Peggy Orenstein doesn't see a princess when she looks at Cinderella. She sees the Big, Bad Wolf. In her new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Orenstein builds a case against the Disney Princess marketing machine, claiming that such a meteoric rise in commercialized princess culture is bound to have a disastrous effect on the well-being of young girls: eating disorders! depression! distorted body image! Apparently, female angst about personal appearance simply didn't exist before Disney Princesses.
I don't disagree entirely with Orenstein's thesis. I'm just not worked up about it. This is nothing new. Mainstream culture routinely objectifies, commercializes and sexualizes young girls. But just because there is a glut of princess paraphernalia on the market doesn't mean we should ban little girls from playing dress up.
It just means that, as parents, we set limits and use this one little word called "no."
But what really frustrated me about Orenstein's book was the underlying idea that ANY message that promotes traditional femininity is inherently dangerous to our daughters. Once again, it's the Old School Feminism where androgyny is still the ideal.
As I was reading the book I got the distinct feeling that Orenstein's problems with princess dress up--heck, with ANYTHING traditionally feminine--existed long before Disney cashed in on the niche.
Look, I'm all for abolishing harmful gender stereotypes. But suppressing/obliterating gender differences? Not so much.
Still, the only kind of dress-up play Orenstein seems to encourage are the kinds that "defy stereotypes"; ie. boys in tutus and--like Orenstein's own daughter--girls in Thomas the Tank Engine. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with kids choosing to play all kinds of dress-up. I do have a problem with adults restricting it to gender-opposite or gender-neutral play.
At one point in the book I wanted to yell: HASN'T FEMINISM MOVED BEYOND THIS?? CAN'T WE JUST CELEBRATE OUR CURVES ALREADY??
Yes, readers. Misogyny still lurks under every skirt and ruffle. And that sparkle on your toddler's rhinestone tiara? It's nothing less than ominous portent of feminine disaster!
(And in case you missed it, here I am on TV discussing/debating the book with the author herself).