Diane talks with Annie Lowrey, staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers economic policy.
Pink is everywhere today. Walk into any toy store and it is easy to recognize items meant for little girls — sparkly dress-up clothes, tiaras, even pink sports equipment. Some mothers embrace their daughters’ choice to celebrate femininity – especially given their success in the classroom and on the playing field. Others question what princess mania may mean for girls as they become young teens. Still others see the new girlie-girl culture as a product of mass marketing that threatens to consume their daughters. The dark side of pretty and pink: how choices we make for our toddlers can influence their teenage years and beyond.
- Peggy Orenstein Author
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. When the Disney Company began a new push to market princess products a decade ago, sales quickly soared to $300 million. Within eight years they had reached $4 billion, the largest franchise on the planet for girls aged two to six.
MS. DIANE REHMNow in a new book, author Peggy Orenstein talks about the impact of "princess mania" on the culture of little girlhood and on her own daughter in particular. The new book is titled, "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" and Peggy Orenstein joins me in the studio. I have the feeling that many of you have seen, been aware or been part of this phenomenon. I invite you to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning, Peggy, thanks for being here.
MS. PEGGY ORENSTEINThank you for having me, Diane.
REHMTell me about how you first became aware that this trend was materializing?
ORENSTEINWell you know the short answer is I had a daughter. You know, I think that before you have a child you're not really aware of what's going on in the culture of childhood. And I had my little girl, Daisy, and you know, when you have that baby, I still get teary about this, when you have that baby and you hold her in your arms, you just think you don't want her to think she can't do anything because she's a girl. And you don't want her to think that she has to do anything because she's a girl.
ORENSTEINAnd we were going along with that and raising her that way and then one, and then she went to preschool, and within like a week, she came home and she had memorized all the gown colors and names of the Disney princesses as if by osmosis. And I had never heard of a Disney princess. I thought, you know, what the heck is this? And meanwhile, you know, we're going around and the waitress -- I live in Berkeley and so our waitresses are all tattooed and pierced and everything -- and the tattooed, pierced waitress would give her her pancakes and say, here are your princess pancakes.
ORENSTEINAnd the lady at the drugstore would say, would you like a balloon? I know what color you'd like, and give her a pink one without asking. And then finally, I took her to the pediatric dentist for her first dental appointment. And the dentist said, would you like to get into my princess chair so I can sparkle your teeth? And I just thought, oh my God, do you have a princess drill, too? You know, when did every little girl become a princess?
REHMAnd that's the question, when did it happen?
ORENSTEINWell it happened around 2000. I mean, there was always a little bit of princess play. I'm sure that you availed yourself of your mother's cast-off tiara when you were a child. And you know, that's fine, but in 2000 for the first time, Disney took its characters and marketed them separately from a movie. So previously, like when Cinderella came out, it would come out of the vault. That's what they call it. And it would play for a few weeks or be out on VCR and there'd be a little bit of merchandise and then it would go away.
ORENSTEINSo they got this idea to take all these female characters, call them princesses, some are not, some are, put them under one royal rubric and put them out there. And it's really interesting. It was very controversial within the company and Roy Disney was against it, because he said it was mixing mythologies, and the princesses shouldn't, you know, like have tea with one another because, I don't know, the world would implode. I'm not sure what he thought would happen.
ORENSTEINBut they did, and if you look at the princess products where there's multiple princesses, they are always looking off in different directions because none of them are supposed to know the other ones are there, because princesses don't have girlfriends. Once you notice that, it's really weird.
REHMIt sounds as though Disney found a niche and not only did the children respond, but the parents responded.
ORENSTEINYeah, obviously three-year-olds don't have credit cards, right? But they do have a lot of begging power. And, you know, what Disney says about this and the book, you know, starts with princesses and it just kind of goes on, upward about the sort of unprecedented way that beauty and play-sexiness is marketed to girls at ever-younger ages and the impact of that and how it starts with pink and sparkly, goes to diva, goes to sexualized. So it's this trajectory that we go on.
REHMAnd you think it begins in part with that kind of focus on pink?
ORENSTEINWith this gigantic focus, and what pink comes to represent is, well it becomes like this small box, and I remember driving -- you know how you get your best stuff when you're driving your child around in the car and you're listening in the back seat? I was driving Daisy and a friend to go to the park to scooter, and the other little girl had a pink helmet and Daisy had a fire-breathing dragon green helmet. And the other little girl looked at Daisy's helmet and said, why isn't your helmet pink? It's not for girls.
ORENSTEINAnd Daisy looked at her helmet and sort of furrowed her brow and said, well, it's for boys or for girls. And the other little girl looked very skeptical about that. And I thought there was so much in that little interchange about what was expected, about the potential exclusion, if you don't follow the line, which parents worry about, and about this pink box. I mean pink is just a color, but it's a small slice of the rainbow and it comes to represent this little box that gets tighter and tighter around girls that tells them that girlhood is defined by makeovers at four years old and princesses and being the fairest and ultimately the hottest of them all.
REHMAnd I think the public was really exposed to that with the death of JonBenet Ramsey.
ORENSTEINThat was a big turning point. I think, you know, today's parents may not remember that so well. But the whole "Toddlers and Tiaras" phenomenon, those baby -- I don't know if you watch that show -- but the baby, toddler beauty pageants have become very popular to watch and be appalled by. And so I actually have a chapter in the book where I go to the toddler beauty pageants so that you don't have to, and I also go to the Miley Cyrus concert, so you don't have to.
ORENSTEINBut it would have been really easy for me to go down and attack the people who put their daughters in those toddler pageants where they, you know, slather on the makeup and the fake tans and the big hair and the glitz and the glam. But that seemed like the easy, simple tactic and I didn't want to do that in this book. I didn't want to always take the easy attack.
ORENSTEINSo I went down and I really got to know the parents, who were really nice people. And really thought about how watching those programs distances ourselves and lets us off the hook because we can condemn them and not ask harder questions about how we're raising our own girls and where the line is, who draws it and, you know, when you cross it.
REHMAnd of course you have a seven-year-old daughter. How have you dealt with her, for example, on the helmet question?
ORENSTEINWell, you know, she dealt with that herself. I was so proud of her. She was five years old by then and she just stood her ground. You know, we've had a lot of, I write a lot about my own experience. I write about my -- I mean, it's a complicated world out there and I, like any parent, am inconsistent, I'm hypocritical, I'm contradictory. I have meltdowns at Target and make my daughter cry over a Barbie, then I cry. I mean, all this stuff is in the book. I mean, just trying to wend your way through this and navigate through. But we have found, you know, I think you can't.
ORENSTEINI believe in fighting fun with fun. And you can't constantly say no to your daughter and think that that's going to make her think she has more choices. So you really, I hate to tell parents who have a lot on their plate that they have to do more work. But you really have to do a little bit of digging to find fun alternatives that celebrate your daughter's girlhood without hinging it on appearance and sexiness.
REHMPeggy Orenstein, her new book is titled, "Cinderella Ate My Daughter." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Some people might think that princess mania is kind of simply a stage that kids go through and because everybody else is doing it, because it's in the stores when the kids go in and their eyes light up at all the glitz and glitter, they, I don't know, absorb that for a while and then move on. But your concern is that rather than simply move on, they are affected by this early exposure.
ORENSTEINWell it's kind of that, it's like a flume ride. You know, it's being channeled and there's this whole idea of kids getting older younger. Right, KGOY it's called by marketers, and at the same time, adults are staying younger, older. So I have this suspicion that at some point our children are going to surpass us in age possibly. But the idea of kids getting older younger is that something that is marketed to older kids eventually becomes desirable or aspirational to younger kids. And it ages down, the older kids give it up and the younger kids take it.
ORENSTEINSo when I was a girl we got our first Bonnie Bell lip smackers at, I don't know, age 12. And now girls get the, have a whole collection at four, and there's a statistic in "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" that says that nearly half of six to nine-year-old girls wear lipstick or lip gloss regularly. And the percentage of eight to 12-year-olds who wear mascara and eyeliner has doubled, I mean, I don't know why the percentage, in two years, excuse me, since 2008. And I don't know why the percentage of eight-year-olds wearing mascara is not zero, personally, but, you know, but whatever. So there's this way that there's this, this flume ride that, you know, maybe I don't know, lip smackers or princesses.
ORENSTEINI don't know, maybe no big deal. But when it's lip smackers at four and it's Bratz dolls at six, and it's "America's Top Model" at nine and it's "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" at 12, you know. It's just this constant message that girls are bombarded with from an ever-younger age and you just don't want your daughter to feel like when she thinks about how she feels about herself, that what matters is the outfit she's wearing and the makeup she's wearing and she's only six years old.
REHMOn the other hand, do you think that this whole thrust has any positive effect?
ORENSTEINThat's a really good question. What I went into it wondering was whether the pink and the princess was protective from early sexualization or whether it primed girls for it. And, you know, Disney says that it inspires imagination, but I just think it really ends up narrowing it.
REHMPeggy Orenstein, the book is titled, "Cinderella Ate My Daughter." Feel free to join us. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd already some very interesting callers and e-mail. You might know that this gets almost immediately into politics, Peggy. Here is the first e-mail from Tommy in Raleigh, N.C. "Could you and your guest comment on the role of right wing extremists at glorifying pretty, thus inflicting irreparable damage on the entire subsequent life of innocent young girls who fall victims of this? Do you think this is intended to marginalize strong, powerful women?"
ORENSTEINInteresting question. You know, I don't really think of this as a right wing or a progressive, particularly, phenomenon, because I'm finding that concern about it crosses the political spectrum. I think that possibly the desired outcomes are different in terms of political views about sexuality and premarital sex. And one of the things that's really important to me in the book is to disentangle sexualization from sexuality, because sexuality is what we want. We want girls to have a healthy sense of sexuality that comes from within. That whenever they become sexually active, whether you believe that should be when they're not married or married, but it's something that they understand and they are determining and they have agency over.
ORENSTEINAnd we have confused that. We have confused desirability with desire, so that girls feel they're supposed to be desirable. But they don't really understand their own desire. And when I talked about that with a researcher who studies girls and desire, she said that by the time girls are teenagers, when she asks them how they felt about an intimate experience, they respond by telling her how they felt they looked. And she has to tell them that looking good is not a feeling.
REHMWhat about these youngsters who are between toddlers and teens? We've got a whole new category of tweens.
ORENSTEINI know, I know, I know. And that's what I'm talking about. And that is a complete marketing contrivance. You know, because for marketers slicing kids up into ever small -- or penguins, you know, anything that they can slice, they slice. Because the more you target and the more you amplify or invent difference, the more you sell. So that, for instance, a marketer at LeapFrog, which is a kids' electronics company, told me that they call it the pink factor with girls. That if you have a girl first, you're going to buy her pink everything, 'cause you're so happy to have this girl. And then if you subsequently have a son, you gotta re-buy everything. Or the reverse. If you have a son, you're so happy to have your precious daughter second time around, you re-buy everything in pink. So either way, they double their profits.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Shawn who says, "How does this trend run across racial lines?"
ORENSTEINYou know, that's a really interesting question. I'll tell you, my own daughter is biracial, so for me, part of the analysis in this book is thinking about the images that she sees that are largely Caucasian and largely blond. And part of finding alternatives, and maybe part of the reason I was particularly sensitive to it was that I wanted my daughter to have playthings and images that reflected what she looks like.
REHMSo how did you manage doing that?
ORENSTEINWell, that's not easy, because while you -- for instance, with the dollhouse, you know, you can now get -- the politically correct thing is they have white families, Asian families, black families, Latino families, but they don't have mixed families. They don't have families with two moms or two dads, so you have to buy a number of sets and kind of intermix them. And even then it's kind of imperfect. But, you know, we have brown haired dolls and brown skinned dolls and, you know, we really try to mix it up. We have movies and things that just reflect a broader vision of femininity in general and race in particular.
REHMPeggy, this is not just a book of opinion. You did a lot of research on this. Tell us about some of the research you did.
ORENSTEINWell, one thing that really interested me -- you know, sometimes I really wonder who funds these studies, they're sort of so -- you know, sometimes these studies are so wacky -- but was the ways that brief exposure to stereotypical or sexualized images could affect girls' ambitions and sense of themselves. So there was one study in -- well, there's two, but one -- if I have time -- but one that they divided college men and women into four groups, two groups of men, two groups of women. They put them all in dressing rooms in stores. And they told one group of men and one group of women to try on a sweater, and the other groups to try on a bathing suit. And then they gave them all a math test. This is where I start thinking, who funds this. (laugh) I want to meet that person.
ORENSTEINBut the results were really interesting because the men, it made no difference. Their performance, whether they were wearing a bathing suit or wearing a sweater, was exactly the same. For the women, the ones that were wearing the bathing suit scored less well -- did less well on their math test. And what you take from that is that being made conscious of their bodies and their appearance affects the way that young women think. It takes up so much of their consciousness, I think, that it reduces their performance and raises their anxiety in other areas.
REHMBut haven't women throughout the ages been conscious and really concerned about how they look, what they wear, how they appear to other people?
ORENSTEINSure, absolutely. And I am, you know. And -- but I think what's new, again, is the aging down of this phenomenon. And, you know, we used to have a period of time where girls were not thinking about pretty and they were not thinking about sexy and they did not have 21-piece Disney makeup kits when they were three years old. And, you know, even -- I do talk -- part of the research is about nature and nurture, and I hope we can talk about that. But, you know, one thing I think about in term of normalizing this is that when we were little -- when I was little, girls went through their baby doll phase. Baby dolls -- I don't know anybody who went through a baby doll phase my daughter's age. They go through their makeup phase when they're three.
ORENSTEINAnd, you know, I just don't want -- I don't think any of us want our daughters to be thinking about whether, you know, they've got the right concealer when they're six.
REHMAnd they do.
ORENSTEINAnd they do, and they do.
REHMHere is another e-mail. This one says, "My son went through a phase where he dressed up in sparkly dresses when he and his older sister were playing princesses. We didn't discourage it. And what's not to like about being a princess? Long term effects for him? I doubt it. It was something to do at the time and both have moved on."
ORENSTEINIt's funny that she uses that -- actually, is that a -- I don't know if that was a woman or a man, but I say what's not to like about...
ORENSTEINOh Hank. Sorry, Hank. You know, what's not to like about sparkles? Everybody loves sparkles. I think more boys would wear sparkles if they could. But, you know, it's like if you have in front of your child a peanut butter sandwich and an apple and cotton candy, they're gonna go for the cotton candy, right? And that's okay once in a while. It's not okay 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
REHMAnd here's an e-mail from Patricia who says, "This is like the craze over Barbie that came out in the '50s and '60s. It makes little girls happy, it's fun for them. But mothers have to make sure daughters learn about powerful women who were not princesses.
ORENSTEINAbsolutely true. And I do -- I talk -- I mean, everybody has an opinion about Barbie, right. You cannot have grown up in the last half century without having some opinion about Barbie. Whether you love her or loathe her or -- you know, I mean, Barbie is a real touchstone and hot button for a lot of women. And I have had -- you know, gone through my whole Barbie ambivalence, loving her, hating her and ultimately finding her kind of quaint compared to the dolls...
REHM...what you're seeing now.
ORENSTEIN...that are out now. Bratz dolls and now the new -- I don't know if you know the Monster High line. This is the new Mattel line. If you have a chance, all of you out there, go to monsterhigh.com and look at the bios for the dolls. They have online bios. And look at Frankie Stein. They're the -- they're supposed to be the high school children of famous monsters. And they look like undead prostitutes, basically.
ORENSTEINAnd the bio for, you know, Frankie Stein, who is the Frankenstein one, is she's a fierce fashionista who doesn't like gym because they won't let her play in her platform shoes. And this is for eight-year-olds.
REHMHere we are with telephone callers lined up, a good number of them actually men. Let's go first to Billy in College Park, Md. Good morning to you.
BILLYGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
BILLYI am about to be a father and my wife is Guatemalan, I'm white. And we're -- like your guest, you know, we're going to have a biracial baby -- bicultural baby. And the whole princess thing is -- I mean, when I heard this topic, I was completely blown away, because we've had baby showers. And what does everything say on it? Princess. The sign you put in the car, Princess Onboard. All of her towels say princess on it. And it's not as important to me because my wife and I know that we're not going to raise a materialistic person. My wife grew up with very little in Guatemala. And we appreciate -- you know, we appreciate all of the extravagances in life.
BILLYI just wanted to add a couple things. When I was in Costa Rica about three years ago, princess stuff was everywhere. Princess stuff was everywhere. And it's all the white little Cinderellas and Snow Whites in a country that's not very white. What worries me the most is materialism. And I see this in a Toyota Highlander commercial, where this boy is, you know, joking about how all of his friends don't have all of these luxuries and making fun of them all. And that's what worries me the most, that if you don't have a lot of money, a lot of luxury, that you're going to be a loser. And that's something we're going to work on with our daughter.
ORENSTEINOh, that's so beautiful. Thank you for calling. You know, that materialism piece and the narcissism piece really fascinated me because there's this way that the girl power idea of the 1990s has morphed. And now the way that you express self confidence is by expressing self absorption when you're a girl. And for Daisy, my daughter's seventh birthday, she got a make your own messenger bag kit. And it had these iron-on transfers of hearts and flowers and all the stuff that you would expect. But it also had iron-on transfers that said spoiled, brat, and pampered princess. And Daisy said, mom, why would anybody want that on their purse? And I thought, yeah, you're not gonna have that -- I mean, she didn't want to put that on her purse.
ORENSTEINBut it really interested me that, you know, why would we want our daughters to express power and confidence through consumers and materialism and narcissism? And that's, you know, part of the entitlement -- that's what the princess thing starts to turn to. It looks like fun and pink and sparkles at three, but it starts to turn when they're a little bit older into this other kind of Paris Hilton-y thing.
REHMPeggy Orenstein. Her new book is titled "Cinderella Ate my Daughter: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture." You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's an e-mail from Margaret in Little Rock, Ark. She says, "This morning's news had an item about a new makeup line that Walmart is debuting aimed at middle school girls featuring" -- and this is in all caps -- "an ANTI-AGING FORMULATION."
ORENSTEINSomebody just -- well, not somebody -- many people e-mailed me that this morning. I don't even know what to say. I mean, I just think that -- what can I say? I wrote a book.
REHMSo right from the start...
ORENSTEIN...you have to be concerned about your wrinkles when you're eight. And, you know, I do talk about -- I mean, I'm starting to sound sort of inflammatory, but the -- you know, the -- I'm going to forget the statistic now, but the rates of plastic surgery, even among little girls -- but, you know, you -- I also talk about how we have to think about ourselves as women and as adult women and, you know, what models we're setting. And we're obsessed with aging. We're obsessed with staying looking young. If you're sitting there and doing that, how can you, you know, tell your daughter to do it differently?
REHMPaul wants to know what evidence Peggy has that this adversely affects little girls.
ORENSTEINWell, I cannot tell you that one plus one equals two. You know, there is no -- I can tell you that stereotype exposure, as I said earlier, affects young women strongly. You know, that's also true with underrepresented minority groups. The same kinds of things happen. So stereotype exposure is really important. I can tell you that girls' concerns, according to polls, about beauty and body have gone way up since the year 2000, and that cannot be a good thing. And that generally this culture of girlhood has been creating greater emphasis on beauty and body and that the impact has been seen in a rise of -- for instance, the American Pediatric Association has now put out a warning to pediatricians to be monitoring children under 12 for eating disorders.
REHMWhoa. To Esther in Detroit, Mich. Good morning, you're on the air.
ESTHERGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
ESTHERTo the author, I was wondering if your research went in at all into how this affects boys. My oldest son, he likes pink. He doesn't act effeminately, but girls -- he has girl friends and guy friends. And his girl friends tell him his long hair, he likes pink, that he's too girly and he gets made fun of. He fortunately started off in his own right that he doesn't really care. But what -- have you found anything that shows that this affects adversely how boys growing into young men treat women and how they view themselves?
ORENSTEINWell, I'll tell you. I don't look at boys that much because my book is about girls, although I think you're absolutely right. There -- you know, boys who wear pink are really stigmatized. But what I do look at is the whole nature versus nurture question. And I do a whole chapter in the book about how this affects the relationship between girls and boys, and the importance when kids are -- because of their -- what we know now about neuroplasticity in the brain. On one hand, when they're three, four years old, their brains are -- they're the most rigid about stereotypes. They want to assert that they're girls and assert that they're boys and they get these like ideas that if you eat an orange you're a girl, and if you eat an apple you're a boy, and, you know, whatever. And that's -- they need to do that.
ORENSTEINAt the same time it's also the time when they're the most flexible about gender ideas and roles. And so they're laying down tracks that are going to last for their whole lives. And any time -- kids grow up and will choose, and that's okay, to play with their own sex most of the time, but any time they can play with the other sex, it exposes them to other ways of thinking, other ways of acting, other ways of being. And there is research that shows that kids who have friends of the other sex when they're little, and then they're in elementary school, have healthier dating relationships when they're teenagers. So there is an aspect of this that is about girls and boys playing together. And if girls are in their all pink world and have their pink Scrabble set that says F-A-S-H-I-O-N on the cover, which exists and is a seven-letter word, and have their pink Magic 8 ball, you know, I don't know if they can cross those boundaries.
REHMPeggy Orenstein. The book is titled "Cinderella Ate My Daughter." When we come back more calls, e-mails, postings on Facebook and Twitter.
REHMAnd Peggy Orenstein is the author of "Cinderella Ate My Daughter." I know you're probably familiar with the subject of this e-mail written by Katherine who says, "My eight-year-old daughter has just been invited to a manicure birthday party. She's never received one and I've always said not until you're 16. Girls have the rest of their lives for this stuff, so why do parents push this on their daughters? Needless to say, my daughter will not be going." I think that's an interesting assumption, parents pushing this on their daughters. Is that the case?
ORENSTEINWell, parents do hold the credit card, don't they.
ORENSTEINYou know, and...
REHMBut if a child says mom, that's how I want to celebrate my birthday. I want all my friends to have manicures and pedicures and have their hair done.
ORENSTEINWell, you know, I think that any one of these things in a vacuum can feel sort of harmless. It's the totality of them that's problematic. And you really do, like I said, you have to fight fun with fun. So if you don't want to have her have the spa birthday party, offer her something equally fun. Say no, you know, we're not doing that, but we can do this instead and won't, you know – won't this be cool. And, you know, you, like I said before and I'll say it again, you have to find things that you can say yes to.
REHMWhat about peer pressure?
ORENSTEINPeer pressure is tough. And, I think, a lot of parents worry that if their daughter doesn't participate in this sort of thing, if they don't go to the spa birthday parties, if they don't have the princess dress, that they're going to be excluded. And I'm worried about that. I worried about that. My daughter, you know, she started playing – one of the things that we did instead of princesses was Wonder Woman. We got really into Wonder Woman. We got really into Greek goddesses. She was Athena for Halloween. You know, we did some of these other things, but her friends were – especially when she was in kindergarten, her friends didn't want to play Wonder Woman. They didn't want to play (word?) girl. They wanted to play Cinderella.
REHMInteresting. To Atlanta, Ga., good morning, Michelle.
MICHELLEHi. This is Michelle. Peggy, I know her "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" is just going crazy and I'm loving it. Peggy, this is Michelle with Princess Free Zone and I had to call in to discuss this issue that is just huge. And, I think you're making so many great points and I'm just so happy that your book is getting so much attention because there's a huge movement to change the way that girls are marketed to. I actually have a daughter who defied gender stereotypes at three – two and a half and three. She was kind of the opposite. I didn't have to worry about her wanting dolls and princesses, so I'm on the opposite side in that sense. However, what it did show me and what Peggy is discussing is just the lack of choice there is for girls.
MICHELLESo I have a girl that likes boy things and she can't find anything in girls departments. I couldn't get anything for her in girls departments. I had to shop in boys departments. And what happened was she even wore boy underwear, and this became a little bit of an issue for me. As a woman, I didn't really want her to be girly girl but I wanted her to embrace her gender in a way and say that, you know, she was happy to be a girl. She went through a big phase of wanting to be a boy, and saying she wanted to be a boy to the point where she even said she wanted a penis. And I mean, this was – it was very overwhelming for me to deal with it. And this is what, I think, Peggy's book discusses this whole culture in totality and what it does and how it messes with our identity.
MICHELLEHow it messes with how we interact with other people in the world and, also, how it leads to, you know, maybe there's no direct evidence to say that princess is bad for you, but in totality we know what a lot of female issues are down the road and, I think, it definitely contributes.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling.
ORENSTEINYeah, and we do know that the American Psychological Association has put out a report that shows that early sexualization of girls leaves them vulnerable to all the things that we parents do worry about, eating disorders, negative body image, depression, poor sexual choices. And, you know, Michelle, thanks for calling. One of the things that I write about a lot in the book is the way that identity becomes – identity itself becomes performance for girls. And this whole idea of feminine identity is something that you get from the outside in instead of from the inside out, is so problematic. And people will say to me, well, aren't you taking away your daughter's free choice to be who she wants to be if you don't let her have certain things? And I say, really, you think 26,000 products just from Disney alone – princess products – coming at her gives her a choice, because I think that crosses the line from choice to mandate.
REHMAnd, of course, the media plays a huge role there.
ORENSTEINYeah. And it's, like I've said, you know, it's hard to get a deeper slice. We have done things like – I mean, there's wonderful movies out there like the Miyazaki movies, "My Neighbor Totoro, " T-O-T-O-R-O, if you have a pen. "Kiki's Delivery Service," you know, those are wonderful things to put in the DVD player instead of "Cinderella" and "Little Mermaid." There are things out there, and there's wonderful things like Princess Free Zone.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Leslie, "Where would you place the American Girl Doll on your level of concern?" She goes on to say, "I worry about the American Girl stores which seem to be a training ground for young consumers, yet I find the life stories of the dolls cover a wide range of cultures and economic opportunity."
ORENSTEINWell, you just said in one e-mail what I say about American Girl. I go to the store and the book – and I don't take my daughter because she didn't know about it and I didn't want her to know about it. I went with a friend and her daughter, who already knew about it. And it is, you know, it is training girls – on one hand, it's good values. You know, they represent some good values in those stories and the books, even though the girls in the books wouldn't be able to actually afford the dolls that represent them in the store, because those dolls cost a hundred bucks. But we walked out of there and my friend had spent $500 in an eye blink.
REHMOh, my goodness.
ORENSTEINAnd it is telling girls, even as it's promoting a better set of values, it's also reminding you that how you show you're a girl is by consumption and going through these...
ORENSTEINYeah, these life phases that are marked by product consumption and that, you know, that the way that you bond as mother and daughter is through shopping.
REHMAnother e-mail, this one from Linda, who says, "Perhaps there is a change on the horizon of child rearing. I wonder what the effect of Amy Chua's book, 'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother' will be."
ORENSTEINYou know, I am so much more of a – I don't know – I mean I...
REHMYou express a great many more doubts than Amy does.
ORENSTEINDoubt. I mean, I don't – I don't put myself out there as somebody who has all the answers and I'm so sure of myself. I mean, I really – and that's part of why I called the book, "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" and gave it that sort of over the top title, because I really position myself as a fellow traveler and I am wrestling – I am wrestling in this book with how to approach this, with how I feel about it, with what's okay, with where the line is.
REHMAnd here's a caller from Columbia, Md., good morning, Eric, thanks for joining us.
ERICGood morning, Diane, good morning, Peggy. Peggy, I keep hearing a lot about the Disney princesses and what I'd like to ask you, and I haven't read the book and I actually planned on doing so, because it's very interesting and I'm very concerned, because I'm a father of a four-year-old little girl who is – who is just out of her mind with the princesses. Now, I don't actually think it's such a bad thing because I've actually watched the movies. So each one of the princesses, I feel, have actually positive qualities that, you know, they don't take their place in life. They challenge other people's assumptions about what they should do or should be or who they should love. In "Beauty and the Beast," you know, she turns away from the popular man and goes to the man who's got more values and internal, you know – things to that nature.
ERICThere're very positive qualities about the Disney princesses. And, now, you know, there are definitely media attractions to little girls that are inappropriate. I understand that, and I'm not challenging your whole premise. I'm just saying that – do you touch upon that? Do you actually address that in your book?
ORENSTEINWell, you know, one of the things I thought a lot about was the difference between the movies and the merchandising. And, for instance, if you look at "Tangled," you know, "Tangled" – I mean, I could pick apart "Tangled" for you, but I won't. I mean, "Tangled" was fun. I enjoyed it. My daughter enjoyed it. My husband enjoyed it. But you go into the store – go on ToysRUs.com or go into the store and suddenly that sort of semi-empowered female character in the merchandise is turned into the "Tangled" mega-cosmetics kit, the "Tangled" compact makeup kit and the "Tangled" vanity mirror with the lights that were supposed to represent her, you know, her true self.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Libby in Little Rock, Ark. She said, "It seems to me there's a distinct difference between a little girl playing dress up with princess paraphernalia and parents tarting them up with makeup, teaching them provocative poses and motions and parading them in beauty pageants like JonBenet Ramsey.
ORENSTEINWell, that's true. And, I think, you know, we certainly did not – kids have always played royal play. I mean King Arthur, you know, it's always been there. So some of it is about limiting it and just thinking intentionally about what this means. And, I also, have been wanting to say, you know, one of the things I do is connect the dots between the animated Disney princesses and the flesh and blood ones like Miley, Lindsey, Demi, Selena, all those. And when you look at their arc – I have a chapter called, "Wholesome to whoresome," I made up that word, that talks about the ways that those girls at first are marketed so that they're wearing those True Love Waits rings, you know, that they're going to be chaste until marriage. Miley used to wear one, Selena just took hers off.
ORENSTEINThey say things like I look way young and I want to stay that way. I pick clothes that moms approve of. Miley has said all this. Selena has said all this. And then wammo, you know, three months later, they're dancing on a stripper pole or giving lap dances to guys in their mid-forties. And I really think it shows that, you know, you cannot make wholesomeness a marketing gimmick without making what comes after a marketing gimmick, too.
REHMHave you met Miley Cyrus?
ORENSTEIN(laugh) I was about five feet away from her at the concert. Does that count?
REHMAt the concert.
ORENSTEINNo, I have not met Miley Cyrus. I've met some of the other ones, though.
REHMBut how do you think she works as a role model for these young kids?
ORENSTEINWell, this is exactly the thing. You know, she was. I just looked at a poll of girls who are, you know, role models on TV. Why we have to have role models on TV, I don't know, but we do. And Miley used to be on top, now she's on the bottom. And, I think, parents, you know, parents are sold these girls as safe and trustworthy and, you know, and like the princesses, something that will protect their girls.
ORENSTEINAnd then they flip. And they become this other thing because they're trying to break out of that so-called role model mold. And that's a really powerful lesson to little girls about what – how you're supposed to be as a woman and how you prove you're an adult woman and it's this, again, I am not against sex. I am not against young women having sex. I am not anti-sex, but I am profoundly against sexualization of girls. And I am profoundly against them learning that sexuality is something that they perform rather than something that they feel.
REHMThe book is titled, "Cinderella Ate My Daughter," Peggy Orenstein is the author and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go back to the phones to Daleville, Ala., good morning, Gary.
GARYHello, Ms. Rehm and Peggy, glad to be on. I just wanted to make an observation. My daughter went completely in the opposite direction and she went into the Goth and it directly affected her education. And that she was so much into the Goth theme that her schoolwork really slipped. And I was wondering if your guest had noticed anything like that on the other side. And then, also, I'd like to say that there is good pink out there and I'm referencing the wonderful musician Pink.
GARYWhose message is completely opposite of the narcissism and the princess and the bad girl, and I'd be more than welcome to take my response off the air.
REHMAll right, sir, thanks for calling. Peggy.
ORENSTEINThank you. That's really interesting. No, you know, because I was looking at girls that were younger, so I don't think that most – it's interesting to think that whereas parents are happy to let their girls wear makeup and nail polish and stuff, they would probably not be so into their three-year-old doing Goth or their eight-year-old or their ten-year-old. But that's – I'm going to think about that. That's really interesting.
REHMAnd to Shaker Heights, Ohio, hi, Karen.
KARENHi. Hurray for you for doing this. I have a son who is 25 years old and I can tell you that that many years ago, I was seeing the exact same kinds of things happening with little girls. And it seemed to me that the lack of choice – all these pink products and merchandising really creates a polarizing effect and a lack of choice for girls. And I think it's very limiting and I don't think that it's wholesome. And what is marketed does seem to me to be overly sexualized for these kids. And I wonder if, you know, it doesn't seem all that different to me than the popularity of "Sex in the City." I mean, 30 years ago, would you have believed what people – women spend on purses nowadays?
KARENI mean the narcissism is – it just seems to me to be trickling down from the moms who think, oh, manicures are fun, facials are fun and I want to do these things with my little girl. And they're so age inappropriate. It feels to me at times that I see mothers doing stuff with their kids. The mothers seem out of touch with where these kids emotionally are at.
ORENSTEINYeah, well, you know, I think of that as the I am woman, see me shop brand of feminism. And it's part of this shift that, I guess, I'm talking about in girl power where instead of the freedom from the pursuit of physical perfection, it has come to mean – and I call this girls with a "Z" culture, because it's usually, you see it with Bratz or Moxie Girlz or something that has a "Z" – it usually signals the consumer feminine. But now girl power seems to mean the freedom to pursue the pursuit of physical perfection, and that that's the form of empowerment. And, you know, I'm not exactly sure how that happened but, you know, I talk about my theories on it. And I think you're right that "Sex in the City" and Elle Woods and all of that, that's part of it.
REHMIt's going to be interesting to watch and see where this generation of little girls being raised on pink goes in the future. Peggy Orenstein is the author of "Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture." Congratulations on the book. Good luck to you.
ORENSTEINThank you so much. Thank you for having me.
REHMThank you. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is email@example.com and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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