This week we’re doing a series about some of the concepts that Peggy Orenstein writes about in her book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Stay tuned for more posts from some of the other writers here!
I’ll admit, I haven’t read the book. Early last year, The Diane Rehm Show on NPR featured an interview with Ms. Orenstein. There’s certainly no way for me to comment on the entirety of the book in this post, but I’d like to comment briefly on the overt sexualization of young girls. Ms. Orenstein aptly describes frequent situations in which young girls (teen, pre-teen, tween, pre-tween, preschool, etc.) are thrust into an atmosphere dripping with sexuality. Abercrombie and Fitch (I know – shocking) came under fire last March for selling a push-up bikini for young girls. When faced with this kind of environment, these girls react the way anyone would – they adapt, they react, they incorporate, they do their best imitation of a sponge and soak it all up.
I don’t personally have a problem with Cinderella, Barbie, Aurora, Belle, pink, purple, fairies, crowns, or even the occasional tutu. They’re all crammed into various bins and boxes in our playroom as I type. Sometimes the girls play with them, sometimes the boys parade around the house in a much too small leotard. At this point in my parenting life, there’s not much that will faze me when I walk in the door after work. However, there is a significant problem, as Ms. Orenstein claims, with equating your daughter’s (or any woman, for that matter) value with her sexual appeal or behavior. Some may think that we as parents are paving the way for sexualizing our girls with the occasional fingernail polish. I hope not, but it’s a difficult world out there for young women. I hope we’re able to instill in our girls the ability to value their whole self, not just their physical self.
I work a lot with college students. Increasingly, many of our college students are women. Overwhelmingly, they are strong, beautiful, smart, inventive, and independent women. They’re just plain awesome – the kind of women I hope Peyton and Adah resemble when they are in college. I teach a class on college student development each fall and we always focus on interpersonal relationships one week. We usually read Janet Reitman’s piece on the lacrosse scandal at Duke University from Rolling Stone (read it if you have a chance – really good piece of writing). Usually, students reaffirm the thesis that college women live a bit of a Jekyll/Hyde life – during the day women perform well in class, excel in leadership positions, and generally outclass their male peers, while at night the same women reduce themselves, and their clothing, to the sexual playthings of boozed men. The women in class often lament that they see it all too often. They’re genuinely saddened by it. As a father, husband, and brother, so am I.
Peyton’s favorite color is pink. Lately she and Adah have been rocking out with these Vtech Disney Princess Wands:
I don’t think they’re destined for royalty by using this little trinket (sorry, girls). Tomorrow, they’ll jump out of their pink and purple sheets and probably head straight for their new dollhouse. Does that mean that Cinderella ate my daughters? Maybe for now, but I don’t think they’ll sit too well in Cinderella’s tummy. As they grow and develop, we’re going to teach them to love their Cinderella self, their pink self, their emotional self, their cognitive self, their physical self. When it’s time for them to understand their sexual self, I hope it’s on their terms.