stridently shore up their femininity.”"

I find this fascinating because it seems so in line with what I've witnessed in Seconda. Her desire to wear princess dress-up is, in no way, causal -- it's not even a desire so much as an urgent need, and when she is not wearing a frilly dress, she gets genuinely worked up, frantic. Now sure, this is partly because I've got a kid that could get frantic over getting the wrong kind of breakfast cereal, but I see, too, that when she's not donning her dress, she feels in jeopardy in some way. And I'm reminded of how even a year or two ago, she would go apopletic when I put pants on her, insisting, "BUT I'M A GIRL!!!"

I'm wondering, though, why boys don't typically demonstrate such a fervent need as well. Maybe when I read the book, I'll find out.

In any event, I'm soon to be attending the same toy fair Orenstein mentions in her book and while I'm there, I'll be going to a talk on "Rethinking the Gender Bias in Toys", so fret not, readers, you'll be hearing more on the matter.