I fight the girlie-girl culture. It’s not easy. I feel sometimes like a one-woman crusade against Cosmopolitan and inane chick-lit and spoiled entitlement and the idea that there’s something wrong with being smart and a woman. And now I have a daughter, and I’m fighting the good fight on her behalf.
While I was pregnant, I chanced to hear Peggy Orenstein on NPR discussing her latest book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. Her concerns revolve around the growing up younger, staying young older culture that we send our women through. When eight-year-olds wear mascara and Disney starts their princess marketing to girls the moment they’re born, some people (myself included) would say it’s time to take a step back and look at just what it is you’re creating.
This book is very interesting — alternately horrifying and enlightening. I never noticed before reading it that the Disney Princesses never interact with one another. I never felt the need to watch Toddlers and Tiaras, and after reading this book, I certainly never will. This book made me feel as though I am not the only one who has tried to dress a baby girl in something that’s not pink, and made me feel a little better about not being sure where we’re going to draw the “girlie” line. But the slight disappointment with this book is Orenstein doesn’t know what to do either. I didn’t think she would have all the answers, but she’s in the same place I am, trying to raise a daughter who is well-rounded, confident, interesting and all-around wonderful while avoiding the pitfalls of entitledness or three-going-on-thirteen-going-on-thirty.
This is something I struggle with — is a tiara now and then going to permanently damage my daughter? Will the one and only “daddy’s princess” tee she got as a newborn change her psyche (especially seeing as how we dressed her in it a couple of times)? Is it less about the material culture and more about the attitudes it influences? Can you grow up to be a balanced, strong, feminist woman who was once Cinderella for Halloween? I would hope the answer is no, no, yes and yes, but the hard thing of it is: how do you know?
Is it going to damage our daughters if we let them play princess? Probably not. The damage comes, I think, in buying into a consumer culture… a culture that says that your birthday party has to be at Libby Lu in the first place, not just a culture that says that six-year-olds should get makeovers and shake it on a runway. It’s the culture that says that you can’t just play with your American Girl doll, but she needs the four-poster bed and the dog and the horse and the wardrobe and the steamer trunk in which you store the wardrobe.
You only get one shot at raising your kid, and you have to do it the way you think is best. I’m not sure anyone has it figured out — and those who claim to are probably still kept up at night wondering if saying no to the Happy Meal but yes to the My Little Pony will come back to bite them. In our case, we’re going to try to let our kid be herself, offer her lots of opportunities from dress-up clothes and tea parties to dump trucks and model rockets, and see what sticks. We’ll probably change our minds a couple of times, lose a few battles, rethink our entire philosophy here and there. Our daughter can’t even speak in sentences yet, so the theories we have are largely untested (aside from the insistence that she does not need pastel duplo blocks — what ever happened to the primary colors?).
But the one thing where I’m standing firm: she only gets one “daddy’s princess” tee, and she already outgrew it.