Having an 8-year-old niece and cousin who are girls and being a nanny for some time, this text was pretty meaningful for me. My cousin’s entire life was drenched in pink from the moment she was born and it drove me crazy. I see that being pretty and cute is emphasized and desired a lot more by little girls today. It’s good to be smart and artistic, but you’d better be attractive or you don’t make the cut.
Something that really struck me in Orenstein’s piece was the point that she made about having it all. On page 17 she says “girl’s repeatedly described a paralyzing pressure to be “perfect”: not only to get straight A’s and be student body president, editor of the newspaper, and captain of the swim team but also to be “kind and caring,” “please everyone, be very thin, and dress right.” When I was a nanny, the 10-year-old girl I was taking care of was exactly this. Her younger brothers were care-free, while she was stressed out about not doing her homework and tests perfectly, being on student government and maintaining friendships. Now, this might stem from being the oldest sibling--and being 10 instead of 7 or 4--but I think it is ties to the expectations that girls face.
As Orenstein puts it, we have to be Cinderella and Supergirl. It’s not enough to be smart or successful, you must be attractive and super sweet. I connected deeply with the girl I nannied for because I’ve battled with anxiety over this striving for perfection throughout my life. I’ve always wondered where it came from because my parents always used to tell me that they were happy as long as I did my best. But the pressure is still there. Sure, as Ornestein points out, it pushes us to be better; but should girls feel that they have to be perfect and successful at everything they do? Absolutely not.
Another point that I found really interesting was the concept of parents loving Disney Princesses and Barbies or American Girl dolls because they make them feel as though their little girls are still, indeed, little girls. This safety felt in the Princess culture reminded me of what Raby wrote about in “A Tangle of Discourses.” Raby claimed that parents project their own discomfort ad identity crises about growing older onto their teenagers, making their kids out to be “unstable” since that’s the way they feel. Orenstein makes a similar claim when she talks about the fear that parents have about the sexualization of their daughters; they try to keep them “princesses” longer in order to protect them from the real world, and watching them play with dolls like Barbie and princess toys distances the reality of growing up.
What I was left wondering--as an aunt, nanny, cousin, and future mom--and wanted to ask the class is how do you feel about allowing the Disney Princesses and the like into your home? Is it best to ward them off, allow the toys, but not the stories, or embrace the fact that your daughters and sons will be hearing and playing all of these stories? I’m in the same struggle that the moms at the school were...
PS: Peggy Ornestein has a blog!
Also, do you think the fact that famous women were made into princesses solidifies the argument that Ornestein makes about being smart, caring AND pretty in order to be noteworthy?