16 February 2012

My Thoughts on Peggy Orenstein, Cinderella Ate My Daughter

 "I would like to see the Hanna Montana episode in which Miley Stewart confronts the real truth about what it means to be a girl growing up in the privilege and the confines of the spotlight's glare. What would that look like?  A lot, I would bet, like Miley Cyrus's actual microscopically dissected life.  Ultimately, it was not the Vanity Fair shoot or the stripper stunt or the hooker heels that crossed the line: it was the fetishizing of Miley's wholesomeness, the inevitable trajectory from accidentally to accidentally-on-purpose to simply on-purpose sexy.  Why isn't it until that final leap, when a girl actively acknowledges and participates in what is happening, that parents or young fans cry out?"

"In 2009, twelve thousand Botox injections were given to children between the ages of thirteen and nineteen."

Peggy Orenstien's Cinderella Ate My Daughter was a fun read, but also serious one.  My own academic background began with an unfinished major in sociology, and my interest in the social construction of our reality has continued to influence my thinking as I studied literature, and as I teach young people.  I've always been interested in gender roles and how our society is ever-changing and yet strikingly always the same.  I also watch a lot of television, a lot of it bad television, and so I am constantly bombarded by the images that fascinate Orenstein, as she goes on a quest to disentangle the harmful and harmless that lie side by side in all of the messages that we send to our daughters about femininity.

I too have gawked in horror and fascination at the dolled up pageant makeup on Toddlers and Tiaras, and I have also been a little girl that, with no official Disney merchandise (that came around in 2000 according to Orenstein), asked my mom to make me a pair of Snow White socks for Christmas when I was three.  Orenstein's narrative is both a personal reflection on her decisions about parenting her own young daughter, and on her experience of being a daughter.  It is also an examination of some societal trends that she has observed: toddlers obsession with pink and princess culture, cyber-bullying, the phenomenon of getting older younger, changes in the play habits of kids, reality television and other media invested in the overemphasis on girls appearance, etc.  She explores these subjects without a clear agenda, which makes her a happy companion as a narrator. 

I've read a lot in the area of feminist theory, and pop sociology, and I wouldn't say that this book took me places that I've never been before.  However, Orenstein's voice was refreshingly honest, and nothing about the book felt didactic.  It made me think about the challenges that we all face in a society where it is ever more difficult to make any kind of decision in a vacuum.  Media is omnipresent.  Women's freedoms in society are presented as a double-edged sword, as young girls grow up knowing that they can be everything, as Orenstein states, they are still boxed-in in evermore insidious ways.  And so, the book had me leaving with more questions than answers, but they were questions that I hadn't thought about in a long time, and would like to think about again, because they are important.  If your interests as a reader, or a mother, or a daughter, or a working woman, or a media consumer gel with any of these issues, this is a quick, but thought-provoking read, and I would recommend it.

Title: Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture
Author: Peggy Orenstein
Publisher: Harper
Date: 2011
Genre: Non-fiction, popular sociology, women's studies

206 pages.
Where I got it: From the publisher, through TLC Book Tours
Challenges: None

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