Monday, June 20, 2011

Pink is for Girls

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

I saw the title of this book and immediately purchased six copies on Like a number of my friends with young daughters, I was bemused by my three year-old daughter's declarations of love for princesses, fairies, ballerinas and all things pink, especially in light of the fact that she didn't wear a single item of pink clothing until she was old enough to tell me herself that she wanted pink.

I knew the influences had to be from outside the home, because the home learning environment for my elder daughter consisted of gender-neutral toys and story books, and neutral-colored clothes and toys. It may have started with her first favorite TV show, In the Night Garden, with a stereotypically girlie-girl character names Upsy-Daisy. This was followed by party favor bags filled with Disney princess figurines and stickers brought home from girlie-girl themed birthday parties. And finally, in those first months after she started pre-nursery, my elder daughter was obsessed with labeling everyone (and everything) as a boy or a girl, replete with (often times incorrect) proclamations of what boys and girls can and cannot do.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the new Girlie-Girl Culture is written by an investigative journalist and a feminist, and is packed full of interviews with people as varied as academics, Disney marketing executives and mothers of toddler beauty pageant participants. Thankfully, Peggy Orenstein gives a somewhat balanced account because she accepts that, in our society, looks do matter, and she herself is struggling with the same questions as she raises her own young daughter.

I learned a lot from the book; it gave me much food for thought in how to help both my daughters navigate this girlie-girl culture. There is no right or wrong when making those daily decisions on how to help our children grow to be responsible, well-adjusted adults. I believe that just being aware of this culture and understanding it better by reading this book is good for me as a mother.

However, as Peggy Orenstein ironically points out, the parents least likely to be interested in this book -- i.e. those parents who embrace (and view as harmless) daughters who wear nail polish and child-friendly makeup at age 4, dress in midriff-baring crop tops at age 8, go on diets at age 12 because they "feel fat" -- are those who may benefit most from understanding the influences and effects of daughters growing up in this girlie-girl culture.

And by the way, did you know that when nursery colors were introduced in the 20th century, girls wore blue (symbolic of Virgin Mary), and pink was considered masculine because red was associated with strength? Think of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Wendy from Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Mary Poppins' Jane Banks: all were dressed in shades of blue. "Pink is for girls" only came about as recently as the 1980s!

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