I just finished reading Cinderella ate my daughter, by Peggy Orenstein, as I am already thinking about how to handle the looming challenge: the princess stage, which I can already see brewing. R. is only 2 and a half, but she received her first pink glittery fairy outfit for Easter, and she put it on and her face lit up and she said ‘princess’. And she puts towels and any fabric really, around herself and says ‘princess’. She wants to wear dresses, and wants me to wear dresses too, especially flowery ones. She grabs them from the wardrobe, and tells me to put them on.
It is weird, because I never talked about princesses, we did not care about the royal wedding, and she does not have books about them, or anything. Her first encounters with the notion of princesses were with her cousins here in Argentina, where things are much more divided in terms of gender in things such as clothing, colours, activities. But that wasn’t very intense either. Maybe the nanny too, or other children she plays with. In any case, it is happening.
But, as a mother of a girl, I really want to think ahead, rather than let the steam roller of the marketing machines at work and the flow of mainstream culture pass smoothly (though if I had a boy, I would do the same, but probably my concerns would be different). As Natalia commented before, I get fed up of the limited range of things that boys and girls are meant to do, be, use, or wear. It is limiting, in a bad way, and it does not nurture the amazing range of qualities that these little individuals might have. For instance, I find the importance that body image has in this culture, especially for women, is oppressive. And that is why I am thinking about this, because play is crucial way in which children understand things.
Furthermore, these first years are very important in terms of how nurture then becomes nature. As books such as Lise Eliot’s Pink Brain and Blue Brain shows (or what Cordelia Fine seems to be saying though I haven’t read it yet), babies and children’s’ brain are still in formation, and even though there are no significant differences, these are turned into big gaps, and also into ‘nature’, into adult brain differences. So what we do now, matters in more than one way.
So when I read in Blue Milk about this book, I ordered it and these last few days had a bit of time to read it. And this book kind of reassured me, but also scared me too. The scale and diversity of shit is much worse than what I imagined….
So I want to arm myself with a way to handle this many faceted issue. Because, as other mothers, I want her to grow up to be a happy, confident, strong woman that does mainly get not her self-worth, as Orenstein says, from the outside in, but from the inside out. And what I don’t like about the whole pinkness and princessy thing – as reinterpreted by Disney for instance -is that it is mainly about looks, about being beautiful, about not doing much, and being rescued by a prince. I am already aware of how she mainly gets compliments a lot on her looks, while boys don’t as much.
However, I struggle with thinking in terms of big powerful machineries at work vs little us. Though I know it is true in a general sense, and it pushes my politics in many ways, I also know that the details, the how things work are also important, and that this is often more full of cracks than what grand narratives allow. So though I know Disney and Mattel are totally retrograde in terms of women, I also think there is a lot of leave in terms of how things are used. And in what you can do about it. However, and this is a big however, we don’t live in a vacuum. R. has already started venturing in the big wide world, and will continue to do so. And in this, Disney, Mattel and others have quite a lot of money invested so that they presence seems almost unavoidable.
So how to deal with this? Here are my first thoughts…throwing the TV out of the window, keep them enclosed forever, moving to the middle of nowhere, talking about these things with them (or brainwashing – if Disney can, so can you!)… but really, as Orenstein says in her book, we are immersed in it in many ways, and there is a lot of money involved, much much more than even fifteen years ago. So an important question she asks is: how do we deal with this girly-girl culture? Where do we draw the line/s? How?
I will do a review tomorrow, but in the meantime, one thing that really matters and makes a difference is awareness. And as the author declares, to remember that our role is not to keep the world at bay, but to prepare them so that they can flourish in it.
I will leave you with this nice thought, and scare you tomorrow ; )