Santa brought my smart four-year-old grandniece a Rapunzel’s Tower for Christmas. She served me coffee in the tiny cups, breakfast on the tiny plates, and had me assist her as she painted the wallpaper with a magic brush and water, which revealed birds and other images amidst the tree branches. (We had a lot of fun.)
This gift is the latest in a series of toys and dolls she’s received that celebrate the world of princess fairy tales. For lack of a better term, she’s kinda princess-crazy. I found out that her cousins had even dressed her up as a princess on Christmas Eve. Goodness!
This morning, the princess craze came up during a meeting I had with fellow librarians and the fine folks at Sonic, America’s Drive-In. Adrienne and I from the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, Emily from the Metropolitan Library System, and Nancy and Becky with Sonic were discussing plans for the 2012 Statewide Summer Reading Program. (Sonic has been a corporate partner for the program since way back in 1998. They’re the best!) When Nancy mentioned that Sonic provides toys with an educational component in their Wacky Pack children’s meals, as opposed to the Ariels and Sleeping Beauties found in other restaurant kid meals, I said that was great, and I admitted that I was having a problem with the whole princess thing. Just what kind of message are we sending to our young girls, anyway?
Becky noted the recent marketing strategy of making more toys and products in pink—including fishing tackle boxes and camouflage clothing!—to attract girls and women. She also mentioned a YouTube video of a young girl commenting on gender marketing. (See below.)
Once our meeting was over, I headed down to my car, started the engine, and turned on the radio, which was tuned to KGOU, an NPR station. Right then, on the Dianne Rehm Show, a woman was talking about pink toys! (Really, you can’t make this kind of stuff up.) Turns out the guest was Peggy Orenstein, who has much to say about gender marketing and its possible impact on girls in her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. From the book description:
Pink and pretty or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. Somewhere between the exhilarating rise of Girl Power in the 1990s and today, the pursuit of physical perfection has been recast as a source—the source—of female empowerment. And commercialization has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages.”
You know when there are reality shows featuring toddlers in tiaras that there’s a problem. Still, like Orenstein, I tend to believe that girls will be girls, and boys will be boys. Why fight nature? But that doesn’t mean we need to harden the gender differences within our culture. More than anything, I think I share a belief with the author that children should be children. The author investigates her concerns like a master sleuth. More from the book description:
She visited Disneyland and the international toy fair, trolled American Girl Place and Pottery Barn Kids, and met beauty pageant parents with preschoolers tricked out like Vegas showgirls. She dissected the science, created an online avatar, and parsed the original fairy tales. The stakes turn out to be higher than she—or we—ever imagined: nothing less than the health, development, and futures of our girls.”
This is definitely a book I want to check out.
In another part of the forest, my smart eight-year-old grandnephew received a BB gun for Christmas. But that’s another story…
I adore my little niece and nephew. They are sweet, kind, intelligent children and they have loving parents who offer them unconditional love and who do a good job of teaching them right from wrong. It’s just that their “Great and Powerful Uncle Bill” (that’s how I sign my name in their gift books and greeting cards) tends to worry.
And before I leave you, here’s that YouTube video of young Riley ranting about pink toys.