Category Archives: play

links

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.

Lucila

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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?

Lucila

Starting point

Each week I will examine one chapter of Orenstein’s book. The first one basically states her starting point, and I put it out here so we can all start in the same page. For those of you who are new to here and wonder what I am talking about, the general review of her book is here.

So, how important is that girls play as princesses? Does it really matter if their clothes and toys are pink and if they have mainly flowers and butterflies? Orenstein thinks about this, and acknowledges the temptation to give this a pass, to think that ‘it is just a phase’, but ends up arguing that it matters, a lot.

In the first chapter of Orenstein’s book, she sets out her aim. She wants to understand the impact of images and ideas that girls absorb as to what they should be, and what roles should they play, and what made them girls, in this mainstream girlie-girl culture. And she asks, what is the first thing she learnt in her ventures into mainstream culture?

‘Not that she is competent, strong, creative, or smart but that every little girl wants  – or should want- to be the Fairest of them All’

She shows how studies done by the American Psychological Association show how

‘the emphasis on beauty and play sexiness can increase girls’ vulnerability to the pitfalls that most concern parents: depression, eating disorders, distorted body image, risky sexual behaviour’

Well, those are things I do fear.

She points out to some confusing signals: while there are more and more examples of girls’ successes, the push to make their appearance the centre of their identities , did not seem to have diminished, on the contrary, it seems to have intensified, and extended (to younger, and also older ages). And I have read many studies how teenage girls seem under so much pressure these days, much more than boys. Duties have piled up, and intensified.

(Does it not ring a bell with how the role of parents -and the invention of the verb to parent-, and especially mothers, has seemed to intensify in the last decades, just when women have more and more taken other roles?)

And this triggered in her questions about how to help our daughters navigate the contradictions they will inevitably face as girls. Her question is one I worry a lot about:

‘How do you instil pride and resilience in her?’

She gives examples of myriad moments in which we have to navigate the land of toys, clothes, of things. And she argues that answering this question, and navigating this world, is harder now, since the mid-1990s, than it was before. She explains that this is the moment where the Girl Power movement which celebrated ability over body, has its message turned around. Somehow, the body, the pursuit of physical perfection, became the source of empowerment.

This is her starting point. And in one way, much of mine too.

Lucila

The princess phase

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 ; )

Lucila

Don’t tell anybody, but I can’t play

 When I got pregnant there were a couple of things I was sure I would not do. First, I would never ever use the crying control method (known in Spain as Doctor Estivill’s method); and second, I would work part-time for a while after having the baby. My first decision was very much driven by what I had heard and read about crying control; my second was the consequence of being the only child of a working mother.

When I was born my parents had recently started their own business and had to work hard to pay their bills every month. My mum worked every day, including Saturdays, from 9:30 to 8:30, so she was never able to pick me up from school or help with my homework. I grew up a very independent and autonomous child because I had learned from an early age that I needed to be able to manage on my own.

I have very good memories of my childhood, but there were also painful moments of solitude. Most of all, I missed my mum. When E. was born I was determined not to repeat this situation.

My mother is a great woman: very active, energetic, intelligent and independent. She never went to college, but she managed to rebuild the family business from scratch when my father died. I feel a deeply grateful to her, as she was committed to working hard to pay for my studies and provide me with a good environment to grow up in. She hardly had any holiday for years, and amazingly she was also the person who provided members of my family in trouble with help and advice.

Her tough character was a bonus when my father died. She told me once: “If I had been a housewife when your father was alive, when he died I could have not managed the business. Thanks to the fact that I got involved in it, we were able to survive afterwards”. Of course she was right, but there were many things in between, many grey areas and definitely moments that were lost for both  of us

For example, I don’t have a single memory of my mother playing with me. I have memories of being with her while she was doing things around the house or going to the supermarket, but nothing like a lazy afternoon spent together baking or playing. These were the sorts of things I wanted to do with E., and that’s why I wanted to work part-time: to have a professional life, but also to be able to spend time with E.

But surprise, surprise…now that I have the time, I can’t play with him. When there’s time to play I always have an excuse. Cleaning the kitchen, calling a friend, tidying up the house… So the other day, talking to Lucila, I realised how much time she spent doing things with R. that I never do with E.

It‘s funny how what we haven’t been given is more difficult to give to others.  In my case, my mother never played with me, and although as an adult I can choose to do it, it is becoming a battle inside me.

I decided a couple of days ago that I would try to play for 30 minutes every day. So far this is the result of my decision: more or less at 4:30 pm I sit down in the living room with a big watch in front of me and start playing with E., counting down the remaining time until I can go into the kitchen to carry on cleaning or doing absolutely anything else . It sounds completely stupid, but I do hope that by keeping on doing it I can incorporate into my female family symbolic vocabulary that tells us that mothers can also play.

Natalia