It was only a matter of time before I read Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. I enjoyed the first edition mightily (haven’t seen the 2012 version’s new material). It’s an easy read (I finished it in a couple of hours) but covers a lot of ground: the prevalence of pink, Disney Princesses, female superheroes, American Girl dolls, Toddlers and Tiaras, Lizzie McGuire and Hannah Montana, social networks, and so on and so on, plus stories about the author’s own girl-raising quandries.
Need a sample?
“It is quite possible that boys, too, would wear sequins if only they could. Isabelle Cherney, a professor of psychology at Creighton University, found that nearly half of boys aged five to thirteen, when ushered alone into a room and told they could play with anything, chose “girls'” toys as frequently as “boys'” — provided they believed nobody would find out. Particularly, their fathers: boys as young as four said their daddies would think it was “bad” if they played with “girls”” toys, even something as innocuous as miniature dishes.” (p. 21-22)
You know you want more:
“Then the whole concept of labeling kicks in — sometime between the ages of two and three they realize that there is this thing called “boy” and this thing called “girl” and something important differentiates them. But whatever, they wonder, could that be? There is a legendary story about a four-year-old boy named Jeremy, the son of a psychology professor at Cornell, who wore his favorite barrettes to school one day. “You’re a girl,” one of his classmates said accusingly, but the boy stood firm. No, he explained, he was a boy because he had a penis and testicles. The other child continued to taunt him. Finally, exasperated, Jeremy pulled down his pants to prove his point. His tormentor merely shrugged. “Everyone has a penis,” he said. “Only girls wear barrettes.” (Jeremy, incidentally, is probably well into his mid-forties by now and, I imagine, wishes people would stop repeating this anecdote.)
“The point is, the whole penis-vagina thing does not hold quite the same cachet among the wee ones as it does among us. Yet if toting the standard equipment is makes you male or female, exactly what does?
“Well, duh, it’s barrettes.
“At least, that’s what kids think: it is your clothing, hairstyle, toy choice, favorite color. Slippery stuff, that. You can see how perilously easy it would be to err: if you wore pink or your mom cut your hair too short, you might inadvertently switch sex. It could happen: until around age five kids don’t fully realize that their own identities (not to mention their anatomies) are fixed. Before that, as far as they’re concerned, you could grow up to be either a mommy or a daddy. And they don’t understand that other people’s sex stays the same despite superficial changes — that a man who puts on a dress is still a man— until as late as age seven. “In general, the concept of permanence is hard for children to grasp, Eliot said. “The prefrontal cortex of the brain is what looks to the future, and that’s the slowest part to develop. Another example would be death: young children have a very hard time understanding that a pet or person they love who has died is gone forever. They may listen to what you say and seem to get it, but they secretly believe it can change.
“It makes sense, then, that to ensure you will stay the sex you were born you’d adhere rigidly to the rules as you see them and hope for the best. That’s why four-year-olds, who are in what is called “the inflexible stage,” become the self-appointed chiefs of the gender police. Suddenly the magnetic lure of the Disney Princesses became more clear to me: developmentally speaking, they were genius, dovetailing with the precise moment that girls need to prove they are girls, when they will latch onto the most exaggerated images their culture offers in order to stridently shore up their femininity.” (p. 59-61)
Are you fascinated? Check your library for Orenstein’s work, and/or get your fix at her blog.