Did Cinderella Eat Your Daughter When You Weren’t Looking?

From Goodreads

Sigh, I need to be careful here, I know. I don’t have a daughter of my own nor will I have one any time soon. I only have my experience as a daughter myself, along with four years of women’s studies where I read books like this by the dozens – particularly ones that look at how fairy tale mythology operates in today’s culture. I wrote my thesis on that after all. It was even focused on Cinderella. My conclusions dealt with the idea that Cinderella is an ever-adaptable myth; whether you put her in science fiction or horror. She is also at her best when she is surrounded by strong support groups, often female, rather than isolated as she is often pictured. Even Disney’s Cinderella had her band of faithful animal friends to fall back on for a dress. So, I’d say I came to this particular examination of Cinderella and how she translates in the modern world “girlie culture” with a fairly solid background of knowledge.

In Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, I agree with the main thesis. I cannot argue against the fact that the way culture and society inundate girls from the second they leave the womb with conflicting messages of pink, princess, sex and more pink is a problem. However, that problem goes in both directions because don’t we inundate boys with black, blue and how to be a “real” man from the start as well? I’d say gender modeling hasn’t quite gotten to the equality stage we’d like and science, as Orenstein explains, may not ever let the sexes be entirely on the same footing because, like it or not, some of it is genetic. There are some things we do seem to be hardwired to do, to be. What made me anxious reading this book was how anxious that made Orenstein. Is it a bad thing if there are a few inherent differences? Shouldn’t we celebrate those as much as we do when we make a step forward in gender equality? Wouldn’t it be slightly boring if we were all the same?

I know, it bugs me that I was wondering that too. But Orenstein is anxious, worried, almost obsessed with the fact that she might be somehow either not raising her daughter anti-girlie or not raising her girlie enough. As I am not yet a parent, I have to ask – does everyone get this worried about this? As I thought about my own childhood, I tried to think about my parents and how they approached raising my sister and me, opposites from the day we were born. I come from a Disney family so the Disney Princesses were always there in some fashion. I had a Beauty and the Beast lunch box for years in elementary school, I saw all the movies when they came out, and we went to the parks all the time. I, however, wasn’t a kid when Disney Princesses was a brand, when parents spend fortunes to let their daughters go to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, when it seems like a family vacation to Walt Disney World is now somehow ruined because the little princess doesn’t get to have breakfast at the Castle with Cinderella.

Personally, I loathed wearing dresses as a kid (still do), had more guy friends than girls (that changed when I got to high school), could play tackle football with the best of them and wanted to be smart, brainy Belle when I grew up. The fact that she was a princess somehow didn’t really seem to register. She liked to read, she spoke her mind and she wasn’t afraid of the Beast. Oh, and I hated the color pink. I have made my peace with it over the years but I’d still pick blue over it any day of the week. My sister? Adores dressing up, loves pink, can ride any horse you put her on and will give you an opinion of any college basketball team in the country on demand. Now, I’d need to ask but I don’t think Mom and Dad ever fretted over whether to buy me the Barbie house versus a book nor do I think they worried when Ally discovered horses, makeup or declared her wish to become a sports broadcaster. I think they were just always present; paying attention, supporting us and letting us find our own way whether that was by decking out in pink and frills or enjoying earth tones and hiking boots.

And that brings me to my biggest issue with this book – I don’t think Orenstein needs to be that worried. She is ever present in her daughter’s life, a little girl who seems to have a healthy curiosity, who enjoyed Disney Princesses until she graduated to Wonder Woman and who sounds, quite frankly, that she is more aware of women stereotypes than I am. This is a little girl who asks questions and who has a mother informed, interested and open enough to answer and then see what her daughter does. Culture and society are not going to change any time soon. We still see trends today that we’ve seen from the 1950s. At the same time, there are new trends, trends yet to show themselves and trends we haven’t even thought of yet. Yes, Cinderella is always going to be there, be she in Ashenputtel, Cendrillon or Cindy garb, but I think the best way to deal with her is head on and see what happens. I think we may find our daughters just might surprise us. Or, maybe I’ll go into spasms of worry the second I have a baby daughter of my own but I think having a little more faith in ourselves as caretakers and our daughters as bright, intelligent women with equally strong women ahead and behind them will be the best cure to Cinderella fever we’ll ever find.

Advertisements

Some Thoughts on Princesses

And no, I’m not going all Kate Middleton on you at this late date. I was recently catching up on some Disney podcasts and the last episode of Mouse Lounge was focused on the Disney Princesses. It’s a fascinating topic to me because 1) I am a bonafide Disney geek and 2) I was a women’s studies student and a proud feminist to this day. I found myself defending my love of Disney often in my women’s studies classes.

Still from Disney’s Fairy Tale Wedding Line. From Ranker

I never really overanalyzed though until a fellow WS student asked me a few questions about her senior project. She was looking at the Disney Princesses and their effect on young girls. This was just a few days after the first release of the Disney Wedding dress line and she hadn’t heard about that yet so I told her about that and didn’t think about it again until her presentation on her work in class. Her findings were telling if not unexpected – Disney Princesses could give girls the wrong impressions, and those imprssions fell all across the board: If I just wait, he’ll come rescue me (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella); If I change enough, he’ll fall in love with me (The Little Mermaid, might have an argument for Mulan here as well); If I just love him enough, he’ll change and be the man I need (Beauty and the Beast). I’m paraphrasing and certainly hoping I remember this well enough but you get the idea – the princesses are passive; beauty objects to which things happen but they themselves have no control over them. I remember listening and getting progressively more uncomfortable. Did I subconsciously take all that in? I was a kid long before the current Princess craze and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutiques but maybe, a part of me had taken that in anyway? The more I sat there in class, the more I thought back and wondered.

Ariel was technically my first princess. I vaguely recall seeing The Little Mermaid in the theater when it came out and I loved the music but the story was never my favorite. It was Belle and Beauty and the Beast that ruled my world. I had loved to read already; all I had to do was perfect walking and reading at the same time and I was set. However, I don’t recall pining for my prince. I wanted to go off and have an adventure sure – wander forests, ride in to the rescue in the end, marry the Beast for his library…sorry, off track. The thing is, I never saw Belle as someone who was fishing for a man; the fact she finds one in the end is just sort of a bonus. I think it helped that my dad focused me on how smart Belle was, on how much she liked to read, on how brave she was. He never pointed out that she got to wear a pretty dress and married a prince. It was sort of besides the point in my world. So, I spoke up in class. I don’t think my friend was surprised. I was the girl writing her thesis on Cinderella after all (for WS, I was more into looking at the sexual revolution of women in the 1890s-1920s, but I got Disney in on the English side. Poor Cindy, she needed someone to prove she was a bit more than a perfect shoe model). I talked about my Dad’s point of view and how he presented Belle to me. It was true, I was an odd kid but I was just as inclined to love princesses as anyone. I am a born hopeless romantic but for me, Belle was never just a princess, she was first and foremost her own woman, with or without a man in the picture. My class found this interesting and we ran off into the whole nature vs. nurture discussion. But I’ve never forgotten thinking about my relationships with the princesses.

Fast forward to today and Disney Princess culture is everywhere. Talk about a merchandising mint. But my approach to the princesses hasn’t changed. They have their place, most of them accurately reflect the idea of women in society for when they were created (let’s all have a field day approaching Sleeping Beauty with that in mind) which is why Belle reigned supreme for me even over the more overtly feminist princesses Jasmine and Mulan. Then came The Princess and the Frog.

I had totally gushed over her dress first

I discussed this briefly when I looked at Tangled; Tiana, the princess for my 20s. Hard-working, practical, secretly funny and a dreamer at heart though she tries to deny it, Tiana and Belle run neck in neck for my favorite princess award these days. “Almost There” is a song that gets me through the hardest days, the days when I forget I do have bigger goals, bigger dreams and if I just keep working for it, with a little dreaming for good measure, than I’m almost there for sure. Mouse Lounge focused on Tiana a lot and how she is a more “modern” princess and has the mentality to prove it and I had to laugh because the little girl they were discussing in the podcast still just loved the music, the colors, the adventure of Tiana’s story. She wasn’t thinking about how Tiana is a positive representation of women in animation but about how pretty her dress is in the end. Because, let’s face it, girls will be girls and even those of us who like to think we’re above that stood in line to gush over Princess Tiana’s dress at the Magic Kingdom.

The Princess culture is fascinating but ultimately, I think it is a combination of things that make some girls fall head long into it and others just enjoy the ride along the way. One thing is for sure, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon and I am sure to see many a little girl happily skipping up Main Street decked out as her favorite princess on her way to the Castle for breakfast with Cinderella during my trip in September. And honestly? I don’t see a thing wrong with that.