Category Archives: gender

Why am I crap at Maths? Well, because I am a woman

Some writing about coaching women that I submitted for my certificate in coaching. I thought I would like to publish it in our blog.

Just a warning: A bit long!


 Since Baron-Cohen’s book The Essential Difference[1] was published in 2003 there has been passionate debate on whether neuroscience can explain differences between genders; that is, whether men and women are different because they have different types of brain. In 2010, Cordelia Fine published her book Delusions of Gender,[2] which attacks Baron-Cohen and others’ main assumptions and labels them ‘neurosexism’.

The study of brain differences between genders started with several researchers, including Baron-Cohen, Becker[3] and Goldstein,[4] developing their theories in the field of disease pathology. These authors emphasize in their studies that sex differences exist in various chronic diseases such as schizophrenia, rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s, among others.

However, the field moved quickly into another arena; that is, one of measuring different gender behaviour and innate skills associated with the female and the male brain. Some of the adamant supporters of these theories include Anne Moir, who proposes treating boys and girls differently in school based on their different skills and learning capacities.  According to this author, boys’ and girls’ brains mature at different stages to reveal different skills at different times.[5] Her theories have already had a certain impact on the British educational system with at least one school, Blackawton Primary School in Devon, adopting them.[6]

The question addressed by these researchers is whether male’s and female’s brains are really so different that they condition their behaviour and innate skills. If they are, what are these differences, and can they be proven scientifically?  According to Baron-Cohen they can.

Addressing the question of gender brain differences, Baron-Cohen says: ‘The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems’.[7] Reading this statement may lead one to think that Baron-Cohen follows a strict gender biological determinism in which there is no room for social or cultural constructions of gender, something that he absolutely denies:

‘Biological determinists don’t dismiss the importance of culture. They simply don’t deny the role of biology. It is a moderate position, recognising the interaction of social and biological factors. Nor, in my opinion, is biological determinism necessarily sexist. It can be sexist, if it is used to claim that all women do X and all men do Y (since sex differences don’t apply to all individuals of one sex) or if it is used to perpetuate social inequalities. Such sexist applications of biological determinist theories are abhorrent’.[8]

In his mild approach to biological determinism, not all men have a systematizing brain and not all women are endowed with an empathizing one. These are just tendencies. In fact: ‘A brain type that leans towards strong ‘systemising’, for example, is more common in males, but there are plenty of men who don’t have this profile, and quite a lot of females who do’.[9]

Not surprisingly, this statement can make one wonder about the truth of a scientific’ theory that tries to explain `differences between genders as valid in some cases but not in others. This field is full of controversy, as different researchers report different results in their studies.

For example, a study conducted among children at school shows that they are very sensitive to gender language and division, with children exposed to gender divisions more likely to present gender stereotypes, such as that only girls should play with baby dolls.[10] Other studies show that believing in stereotypes undermines girls’ performance in maths.[11]  Interestingly enough, it seems that not all verbal abilities in toddlers are gender-determined. A study conducted among 80 families in two small cities in Kansas revealed no gender differences in verbal interactions among toddlers.[12] And finally, a study conducted in the US between more than 450 children of different backgrounds, socio-economic status, gender and race found that young children think that certain attitudes or inclinations such as playing football or playing with dolls are innate to boys or girls.[13] 

These are just a couple of examples to illustrate how understanding of male and female brain differences is still very controversial and far from conclusive. As Barnett and Rivers put it ‘Baron-Cohen’s work on empathy is a distressing example of sweeping generalization based on almost no credible data. He doesn’t bother to ask whether women’s empathy is a product of their brain structures or (more likely) of the fact that society assigns them the job of caring for others’.[14]

 Supporting the lack of scientific conclusive evidence on brain gender difference theories, Deena Skolnik Weisberg affirms: ‘Remember that neuroscience, as a method for studying the mind, is still in its infancy […] we should remember that it has this promise, and give it the time it needs to achieve its potential – without making too much of it in the meantime’.[15]

Accordingly, Fine tries to alert us to the danger of elevating speculation to the status of fact: ‘Once in the public domain these supposed facts about male and female brains become part of the culture […] they reinforce and legitimate the gender stereotypes that interact with our minds, helping to create the very gender inequalities that the neuroscientific claims seek to explain’.[16]

Taking this warning seriously into account requires analysis of how literature on social science has been exposed to and influenced by popular science, taking for granted certain assumptions that are still debatable in the scientific community.


[1] Baron-Cohen, S. (2003) The essential difference: Men, women and the extreme male brain, Allen Lane, London.

[2] Fine, Cordelia (2010) Delusions of gender: The real science behind sex differences, Icon Books, London.

[3] Becker, Jill B.; Berkley, Karen J.; Geary, Nori; Hampson, Elizabeth; Herman, James P.; Young, Elizabeth (eds) (2008) Sex differences in the brain: From genes to behaviour, Oxford University Press, New York.

[4] Goldstein JM. (2006) ‘Sex, hormones and affective arousal circuitry dysfunction in schizophrenia’ Hormones and Behaviour, Vol. 50, Issue 4, pp. 612-22.

[5] For more information see Dr. Anne Moir’s webpage at [accessed 2nd January 2012].

[6] See ‘Should boys be treated differently at school?’ (2011) at

should-boys-be-treated-differently-in-school/ [accessed 2nd January 2012].

[7] Baron- Cohen, S., Op. Cit., p. 1.

[8] Baron-Cohen, S. (2010), ‘It’s not sexist to accept that biology affects behaviour’ The Guardian, [accessed 2nd January 2012].

[9] Ibid.

[10] Hilliard, Lacey J.; Liben, Lynn S. (2010) ‘Differing Levels of Gender Salience in Preschool Classrooms: Effects on Children’s Gender Attitudes and Intergroup Bias’, Child Development, Vol. 81, No 6, pp. 178-1798.

[11] Beilock, Silan L.; Gunderson, Elizabeth A.; Ramirez, Gerardo; Levine, Susan C. (2010) ‘Female teachers’ Math Anxiety Affects Girls’ Math Achievements’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America, Vol. 107, No 5, pp. 1860-1863.

[12] Lindsey, Eric W.; Cremeens, Penny R.;  Caldera, Yvonne M. (2010)Gender Differences in Mother-toddler and Father-toddler Verbal Initiations and Responses during a Caregiving and Play Context’, Sex Roles, Vol. 63, No 5, pp. 399-411.

[13] Taylor, Marianne G.; Rhodes, Marjorie; Gelman, Susan A. (2009) ‘Boys Will Be Boys; Cows Will Be Cows: Children’s Essentialist Reasoning about Gender Categories and Animal Species’, Child Development, Vol. 80, No 2, pp. 461-481.

[14] Barnett, Rosalind C.; Rivers, Caryl (2005) ‘Biology, Destiny, and Bad Science’ Dissent, Vol. 52, No 3, p. 70.

[15] Weisberg, D. S. (2008) ‘Caveat Lector. The Presentation of Neuroscience Information in the Popular Media’, Science Review of Mental Health Practice, Vol. 6, No 1 , p. 56, quoted in Fine, Cordelia (2010) Delusions Of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences, Icon Books, London, p.  154.

[16]  Fine, Cordelia Op. Cit. p. 186. See also, Barnett, Rosalind; Rivers, Caryl (2011) The Truth about Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes about our Children, Columbia University Press, New York.


little nagging things

As I feel my energy returning, I feel the urge to write here, but because I have not been writing much, I start to feel certain internal pressure to write an amazing post. But this only works to stop me writing anything, so I decided to take the pressure off and slowly warm up again, and write something, you know, light. Here it goes.

So today I was thinking about our house move, and how I could decorate r’s room. We have been toying with the idea of a seaside theme, since r. LOVES fish and anything sea-related, and we are going  to be living by the sea. All well and good until I get this nagging and stupid, but real, thought: but it is going to be BLUE, and that is more like a boy’s room. And it actually makes me wonder if we should not keep the room as it currently is, with reds, oranges, purples, and more forest things like owls, elephants, mice and butterflies things.

But actually, this is not the first time that this stupid normalising, colour-coding hegemony thought came to haunt me. When we were thinking of decorating the nursery for the first time, I went for what I like. As I said above, reds, oranges, purple, green, rather than pink. First, because I am not a fan of pink, especially the pastel version of it, fuchsia is more of my taste, but I thought it might be bit strong for a baby’s room. Second, pink is not such an easy colour to combine, so almost everything has to be shades of pink and white. And that would be too much (for me). Third, all the stuff that was pink is mainly fairys, and ‘cute girly’ stuff, and I wanted to expand her senses, her colours, her themes, before (and if -here is me hoping) the marketing machine got us. I figured that if later on she wanted a pink room, with barbies hanging as mobiles, we could think about it, but for now, I chose what I was most comfortable with. But I had some moments of doubt.

And here it is again. Me, a feminist mother, stopping to think that I am making her room like a boy’s, just because it is blue. And the doubt is a kind of guilt at not creating her a ‘feminine’ room, and instead creating one that might be confused for a boy’s room, horror of horrors! And I had to stop and think what was I guilty about. Because I was not depriving her of something she wanted, on the contrary, she loves the sea and its creatures. So, why the guilt, the nagging feelings and thoughts that come unnanounced?

I think this unguarded thoughts reflect how categories such as colour coding become so entrenched that doing something different, even such as small thing as decorating a room, can bring about these beliefs and values that come attached to gender, and to being a good mother at the moment we are living, even to someome used to critically examining these issues. Have you found instances such as this one happening to you?


old news but good…

I don’t know about you, but I only get to read the papers I buy on Saturday slowly during the week, so here it goes, a bit late…

Guess what everyone is talking about these days, and was the headline of the Guardian this Saturday? New regulations on the sexual commercialisation of children. David Cameron (the UK Prime Minister that is) commisioned research on this, called the Bailey Review, and the report is out this week. Some of the recommendations include:

‘to back a plan to stop retailers selling inappropriate clothes for pre-teens and shield childrenfrom sexualised imagery across all media, including selling “lads magazines” in brown covers and making the watchdog Ofcom more answerable to the views of parents.

Retailers would be required to sign up to a new code preventing the sale of items for pre-teens with suggestive slogans, which the prime minister has repeatedly criticised.’

What it seems like is that more than regulation and legislation the recommendations are  going to be for signing up to voluntary codes of conduct for instance.

What Tanith Carey argues in the the family section is that regulation is a good way of sending a signal, but it is only a starting point, and urges parents to be more vocal and to exert their power as parents too.

I think it is a step forward that this is a matter of debate, of regulation and that it migth open up spaces for parents to feel that they are not isolated in thinking that padded bras and thongs with suggestive slogans are a bit mad for 6 six year olds.

In this debate, there were many opinion pieces which can be found online here and here and here for instance, and luckily the F word made an appearance because I was already starting to worry about siding with the conservatives!


On pink and other toy segregation

Review of Chapter 3, Pinked! of Orenstein, Peggy, 2011, Cinderella ate my daughter. Dispatches from the front lines of the new girlie-girl culture, New York:  HarperCollins Publishers

If you want to read a general summary of the book read here, chapter 1 here and chapter 2 here.

The problem with pink, this author argues, is not obviously the colour itself but how little a portion it is of the rainbow. This is representative to her of how limiting a range available there is for the creation of female identity in the mainstream toys and colours for children.

In a way, one could be happy for the celebration of girlhood through all things pink. But she argues that this celebration of girlhood, just as with princesses, celebrates a very limiting and limited portion of what it means to be a girl/woman. It essentially fuses girl identity with appearance. 

Orenstein traces the history of the use of pink and blue for girls and boys and shows that until recently children weren’t colour coded –white was used for all as it made sense for better cleaning and saving. When it did start, pink was actually for boys – sublimated red- and blue for girls- which related to the colours of the Virgin Mary. In any case, what she shows is how strong is the power of marketing to impose these colours, and also in the ways in which more and more they create different developmental stages. She shows how people in the retail business invented the ‘toddler’ phase rather than child developmental research, for instance. The same goes with ‘tween and all the different separations that now exist. The bottom line is: separating (in age and sex) boosts profits. Pink makes business sense.

She shows next how toys have fallen into this game of prettifying themselves to sell. Sesame street had trouble with finding a girl figure that was successful, until they made a ‘pretty’ one (there are very few girls in the programme, one which has addressed many issues such as race and disability, but gender…it still struggles). The same with Dora the explorer, the one aimed at 5-8 years old: is suddenly tall and elongated, more ‘pretty’. The excuse of manufacturers is always the same ‘we are honouring children’s pattern of play’. But are they honouring or imposing? Where’s the line?

The author ponders about the importance of toys for children, can’t we just say ‘oh this are just toys, let’s not worry about it’? You could, of course, but she argues, again, that what we have, own and wear says a lot about ourselves, these things in many ways reflect who we are. So she asks then:

‘What do the toys we give our girls, the pinkness in which they are steeped, tell us about what we are telling them? What do they say about who we think they are and ought to be?’

So, if we buy our children these toys: what are we telling them about who they are, what they should value, and what it means to be female?

With this in mind, she analyses the evolution of dolls. From dolls that were meant to boost the ‘flagging maternal instinct’, to Barbie, who entered the scene in the 60s, toys reflected parental values and/or societal values. She shows how Barbie was, in the 60s, a moment when gender values were in flux, in a way revolutionary, as it reflected a whole new idea of what women could be that differed in some ways from the washing machine and irons that came with other dolls. Barbie was single, fun, free to hang out with boyfriends. But Barbie has changed over the years, its features softened, its palette of colours reduced, it was made more ‘pretty’ as its public changed – instead of the 8-12 year old market, more and more its consumers are in the 3-6 market.  And older girls, in rejection to anything babyish, look for ‘cool’. In this case Barbie is left for Bratz. Bratz are dolls that exude ‘sassiness and attitude’, which in another words means sexy. From pretty to sexy, that’s the line to walk on for girls.

So the ‘innocence’ of princesses’ and even of Barbie now fades away to give way to what was behind it more clearly: narcissism and materialism. And Bratz more bluntly clearly define appearance and consumption as hallmarks of female identity. And Bratz were very successful, taking up to 40% of the doll market.

She states that she does not think that these companies have a plan to brainwash our children…but that they do it because it works, and in a way parents pay for it. So the question becomes then ‘why does it work and why parents pay for it?’

What she asks is:

‘why do parents need to apply such difference between male and female?

 ‘what is the anxiety that accounts for the surge of the pink and pretty?’

She answers with more questions.

She shows how what it seems is that the more freedom women have, the more polarised a culture’s ideas about the sexes becomes. But, how is this to be interpreted?  Is it fear of sameness? Or is it that now we can enjoy difference without fear? Or is the segregation biologically driven?  Even if so, she asks herself what is the impact of separate but equal might make on children’s perceptions of themselves. This is the next chapter theme: nature and nurture.

This chapter is one in which I agree with loads of what she says, and the dilemmas she struggles with, but one in which I would have liked to have been analysed more in depth.. or let’s say I would have liekd more ammunition towards corporate practices :).

 This chapter is supposed to show the transition from the innocence of princesses to the ‘coolness’ of sexy. And in a way, it is clear through her description of the ‘dolls war’ that there was something here in that transition that worked, if not Bratz would not have been such a phenomenon. So it is a phenomenon. The more popular toys are ones who encourage first prettiness and now sexiness for girls. And as she says, when we buy these toys we are telling them something about themselves, about what we think they should be.

In addition, the chapter showed clearly how the segregation of toys into boys or girls and ages, boosted profits enormously. As she says, pink makes business sense. She criticises the answer of most toy producers…but then at the end in a way it feels as if she lets corporations off the hook a bit.

As I desribed above, she ends up the chapter saying that she does not think there is a great conspiracy from these companies to brainwash our children, which we can probably agree with, but that they do it because it works. Because children want it and parents pay for it. But even though this is a very valid point, I would say that you don’t need a conspiracy to say that these companies should be responsible for what they produce. And although parents are a crucial factor here, putting the concluding focus on parents and culture more generally for buying these produce seemed to let the companies off the hook a bit.

In any case, as I said before, this book sparks more questions than gives many answers to in a way. It made me want to know more: but how are these toys used? How do parents justify their buy? How does peer pressure and gender policing have a role in this? TV? How does it differ in different contexts where the marketing machine is not so developed? What can we do about it?? Some of these questions she answers in other chapters, but some are left lingering.



As I haven’t finished my review of Orenstein next chapter – I promise to finish it first thing tomorrow morning, it is just that jet lag means that r. is going to bed at 10.30 at night, and I don’t have the energy to work after that! – I will point out some great blog posts on these matters:

one is blue milk’s on bratz and the sexualisation of children. there are many on this theme on her blog, but this one is a classic.

The other one is one by adventures in boogieville, where she talks about race and gender, and ends up with princesses. She points to the crucial thing here. That no matter what we add to princesses: introduce different races, activities, strenghts, the bottom line is that princesses are about being pretty. And this is problematic.


Why do parents like princesses?

Review Chapter 2: What’s wrong with Cinderella?

Orenstein, Peggy, 2011, Cinderella ate my daughter. Dispatches from the front lines of the new girlie-girl culture, New York: HarperCollins Publishers

Orenstein starts this chapter describing how she was surprised to find her daughter at a party deeply involved in being Snow White, and loving it. She described how she had kept away this story and thought she would not encounter it, or like it, for the passivity of the princess, and her washed out personality. She is good at tidying up, and singing, but nothing else, apart of course, from being pretty, and being chosen and saved by her prince solely on this premise.

And she goes on to explain that she was a Disney kid, but that somehow things have changed since then. The princess phenomenon is a case in point. The Disney princesses as such did not exist until 2000. She interviews the ‘maker’ of this phenomenon, Mooney, an ex-Nike executive who discovered a goldmine at a Disney-on-ice show, where all the girls had princess outfits that were homemade. From this shocking fact, Mooney created the Princess line. It was new in that Princesses had never been grouped together (which is why she says that when they figure together, they never look at each other, but in a slightly different direction). It was like hitting the jackpot, sales soared immensely. Today, there are over twenty six thousand Disney Princess items in the market. Mooney says ‘we gave the girls what they wanted’. Soon after Mattel followed with a princess line, and even Dora the explorer has an episode about turning into a princess.

Orenstein admits that girls might like to play princesses – but 26.000 products? She asks herself where the line between giving them what they want and coercion begins. And most of these are clothes, accessories, and make up: appearance based. Mooney says the typical line for this ‘it is just a phase’, and that there are no studies that show that playing princesses harms girls.

But, as Orenstein points out, there is much evidence that show that the more mainstream media girls consume, the more importance they place on being pretty and sexy. And that those that hold values which emphasise beauty and pleasing behaviour are less ambitious, more prone to depression and less likely to report to enjoy sex or insist partner wear condoms. And this are not particularly withdrawn and passive girls and women, but exposure to stereotypes has been shown to affect girls quite a lot, and quickly too.

Orenstein shows how girls nowadays are under much more pressure, pressure to be perfect. And what this means is that they want to be very good at school and sports but also be kind, pleasing and be thin and pretty. What she concludes is that girls today have much more opportunities, but at the same time are victims of this broadening of expectations. Again, it seems the more girls achieve, the more they obsess about their appearance.

She argues with herself that boys have also limited range of play things, and that fathers tend to police their masculinity much more than girls’ femininity, but ends up concluding that girls are the ones who seem to have their world and possibilities much more circumscribed.

So she asks herself why do parents go for this. As she says

‘princesses avoid female bonding. Their goals are to be saved by a prince, get married […] and be taken care of for the rest of their lives. Their value derives largely from their appearance. They are rabid materialists. They might affect your daughter’s interest in math. And yet…parents cannot resist them. Princesses seem to have tapped into our unspoken, nonrational wishes. They may also assuage our fears: Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty may be sources of stability in a rapidly changing world.’

She described how princesses are seen as safe, as inspiring, as helping little girls stay little girls as much as possible. As she points out, maybe it is related to our need for comfort, for stability, for tradition in an unstable world. She looks then at what seems like an antidote: the American Girl Collection. This is because these dolls are well-made, and the author strived to offer an alternative view of childhood, one also linked with history of the USA. In the books that went with the dolls, girls were portrayed as being much more independent and feisty, probably more than what they could possibly be at the time, and also to emphasise character over appearance. Much better than a Bratz doll like Jazmin, who cares mostly about her appearance, gossip and celebrities.

However, this collection is rather paradoxical. She points out how while books advocate against materialism, the products around these dolls were multiple, and very expensive. She concludes that line from both Disney and American Girl ‘promise’ parents to keep girls, girls, and safe from early sexualisation, but do so through introducing them to a material culture that encourages exactly the opposite. And that these imply that intimacy between mothers and daughters is done through consuming ‘girly’ things.

I liked this chapter in that it emphasises what parents might see in this princess culture, what they like in it, and why do they indulge their daughters in it. Furthermore, it shows the contradictions that these kind of ‘desire’ is embedded in: a deeply materialistic culture which emphasises girl’s appearance. And even if she cannot show how this will affect girls in the future, she shows how this emphasis more generally, strongly affects girls and young women. What I still don’t get here is the sense of how much of this immersion matters. What if princess play is only part of what girls do? Maybe mothers or dads with older children could tell me, is this kind of play overwhelming, and ? For instance, can you buy an American Girl doll and a book, and be happy with this? As this does not exist in Argentina, or as far as I know, in the UK, I am not sure how insidious this is. I know Disney is, so I understand her predicament. What I think is that she is trying to show here these contradictions, to highlight the materialistic nature of this ‘culture’ and the emphasis on beauty, which I agree is negative. And I agree with her analysis. I am still unconvinced though about how all or nothing this is. But I might be innocent, since I am not there yet, just incipiently… Any thoughts?


Pink and pretty – how ‘innocent’ can harm

Orenstein, Peggy, 2011, Cinderella ate my daughter. Dispatches from the front lines of the new girlie-girl culture, New York:  HarperCollins Publishers

I explained before what moved me to grab this book. As the title of the book suggests, it studies and analyses the new incarnation of the girlie-girl culture.

I liked this book for several reasons.

First, because I could identify with the authors concerns for her daughter and the reasons she set out to study more in detail this phenomenon. She describes how she wants to encourage her daughter to be a healthy, happy, strong girl. The girlie-girl culture freaks her out, but at the same time she does not want to give her daughter the impression that feminine, or girly stuff is not good, that ‘boys’ things are better. She wants her daughter to find a way of exploring her sexuality in her own terms, and being able to understand her body, her desire, her needs. And thus, objects strongly to the early sexualisation of children, and to the models of coming of age that seem to follow the princes stage – that of modern human ‘princesses’ such as Hannah Montana or Britney, which ends up being about objectifying.  She wants her daughter to be strong and independent, to have a healthy body image and at the same time to fit in. She is worried about media, but also about social media. And more. 

And she is brave to tackle head on these difficult issues. To do so, she immerses in the girlie-girl culture, by talking and interviewing different people, such as the mind behind the Disney Princess phenomenon, by analysing different products and toys – from Barbie, American Girl to Bratz, and all the z phenomenon-, by talking to mothers and children –including toddler pageants’ mothers- , by reviewing studies, and also weaving in personal stories. This book is mainly targeted at the general public, more than an academic audience. It is journalistic. And it is well-done in this sense as I found it not only informative, but also funny, and very engaging. I read it very quickly.

A thing I really appreciated about this book is that it is not written from a smug ‘know-it-all’ perspective. She questions herself, backtracks, starts again, moves in different directions around the issues and shows her personal struggles. It is like reading a funny, honest, on-going conversation of the author with herself, and with others, around the tricky issues parents and children face in contemporary girlhood. It is the type of conversation I would have myself. So in a way, I am glad she has done so much work that I can use, and also work with. Beware, if you are looking for a more ‘parental advice’ book, this book shows her journey, not a clear cut ‘solution’.

For me, this made the book meaty and engaging, but also particularly difficult to review properly, to summarise. And for this reason, I have decided that it would be more interesting to describe here briefly the issues the book touches on, and to, in the following weeks follow up with the different themes this book raises.

So here it goes:

Orenstein starts this book by arguing the importance of thinking about the girlie-girl culture, even though we might be tempted – with so many other issues to worry about- to give it a pass. She states that the emphasis on beauty and play-sexiness can increase a girl’s vulnerability to the issues that most worry parents: depression, eating disorders, disordered body image, risky sexual behaviour, to name a few.

She argues that these issues don’t just magically appear during teenage years, but are slowly built throughout the years. And that these little decisions parents make all along, such as which toys, movies, clothes, children wear/use matter. Her aim is to understand ways in which we can help our daughters navigate the contradictions they will face as girls, and to show us how and what this culture has become and what has changed in the last years.

She deals with the question of why princesses appeal, not only to children and businesses, but to parents. And shows how these are appealing to parents many times for their ‘safety’, but that this is done through a consumer culture that encourages the opposite. In addition, she scrutinises the boom of ‘pink and pretty’ for girls, and for this explores the business sense in this strategy, and how limiting this turns out to be for creating a female identity. This leads her to tackle the issue of nature vs. nurture, and to show how even though there is phase where gender for children needs to be validated through exterior signs, which makes them more prone to seek reassurance from toys, clothes, colours, this is also a stage in which they are more malleable to long-term influences on abilities and roles that go with sex. Next, she looks at how exploration of femininity can lead to exploitation and how difficult to manoeuvre the land of sexually charged toys, dolls, clothes.

Furthermore, she discusses the need for violent play, and critiques how this has been thwarted by TV. She shows how, even if children use the same toys –such as guns – as older generations used, the marketing culture in which they are immersed means that the relationship that girls (and boys) have with this toys and the impact they have, is different. The author also explains how tame Disney fairytales can be detrimental to a child’s emotional development, and describes her successful experiments with more gory versions, which at least, she argues, give better models for coming on age than the real life princesses she goes on to examine.

Orenstein described how the passage, the coming of age, of real-life princesses, such as the Hannah Montana actress or Britney Spears, for instance, seems to invariably involve the shedding of clothes. Her struggle here is that these modern day princesses seem to express the struggle of girls more widely, but encourage girls to view self-objectification as a female rite of passage.

Next comes a related, and major, issue in all this girlie-girl culture:  the importance of body image. She describes here the history of fat, and how it became not only a health issue, but the moral issue it is today. Her advice, before having a daughter, to avoid eating disroders and a disordered body image was the usual: praise the actions not the body, involve her in group sports, in volunteerism, and make her media literate. But she shows how hard it is to counteract a message that is given by everything and everyone, and also one that you find hard modelling yourself. And how hard she finds it to give her daughter a sense of self-worth that was not contingent on her looks and clothes, but at the same time make her also stay allies with other girls.

Finally, she studies how the internet and social media is experienced and used by older children. She shows how social media has changed the ways children conceptualise their selves and their relationships, and that these are build in a similar way as ‘branding’. In addition, she shows how bad judgement was much less memorable before, and how forms of harassment and bullying have found new and wider forms of expression. The author points out how different ages bring different challenges, different abilities and development, and thus, different parental strategies need to follow. The author, however, reminds us that our role is that of preparing them, more than shielding them, from the world.  

As you can see, even with this brief summary of issues, there is plenty of stuff to dissect. I do recommend this book, and would love if you want to join me in reading and discussing it together…like a geeky book club, you know you want to 🙂

And if you don’t keep up, I will send you some pink toys and a princess DVD your way…


Note: I have not been sent or asked to review this book.