Sometimes, the universe seems to steer me towards a subject. Then it clobbers me over the head with it, repeatedly. (It’s not subtle, my universe.)
In this case, a Facebook friend shared a link to a terrific slam-poetry performance. Then I read Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter. After that, generous friends gave us 3 enormous bags of sweet, tasteful, hand-me-down clothes.
And you know what? Our girl isn’t even born and I’m already experiencing Pink & Pretty overload. I avoid the pink aisles in children’s stores. I know that Barbies, Bratz, and yet more bumptious dolls await. And I’ve noticed that clothing for small girls is relentlessly – even furiously – feminine: pink and purple, frills and tucks, flowers and hearts. Depending on the day, I sigh, shudder, or rant.
What I’m less certain of is why this bothers me so. Little boys are equally stereotyped: blue and more blue, trucks and dinosaurs, “action figures” (can’t call them dolls, or society will collapse!) and toy guns. But to me this seems less dangerous, less toxic, less generally loathesome. Also, less compulsory. Am I under- or over-estimating boys, or being unfair to them in some way?
These questions churned in my brain as I read Cinderella Ate My Daughter. The pretty/pink conundrum torments Orenstein, too, as you’ll see if you read her book (I recommend it). And here’s where I think Orenstein really gets it right. She says:
It would be disingenuous to claim that Disney Princess diapers or Ty Girlz or Hannah Montana or Twilight or the latest Shakira video or a Facebook account is inherently harmful. Each is, however, a cog in the round-the-clock, all-pervasive media machine aimed at our daughters – and at us – from womb to tomb; one that, again and again, presents femininity as performance, sexuality as performance, identity as performance, and each of those traits as available for a price. It tells girls that how you look is more important than how you feel. More than that, it tells them that how you look is how you feel, as well as who you are.
That’s it, right there – the core of my anxieties, uncovered.
And the slam-poetry performance I mentioned earlier? It’s Katie Makkai’s “Pretty”. I think all girls should hear it – as mine will, one day. (Thanks, Coco.)
On a completely different subject, The Agency: A Spy in the House was recently shortlisted for an Agatha! These are readers’ choice awards (yes, named for Agatha Christie) and the members of Malice Domestic will vote for a winner at their April convention. (Check out the full shortlist here.) I’m so very honoured. Thank you, mystery fans!