15 February 2011

That Cannibalistic Princess Book

I just finished reading Peggy Orenstein's new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter.

There's been a lot of good reviews of the book*, and I don't really need to add anything to the discussion, except to say that it's really interesting - and I think it's equally useful for parents of girls AND boys. Orenstein writes a lot about the marketing of toys to children, using the Disney Princess phenomenon as a launching pad for a broad and didactic exploration of gender differences, shopping as a stand-in for intimacy, kids getting older younger, and grown-ups staying younger longer.

She touches on the series of "Daring and Dangerous" books - questioning why some activities are in the girls' books and others in the boys' books - who's to say that girls can't juggle? She points out that while the American Girl dolls have a veneer of wholesomeness, they also foster a consumerist culture - buy more expensive stuff for your doll! Orenstein dives into film and TV as well, dissecting everything from Mulan and Mulan II to the Wizards of Waverly Place to Lindsay Lohen. 

Incidentally, the book has as terrific index: you want to see what she's got to say about the Twilight series or Toddlers and Tiaras? Look it up.

Orenstein's style is thoroughly engaging - she writes like she's thinking out loud, or having a conversation in a coffee shop. She frequently shows you her vacillations through an issue, weighing heavy handed marketing against natural developmental stages.

In short, it's an admirable book, well-researched and not screechy.



    * Three reviews that I went back and re-read after reading the book were the Times Book Review, She Started It, and Slate.



    PS: No one asked me to review this, in case you were wondering. I just wanted to tell you what I thought. Also, maybe my post title is misleading - it sort of sounds like I don't like the book? But Cinderella eating children is kind of cannibalistic, no? Or wait, Cinderella eating Barbie would be cannibalism, because they're the same species. But are girls and dolls the same species? I guess not. So it's not cannibalism. Too bad; the title stands.

    21 comments:

    Becky said...

    I'm looking forward to reading this one. I like your title. ;)

    Harriet M. Welsch said...

    Without a girl in the house, I'd thought to ignore this one, but it looks really good and I generally like Orenstein's writing. I may have to give it a read.

    Imperatrix said...

    Thanks for the review. I've just requested it from the library.

    flutter said...

    I hadn't heard of it previously, it sounds fascinating

    Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

    Is the princess stuff really that ubiquitous? My 6yo isn't interested in any of it, and this town is small enough that our only toy stores are independent ones which sell wooden eco toys etc.

    Dragons are 'in.' When my daughter switched from dinos to dragons I was surprised by how easy it was to find stuffed dragons for her ... I imagine because of the success of "How to Train Your Dragon."

    Heathen Family said...

    Violet will be a teenager before I get a copy of this from my library. I swear they only bought one copy for the whole of the county.

    FreshHell said...

    Might have to read this even though it might be preaching to the choir. Girlhood is so different now than it was when I was a girl.

    Amira said...

    OOOOO, thanks for the review! Sounds like this book will come in handy :)

    Julia said...

    So here's are questions:

    How many of the problems disappear if you simply turn off the TV?

    How much can you eliminate by limiting (or having discussions about) princessy movies? By setting a model of thoughtful consumerism?

    Anjali said...

    Thanks for linking to me!

    It IS a really good book!

    Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

    What Julia said -- How many of these problems disappear if you just turn off the TV? What did the book say, and what do you think, Maggie?

    I'm unobservant and one of my 2 children is unobservant and I live in a small town & work from home, so I'm pretty out of it, culturally-speaking.

    Magpie said...

    @julia and @jennifer and anyone else:

    it's not just TV. you'd have to pull the kids out of school and never let them go to birthday parties (or have parties) and avoid target at all costs. i think all of the princess crap that's ever ended up in our house has been birthday party related. oh, and the occasional princess book has come home from the school library which irritates me no end because why were they there in the first place?

    we have lots of discussion in our house about consumerism and TV advertising and girls vs. boys, and i feel fairly good
    about our parenting choices, but i'm one cog in a very big wheel - i'm less concerned about my child than about a whole generation of american children.

    Rima said...

    I really want to read that. I KNEW I was onto something with my American Girl theory.

    ozma said...

    I guess I get it but then I think: My kid dabbles. She just dabbles. So I do not experience the same anxiety as some parents about the princess thing.

    Like she says: "I LOVE Cinderella." But 9 times out of 10 she simply forgets about Cinderella in favor of something weirder. E.g., she prefers witches to princesses. VASTLY prefers witch stories to princess stories and will always pretend to be a witch, almost never a princess. Or a pirate. Or almost anything powerful and misunderstood by the rest of society.

    People are concerned with princesses' passivity and this is why her games only have princesses 25% of the time. And when they do, there is a truly bizarre twist to the princess story. She embellishes on it and it just becomes freaky and not very Cinderella-like. Her Cinderella is a misunderstood rebel and kind of beatnikesque. She is bored by the 'success' part of Pricessery and only interested in the underground struggle of the oppressed pre-princess phase.

    This all makes me wonder if there is not so much more to princesses for little girls than parents imagine. But I haven't read the book and my kid may be an anomaly.

    So odd because I am the world's most anxious parent. The one thing whole books are about as threats I feel it is safe to ignore but I'm all freaked about other things no one pays any attention to whatsoever.

    On the other hand, as a phenomena what is available to girls and the uber-gendering of childhood really sucks. Dinosaurs are for boys. Rly? I mean: DINOSAURS. Some species of animals for boys, some for girls. The whole universe is divided between the boys and girls. It's HUGELY oppressive for BOTH genders and the saddest part is that my kid REALLY felt it as a child. She felt MASSIVE anxiety about wearing pants when she wanted to wear pants and the colors she was allowed to wear.

    I admit some is imposed by kids' themselves. But some is just made up corporate bullshit. And yes, that does piss me off. Mostly for the kids who don't fit--and I suspect this is more kids than we know.

    slow panic said...

    putting it on my list right now

    Amy said...

    hadn't heard about it -- so thank you! I have a ton of books about boys on my list, but have put off the girl stuff cause I'm so terrified!

    Bee said...

    I often bemoan the long hours my kids endure (enjoy?) at school, but as I read your description of this book I realize that they don't have time to watch TV, or shop, really; and they've both outgrown toys. I'm intrigued by this book, but it feels like we really don't live in that culture anymore.

    well read hostess said...

    I heard her interviewed about this book and was so jealous about the fact that she'd had it together to write it - Not that I could have done it as well as she did, or at all - but certainly it's a topic I've thought about!

    thanks for sharing your thoughts. I want to read this book!

    Marinka said...

    I'm reading this now too! I didn't realize about the index, running to see what the scoop on Toddlers & Tiaras is! Surely Peggy Orenstein applauds the show, no>

    Anna said...

    i havent read this yet, but i really want to. re. books from the school library - you think your kid bringing home princess ones is bad, mine has only brought home ones from the mary-kate and ashley series the entire year... now there's some brain-building literature for young minds!

    also, have you heard of the latest disney marketing insanity? sending reps into hospital rooms of new mothers. btw that and the planned parenthood funding cut, isn't it becoming a whole new crappy world!

    painted maypole said...

    this book keeps popping up... guess i'm going to have to read it. ;)