Don’t sulk into your hands when your daughter requests a Bratz doll. Just because she owns an entire crate of Barbie dolls is no reason to give upon her developing other interests. So says Peggy Orenstein in her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, excerpted recently in The Guardian. Orenstein urges parents to not give up the good fight when it comes to providing alternatives to a commercially-sanctioned childhood and even admits to her own surprises at the demands of motherhood.
Orenstein writes that keeping her daughter safe from the agenda of advertisers and marketers was not what she had in mind as a parent:
I never expected, when I had a daughter, that one of my most important jobs would be to protect her childhood from becoming a marketers’ land grab. I have begun to see myself as that hazel tree in the Grimm Brothers’ version of Cinderella: my branches offering her shelter, my roots giving her strength. I refuse to believe that parents are helpless. We can provide alternatives, especially in the critical early years when children’s brains are most malleable: choices that appeal to their desire to be girls yet reflect parents’ values, worldview and dreams for them.
When reflecting on her own efforts to providing said “alternatives,” she admits that it continues to be a challenging endeavor that she sometimes stumbles in herself. But the larger effort of giving her young daughter the resources to navigate her adolescence with self-awareness remains of the utmost importance to her as a mother:
I wish I could tell you that I had reached my own goals: getting my daughter outside more, taking walks in the woods together, playing sports, making art. Occasionally I have and I advocate all of that but mostly I have just got a lot more canny about how we participate in the consumer culture. At bedtime we continue to read legends, mythology, and fairytales all of which teem with complex female characters that fire a child’s imagination. The path to womanhood is strewn with enchantment, but it is also rife with thickets and thorns and a Big Bad Culture that threatens to consume them even as they consume it. The good news is, the choices we make for our toddlers can influence how they navigate life as teens. I’m not saying we can, or will, do everything “right,” only that there is power magic in awareness. If we start with that, with wanting girls to see themselves from the inside out rather than outside in, we will go a long way towards helping them find their true happily ever-after.
Orenstein’s dedication to supplying her daughter with complex female characters, activities, and hobbies that don’t entail the word “diva,” provides a solid counter to commercially crafted depictions of girlhood. By encouraging interests that cannot be found on the shelves of most mainstream toy stores, she fosters interests that otherwise might never blossom.