Peggy Orenstein has a very interesting piece in the NYT from a couple of days ago about the the aggressive marketing of “princess” culture to very young girls. I don’t agree with all of her analysis, but it’s definitely worth reading.
ETA: Oh, dang him. Micah is making me think more about this essay, and I’m liking it less and less as our conversation goes on. I had already cringed at the assumption that her daughter should have a Prince Charming and babies (what happened to feminism = choice? Or, you know, not assuming heterosexuality? Transference, anyone?) and felt that she was a little too apologetic about the lure of the mass-marketed princess model and its impact, but Micah has rightly observed that Orenstein’s own ambivalence, fuzziness and confusion about what healthy, strong models for her daughter would look like has really weakened her argument. It’s not enough, in this day and age, to say, “Not this.” If not princesses in the classic form then… what? Can we reinvent this archetype in a way that’s less toxic? (Xena: Warrior Princess? Is she our role model? Do we need to cloak everything in femininity in order for it to be palatable, as opposed to just telling girls that they can be martial arts masters or chemists or entrepreneurs or sculptors whether or not they wear lipgloss? Why are we clinging to the “princess” label at all? I mean, Buffy, right?) What else can we give young girls and young women to show them what they can do in this world?
Here’s one thing (for girls a little older than Orenstein’s) Here’s something else (ditto, but these are web resources, so hey. Hope the 3 year-old isn’t online.) There’s this and this–well, this is all stuff I found within five seconds of searching, I’m sure y’all know even better resources and directions.
Anyway. It’s still an article worth reading, partly because she makes some good points, and partly because it’s worth pausing to consider how we (feminists) got here (princess culture for our daughters) and to think, maybe harder than Orenstein did, about what resistance might look like. A few excerpts:
There are no studies proving that playing princess directly damages girlsâ€™ self-esteem or dampens other aspirations. On the other hand, there is evidence that young women who hold the most conventionally feminine beliefs â€” who avoid conflict and think they should be perpetually nice and pretty â€” are more likely to be depressed than others and less likely to use contraception. Whatâ€™s more, the 23 percent decline in girlsâ€™ participation in sports and other vigorous activity between middle and high school has been linked to their sense that athletics is unfeminine. And in a survey released last October by Girls Inc., school-age girls overwhelmingly reported a paralyzing pressure to be â€œperfectâ€: not only to get straight Aâ€™s and be the student-body president, editor of the newspaper and captain of the swim team but also to be â€œkind and caring,â€ â€œplease everyone, be very thin and dress right.â€ Give those girls a pumpkin and a glass slipper and theyâ€™d be in business….
â€œPlaying princess is not the issue,â€ argues Lyn Mikel Brown, an author, with Sharon Lamb, of â€œPackaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketersâ€™ Schemes.â€ â€œThe issue is 25,000 Princess products,â€ says Brown, a professor of education and human development at Colby College. â€œWhen one thing is so dominant, then itâ€™s no longer a choice: itâ€™s a mandate, cannibalizing all other forms of play. Thereâ€™s the illusion of more choices out there for girls, but if you look around, youâ€™ll see their choices are steadily narrowing.â€…
The infatuation with the girlie girl certainly could, at least in part, be a reaction against the so-called second wave of the womenâ€™s movement of the 1960s and â€™70s (the first wave was the fight for suffrage), which fought for reproductive rights and economic, social and legal equality. If nothing else, pink and Princess have resuscitated the fantasy of romance that that era of feminism threatened, the privileges that traditional femininity conferred on women despite its costs â€” doors magically opened, dinner checks picked up, Manolo Blahniks. Frippery. Fun. Why should we give up the perks of our sex until weâ€™re sure of what weâ€™ll get in exchange? Why should we give them up at all? Or maybe itâ€™s deeper than that: the freedoms feminism bestowed came with an undercurrent of fear among women themselves â€” flowing through â€œAlly McBeal,â€ â€œBridget Jonesâ€™s Diary,â€ â€œSex and the Cityâ€ â€” of losing male love, of never marrying, of not having children….
ETA again: Hmm. When I read the story originally, I assumed that the “perks of our sex” comment was ironic, and that she was being critical of the ways in which princess culture is part of a feminist backlash. Now I’m not so sure. Could an intelligent woman (like Orenstein) who’s done some worthwhile work on gender really not get that femininity (and fun, and lipgloss, and frippery) is grand but that it doesn’t have to go irretractably with femaleness, and vice-versa masculinity and maleness? She seems to have not yet gotten the memo (which I’d label as reflective of a Third Wave ethic, but feel free to disagree) that feminism can mean lipstick or no lipstick, babies or no babies, partner or no partner, whoever wants to pick up the dinner check can and whoever wants to open the door can–but that tying certain behaviors to one’s gender in that way is where we get stuck.
Now I’m just really confused.
Full story here.
It’s beyond your control & subject to the zeitgeist. The princess is an archetype, and exactly the one you want to provide: security and protection, strong parental role models. The more you provide alternative models the bigger the backlash. My $.02, based on experience.
I had to travel to teach when my daughter was 2. While I was away, she saw “Sleeping Beauty.” When asked saved the princess at the end, she said “Abba.”
There’s an interview with Lamb and Brown in the Latest issue of Bitch, by the by.
IMO, a big part of the difficulty with feminism is that it’s succeeded, but not enough, and that’s why women have turned against it. If you can kill yourself to be smart, pretty, thin, kind etc etc, and then get out of school, and your husband who got maybe okay grades is making way more than you, and you’re still doing all the housework, and can’t get time off for maternity leave, hit the ceiling with the very well documented discrimination in the workplace against mothers, and are just exhausted all the time, after a while the struggle may well seem more than it’s worth. Why not just give up and stay home with someone who at least appreciates you in some way – at least until he or she turns 12 and you become an embarrassment and a fool.
It’s hard to plan one’s life on the concept that one deserves more (or even that one ought to take precautions that one’s husband/whatever won’t leave you high and dry in poverty) when it’s very very difficult to get even if you are well nigh perfect in every way.