Book Review: Peggy Orenstein's “Cinderella Ate My Daughter”

With a title like “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” how could I possibly pass up Peggy Orenstein’s book about how to raise an empowered and egalitarian daughter in the face of societal pressures to push her into gender-based preferences and roles?
It promised to be both thought-provoking and entertaining. It delivered on both levels.
Part of the charm of this book is Orenstein’s conflicting thoughts and feelings as she navigates the challenges of raising a girl in the modern world. Rather than pretending she knows it all or can always recognize – and make – the right choices, she confesses her confusion and the conflicting signals she sometimes gives her daughter.
These challenges are particularly dismaying to someone like me who, like Orenstein, grew up in a world where women struggled for equality both in the workplace and at home. I first noticed the backsliding while watching reality TV, where women in their 20’s and even 30’s are routinely referred to as “girls” – something that would have been the object of loud protests in the 70’s.
In the book, Orenstein exposes how things have gone much beyond that. She covers several sources of pressure on girls to conform to the “girly” culture. Not the least of these pressures is the “Princess” line of products launched by Disney in the year 2000. For many of us, if we wanted to play dress-up as girls, we raided our parents’ closet, where we could take on gender-neutral roles, like a farmer, if we so desired.
These days, girls are pressured to buy Disney princess dresses and accessories, and there is no way to protect a girl from these expectations. Even though Orenstein never talked about Disney Princesses at home – indeed, she knew nothing of the phenomenon – as soon as she sent her daughter to school, little Daisy came home with the names of the Princesses memorized, and a desire for a dress of her own.
Similarly, refraining from telling fairy tales at home did not stop Orenstein from finding Daisy playing the role of Snow White at the reception for a relative’s bat mitvah. These stories, with similar themes of damsels in distress waiting for the perfect man to sweep them off their feet, are pervasive in our culture.
Add to that the “pinking” of toys and games, signs at toys fairs advertising “Energy, Heroes and Power” for boys while trumpeting “Beautiful, Pretty and Colorful” for girls, it is impossible for girls to avoid the message that they are, indeed, different, and not necessarily in a way that is healthy for them.
And that is before we get to Orenstein’s chapter on beauty pageants for very young girls, or the descending age at which products like nail polish and lipstick are being marketed to girls. All of these things lead to the notion that appearance, not intelligence, compassion, or strength of character, is all that matters when it comes to girls.
All in all, the book is a real eye-opener to those of us who don’t have young girls at home and who aren’t navigating these waters. I would like to say it has sage advice for those of you who are raising girls now, but it really is just one woman’s story of the horrors out there and how she has tried, sometimes more successfully than others, to cope.
For those of you pressed for time, the book includes an Appendix with an interview of Orenstein, which hits all the highlights in the previous 192 pages. In addition, it contains an Appendix with revealing statistics about females in movies, such as this tidbit: “Across the four hundred top-grossing G, PG, PG-13 and R-rated movies released between 1990 and 2006, only 27 percent of all speaking characters were females.”
There is also an Appendix outlining some disturbing trends among girls today, such as, “Sixty percent of girls in grades nine to twelve surveyed in 2006 were attempting to lose weight; only 10 percent of these same girls were considered medically overweight.”
Those statistics alone should encourage anyone who cares about the future of this country to buy this book and get educated on what messages we’re sending to our girls.

*The FTC made me do it: Disclosure of Material Connection: There is none. I bought this book with my very own, hard-earned cash. Neither TC Jewfolk nor I received a free copy of ”Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” or any other consideration from the book’s author or publisher, in the hope that we would mention it on TC Jewfolk. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”