Saturday, February 10, 2007

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Last week, Jen passed along a fascinating piece from Berkeley writer Peggy Orenstein, called, "What's Wrong With Cinderella?" For anyone raising a girl, it's worth checking out here (NY Times registration required, I think. If you can't get in, ask me to email you a copy).

Basically, Orenstein is sounding the alarm over the growing princess trend that's being pushed by marketing agencies onto little girls. There's a lot to think about here. She writes:

Diana may be dead and Masako disgraced, but here in America, we are in the midst of a royal moment. To call princesses a ''trend'' among girls is like calling Harry Potter a book. Sales at Disney Consumer Products, which started the craze six years ago by packaging nine of its female characters under one royal rubric, have shot up to $3 billion, globally, this year, from $300 million in 2001. There are now more than 25,000 Disney Princess items. ''Princess,'' as some Disney execs call it, is not only the fastest-growing brand the company has ever created; they say it is on its way to becoming the largest girls' franchise on the planet.

We've been grappling with gender issues since both kids started in school/daycare last fall. As I've mentioned, Kalian has become a willful little girl. We often catch ourselves calling her "princess" and yet trying to stop ourselves from doing it. Even more, since she's been walking last summer, she's become drawn to so many "girl" things. She's picky about her clothes, shoes, jacket, etc. She's obsessed with her baby dolls.

At the same time, the group of kids in Liam's preschool room tend to be very gender segregated. It's not unusual to walk in and see all the boys in one corner and the girls somewhere else. Lots of people tell us this is typical for the age, but still...It carries on outside the classroom, especially at events like birthday parties.

Recently, at one of the birthday parties we attended, the cake was a giant sculpted "Ariel" from The Little Mermaid. Liam had recently seen the movie and loved it, too. At the party, the girls got tiara's to wear. And the boys got pirate hats. And at the end, there were blue gift bags for the boys, and pink for the girls. The boys' gift bag included a small lego rescue vehild which has immediately become Liam's favorite toy. The people throwing the party are clearly wonderful parents, and their little girl loves mermaid stuff. So why does this immediately set off a mental alarm? Why not just celebrate what your little one loves? Orenstein takes time wondering if she, too, is overacting. Where's the harm? She writes:

On the other hand, maybe I'm still surfing a washed-out second wave of feminism in a third-wave world. Maybe princesses are in fact a sign of progress, an indication that girls can embrace their predilection for pink without compromising strength or ambition; that, at long last, they can ''have it all.'' Or maybe it is even less complex than that: to mangle Freud, maybe a princess is sometimes just a princess. And, as my daughter wants to know, what's wrong with that?

Indeed, what's so awful? The articles raises more questions than it answers, ultimately. And I think that's because there isn't a clear cut answer. We're trying to stick to our philosophy of being gender neutral. But it's difficult.

After reading the article, though, I was curious about the reaction it generated. And the letters from readers hit on some things that we've also worried about:

Actually, little boys have it tougher. When a little girl wants to dress up as Spider-Man, it's no big deal. When a little boy enjoys the thrill of twirling in circles in a pink, sparkly frock, it's frowned upon.

Cara Putzrath

Charlotte N.C.

So true. When Liam first started preschool, and his hair was down to his shoulder, kids would ask him if he was a boy or girl. His favorite thing to bring to school is his baby doll (which he calls Kalian). But we'd walk in sometimes, and some of the kids would ask me why Liam has a doll. "Dolls are for girls," they'd say. "Well, I use to play with dolls," I'd reply (which is true: GI JOE). These days, it's not uncommon for Liam to say: "Boys play sports. Girls can't be firefighters. She can't play with my trucks because she's a girl." We try to be patient in our deprogramming.

Which is not shift the blame to his school, or anyone out here. I agree that this becomes a natural tendency for kids at this age. I guess the question is how -- and how hard -- to fight it?