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Cinderella Ate My Daughter (& Where I Found My Girls)

It's fascinating to watch my girls develop into young women -- to see their sexuality, intellect and self-awareness grow. It's also scary to recognize that our influence in their life is waning.
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I got my hands on a copy of Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein which is just out in paperback. As I read, I found myself looking for my daughters. I looked and found myself too -- as a mother like Orenstein who wonders and worries about the effect the marketed girlie-girl culture is having on our girls. Okay, not just my girls. But actually, all our girls and, our boys too.

Here's a brief synopsis from the publisher, Harper Collins:

Having spent nearly two decades reporting on issues of womanhood, girlhood, and female empowerment, noted journalist Peggy Orenstein, author of the watershed bestseller, Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self Esteem, and the Confidence Gap, figured she knew something about girls. But that all changed when her daughter, Daisy, was born. Trying to raise a girl in this post-Feminist age, Orenstein discovered, is more than a little perplexing. As a new mother, she was blindsided by the persistent ultra-feminine messages being sent to a new generation of little girls -- from pink "princess-mania" of preschoolers to the Kardashian-style diva culture that comes after. In Cinderella Ate My Daughter, now available in paperback with new material, Orenstein struggles to make sense of this barrage of "femininity" being foisted on girls from an early age.

Orenstein's book is a bestseller. In spite of this success, CAMD probably didn't make as much money as the Disney princess dresses that Orenstein talks about. Orenstein cites stats that put Disney's haul for those swishy pink bits of polyester froth at over $4 billion in past years. And if you have a girl aged somewhere between 2 and 12, you may have chipped into the princess pool. Or supported Barbie, Bratz or American Girl Dolls. Somehow, we managed to basically miss all of this madness.

I say somehow because I don't want to sound too self-satisfied, but I'll confess that reading Orenstein's book felt like a welcome pat on the back in many ways. As I read CAMD, I found myself creating a mental checklist of things we consciously tried to do in raising our girls. My girls both played dress up. They both went through a pink phase. Even Izzy, my tomboy, went through a quick 8 or 9 months of wearing nothing but pink dresses. But Izzy has always counted boys among her very best friends and still does at age 15. Amalia is 12 and very different from her sister. While she enjoyed playing in dirt and mud as much as Izzy, I didn't find her dangling from the tops of trees nearly as often or wheeling at breakneck speed down steep driveways. Amalia and her friends played hard core imaginative games that took your breath away with the breadth and scope of set up, negotiation and storyline. (Not to mention the line up of tiny wooden animals, flower petals, beads, wooden furniture, miniature porcelain tea cups, scraps of fabric and weird bits of clay that paraded through rooms of my house and out into the yard.)

Neither of them expressed much interest in being princesses. We kept them from a lot of pop culture and media when they were young, Disney included. Like Orenstein, I also recoiled from the annotated versions of fairy tales and myths. When it seemed pretty much age appropriate, we read the "real" versions of these stories. We also read a lot of other things. The number one rule is still that you have to read. Number two rule is that you can't read books that were created from TV shows or movies. And if a movie is coming out based on a book, you'd better read the book before seeing the movie.

We've moved away from the days when the TV sat dark and ignored, the girls were outside as much as they were in and we found growing watermelon in our backyard incredibly exhilarating. Actually, the gardening bit would still probably hold them. I can remember Izzy complaining that she felt left out at school when kids talked about the TV shows they'd watched. She let me know that it was my fault, but I held firm to the no TV during the school week rule and braved the storm. There is a lot more screen time going on in my house now than I'd like to admit. But I'd like to think that the foundation we've created is strong, that my girls are media literate and that this is helping them develop into independent-minded women. These are ongoing conversations and we hope we're guiding them toward becoming more savvy as female consumers and aware of their own thoughts and feelings.

It's fascinating to watch both girls develop into young women -- to see their sexuality, intellect and self-awareness grow. It's also scary to recognize that our influence in their life is waning. They are out in the world more and the opinions of their friends count for a lot. Izzy wants to go to Coachella, get her belly button pierced and sometimes dresses too provocatively for my comfort. Amalia is discovering the "joys" of connecting with friends through technology. She paints her nails in sparkly colors. She's becoming better and better at asserting and articulating her thoughts and feelings (not just arguing, but discussing). Like Orenstein, I have many questions. Am I doing this right? What does right even look like? What kind of women are my daughters becoming? Has their sense of the feminine been conscripted through product marketing? Will they be happy with themselves? With their looks, their relationships, their sense of themselves as powerful, intelligent, wonderful women?

It's impossible to know for sure. Kids are a work in progress with technology, marketing focused on children and social media throwing a whole new wrench into the challenge. Cinderella Ate My Daughter is effective and thought provoking because Orenstein is asking lots of good questions about girls and how they become women. This is an exploration for Orenstein and she invites us in with her humor, doubts, set backs and small victories. The book is almost a living document and there's no final word. It's a lot like actual parenting -- thinking, planning, questioning and finally, crossing your fingers for luck and love. Maybe someday we'll hear from her daughter, Daisy. Hopefully Daisy and my girls will write their own books. Chances are though, these books will be just as full of questions about their roles as a women, mothers and their own daughters' paths.

Here's a link to Orenstein's site that includes info on readings, her blog, other articles and more about Cinderella Ate My Daughter.

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