I stumbled upon this review of a book by Peggy Orenstein called Cinderella Ate My Daughter. It sounds like an interesting book, with one point being that girls don’t have some sort of biological imperative to like pink and princesses. It’s a culturally constructed thing and a fairly recent one at that.
I always squirm at how much people push kids into gendered boxes, from the start. A pregnant woman recently said to me that she thinks her baby is a boy, because he kicks so much! I just stared at her in shock at the idea that a female fetus would be less rowdy than a male one.
I don’t know, I’m not a parent, so maybe if I had a kid I too would say, “Oh, my little guy just naturally likes fire trucks and hates dolls!” instead of believing that there are a lot of blatant and social pressures on kids to play in certain ways. Not that they necessarily do! Just to undermine my own point a bit, my most favourite toy as a girl was my wooden sword, which was very useful in the many warrior games I played. But the fact is, kids often receive gendered toys as gifts. Girls are just going to end up with more Barbies and such, while boys get dump trucks. That’s not to say that those Barbie dolls are not planning an unprovoked attack on the My Little Ponies, leading to full-out war between the two factions! Not to mention the number of dolls, in the form of Thundercats and wrestling stars, that the boys I grew up with played with. Just no one calls those dolls. Is it because you can’t brush their hair and change their clothes? Those were always the most boring parts of playing with dolls anyway, only to be done with adults.
There does seem to be a lot more pink frilly princess-y things around now. At least in the ’80s we had She-Ra. And the Disney movies out at the time were Robin Hood and The Rescuers and The Fox and the Hound and Bambi. No princesses in sight.
At that time, though, adults were fascinated by a real-world princess: Princess Diana. Being a princess certainly didn’t turn out to be a happily ever after fairy story for her. Now we have Kate Middleton about to become a princess. I feel pity for her. The scrutiny of her ever move and outfit has ramped up since her engagement.
There’s a strong disconnect between real-world princessing and what gets marketed to little girls. Here is a recent article from the LA Times that features an interview with Peggy Orenstein. She says:
It would be ridiculous to say every girl who plays princess is going to have an eating disorder, but it is true that girls are getting more obsessed with their appearance. There’s lots of research that shows that the obsession with appearance has gone up since 2000, that 40% of 6-year-old girls regularly wear lip gloss or lipstick, that the percentage of girls 8 to 12 who wear mascara has doubled since 2008. I would not pin that on the Disney princesses, but I can pin it on a culture that encourages girls in an unprecedented way at increasingly young ages to emphasize beauty and play sexiness.
That’s worrisome. What can parents even do to resist these pressures? I’m not going to pretend I can answer that question, but I hope people are thinking about it.