Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cinderella Ate My Daughter

The next time you spy a Disney Princess product, check to see if the princesses are making eye contact with each other. They're not! Roy Disney was opposed to bringing together princesses from different movies, so this was a creepy compromise.
I'm not arguing that trivial details like this are manipulating the children of America, but it gives you a good idea of how the higher-ups of child-focused companies function (or not). This is just one anecdote of oddity included in Peggy Orenstein's Cinderella Ate My Daughter, through which she navigates her new parenthood.

It's no conspiracy that the boys' and girls' sections of toy stores are so neatly divided, but it's no accident either. Orenstein did an unbelievable amount of research and found that the decision-makers of toy companies honestly believe that they're just giving kids what they want: pink, feminine, consumer/domestic items for girls and violent, mechanical items for boys. They also are after making the biggest sale, but that's to be expected of anyone. And parents are often dismayed at what their children are offered in the gender-segregated aisles, but see no other option. It's partly the companies themselves and it's partly the parents that divide children along masculine and feminine, but Orenstein's research into children - especially little boys who want to wear mommy's makeup and little tomboys - is the most revealing. I'll leave you to actually read the book to find that out.

As in her previous books, Schoolgirls and Flux, Orenstein articulates how gender divisions in our society impact real people in Cinderella Ate My Daughter. She makes connections through hard-hitting research that seem so obvious upon her articulation. I highly recommend reading any and all of her books!

My only complaint, though, is her description of Sesame Street and the Muppets - and I admit that this is only a personal bias. She investigated the very few regular women characters (Ms. Piggy, Janis, Zoe, Abby, ...?) and the Henson company explained that feminine characters just don't market as well as "masculine" ones. Honestly, I always thought that most of the characters were androgynous. Even as a kid, I thought that Big Bird, Elmo, and most of the monsters were genderless (same for the Toaster and Blanket from Disney's The Brave Little Toaster). Then again, that probably explains a lot about my genderqueer identity...

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