I’ve read Cinderella Ate my Daughter by Peggy Orenstein, a book that immerses us into the girly-princesses culture, and reveals the dark side this pink wave which is sweeping on young girls. My first conclusion when I closed this book was: fighting against this girly culture is a lost cause, not worth even trying…

No, you cannot fight against Marketing strategies, against Disney, Mattel and others, against the cult of beauty, against self-promotion and self-staging on social media, against over-sexualized (too) young girls… because you are a parent and that you just cannot win against global entertainment companies targeting children, nor against social media.

From Disney princesses to Miley Cyrus: deep inside the girl culture

51blvmfngyl-_sx330_bo1204203200_Through this book, Peggy Orenstein tells her own experience with her daughter, her Princess phase, her Wonder Women phase, her relationships with her friends…

She embarks us through her questions and dilemmas as a mother.  This is not a book which disseminates truths; the reader follows the author in her doubts and reflections. I have a daughter, and I share her doubts and questions:

  • Disney Princesses: Yes they are a little bit cheesy, but at least it is “safe.” No violence, only positive values. And kindness, after all, is cool. And, don’t we prefer that our daughters sing a Disney song such as “At the end of the Dream” rather than the last Miley Cyrus’s hit?

  • When I refuse to buy my daughter Disney princesses or too girly/pink toys/clothes, do I also tell her that being a girl sucks? And even vis-à-vis my sons, I do not want them to grow up thinking that the qualifications or occupations traditionally associated with women are demeaning.
  • Weapons for boys: aren’t they as much stereotyped and damaging as Princess gowns for girls?
  • What is the right balance between being a feminist and be feminine?
  • How can I help my daughter not focusing too much on her appearance when I am a woman who obviously cares about it?
  • How to ensure that my daughter is integrated among her peers while refusing trends/brands/toys which seem to me to be inappropriate?
  • Princesses, in the end, is only a phase which will pass, then why should I worry? But can I be really confident that this phase will have no consequences at all?

Yes girly culture is like chips, it is bad for our kids

Peggy Orenstein decrypts for us the origins of the Disney princesses, the beauty pageant contests, the toy industry, Disney stars like Miley Cyrus, social medias…

The book was published in 2011, but it remains an excellent way to understand the origins and the traps of the girly culture. I’ve learned interesting things. For example, how Disney has had the brilliant idea (from a business point of view) to launch the Disney Princesses brand.  In 2000, a Disney executive attended a “Disney On Ice” show and was surrounded by little girls wearing Princess costumes. Homemade costumes. How Disney could overlook such an opportunity? The next day, he gathers his team, and they begin to work on what was to become the Disney Princesses brand, a huge commercial success.

She also describes the inputs from the neurosciences research about the impact of gender stereotypes. She especially interviews Lise Eliot, the author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps And What We Can Do About It. A great book we already mentioned in This post

What I really take away after reading this book is the power of the multinational companies which are behind the rise of this girly culture. A culture which unfortunately does not help our children to overcome the clichés and the inequalities between girls and boys. Our daughters are drawn toward an increased focus on their body image contributing, in fine, to diminishing their self-confidence and assertiveness.

To make it short, the girly culture is like chips; it is bad for our children.

Many of us still refuse to raise their boys as girls, another evidence that gendered marketing plays firsthand with our own bias

However, no verse against multinational companies from me: I am frankly poorly placed to criticize them given my lifestyle and my habits as a consumer. But after reading this book, I am wondering: how can we fight?

First of all these global companies are not individuals who want to do nasty things to us. Nor is their mission to do good because, no, they do not have any moral sense, they simply produce what they can sell. Yes, what adults agree to purchase to their children.

In her book, Peggy Orenstein describes a Toy Fair in New York, during which she notes that all toys intended for girls are pink: pink jewelry boxes, pink phones, pink hair dryer, pink fur stoles. “Is all this pink really necessary? “she asked a sales representative. “Only if you want to make money,” he answered.

More pink with your tea?
More pink with your tea?

Instead of grumbling, we should review our consumption habits and our bias. The toy and clothing industries offer less and less ” Neutral” products but are we prepared as parents to let our sons wear pink (rather than to buy “boy” clothes” when we had a daughter first)… mmm not so sure…

Parents, as their children, are concerned about how others look at them, adults or children; and if it is socially acceptable to give “boys” toys or clothing to a girl, the opposite is much less accepted socially.

We can blame Mattel, Disney or the overly-segmented marketing for girls vs. boys, but we should also recognize that we hardly compliment a girl on anything else than her outfit or that we are still reluctant to raise our boys as girls, another evidence that gendered marketing plays firsthand with our own bias

The world is much bigger than the pink planet

We can do it. Symbol of girl power and feminism concept

When it comes to toys, games, heroes, cartoons for children, my creed is that it is like food. To be in good health, nothing is really prohibited, you can eat everything, in reasonable quantity.

For children, it is the same. No hero, game or toy is bad in itself, the secret is the variety! Then, let’s see the girly culture as candies or cookies with chocolate chips, it is delightful and sweet, children love them and if consumed reasonably, within a balanced education, no big deal! For those who do not appreciate my dietitian-style comparisons: it is as reading people magazines. Yes, it is baaaad, and reading them probably won’t make you smarter, but once in a while… OMG it’s sooo good!

Then, the world is much bigger than the pink planet that gendered marketing wants to sell to girls. We, as parents, must encourage our daughters to go and see what is happening elsewhere. We shouldn’t hide behind the “But she only wants pink, princesses and makeup set.” It may be true, but we should also take our responsibilities.

In the same way that my children do not choose what we eat or what we buy at the grocery store, for games, toys, and clothing, we also decide what our children consume. We shouldn’t let our children alone with the devilish effective marketing strategists working for licenses and major brands. Otherwise, it’s like leaving them alone in a candy store… you cannot complain!!

And finally, this pink planet is not such an evil place, let’s our girls explore it, and, yes, let’s suggest boys to go there also, as there is nothing bad with liking” girls’ stuff.”


To continue on the same topic, I recommend you this excellent podcast Princesses, pink and ‘girly’ culture with Peggy Orenstein interviewed by The Guardian in the series What a feminist would do?

She has recently published a new book, which addresses the phase following the Princess one, entitled Girls & Sex. I have it… I read it, and I’ll talk to you about it soon.

Stereotips is a blog created and managed by 2 French Feminist mums who want to share their ideas beyond the French-speaking community. This post is a “home-made” translation from French. So if you see any typo or mistake, or if you want to help us, feel free to contact us! Thanks!

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