"Cinderella Ate My Daughter"
By Peggy Orenstein
There is something wrong with children's toys today. This is Orenstein's argument in the second and third chapters of her book, in which she focuses on the gender-specific aspects of children's toys. She describes the "pinkification" of toys marketed to young girls and how the words found on girls' toys are "Beautiful," "Pretty," and "Colorful," while the words centered around boys' toys are "Energy," "Heroes," and "Power." She expresses concern for the self-esteem and aspirations of young girls, whose toys teach them that the thing they should value most in life is physical appearance.
What fascinated me the most about these two chapters was Orenstein's emphasis on the marketing strategies behind these toys and especially the effect they have on the look of dolls. As Orenstein explains, baby dolls were originally used in a campaign started by President Theodore Roosevelt to "revive the flagging maternal instinct of white girls" during a time when birth rates were extraordinarily low (45).
Over the years, the doll craze has led to the creation of many types of dolls. But most of all, it has led to a constant transformation of the dolls that young girls play with, moving farther away from innocence and closer to "mature," "cool," and "sexy." For me, the doll that is most representativeof this change is the "New Dora." She is meant to be an older version of the TV show character Dora the Explorer, who is adventurous and smart and doesn't care about appearance. "New Dora," however, is tall and skinny and pretty and wears a dress with ballet flats instead of shorts and sneakers. She has lost her childhood innocence, as well as her desire to be anything other than pretty. Although this transformation may fare well for marketing companies, it is sparking fear in parents who don't want their daughters becoming sexualized or materialistic. Authors Mikel Brown and Sharon Lamb have gone so far as to create a petition against "New Dora," as stated in a Washington Post article in 2009. A link to the petition can be found within the article.
In response to the many complaints of angry and concerned parents, Nickelodeon and Mattel released a statement on March 16, 2009 to explain their reasoning behind creating "New Dora." They claimed it was a way for the Dora character to grow with the children and remain age-appropriate, and it would keep the children "little girls" for longer. Orenstein begs to differ:
"New Dora wasn't sexy, not at all--she was pretty, and that prettiness was now inextricable from her other traits. No longer did she turn 'gender portrayal' on its head by 'not looking perfect.' New Dora stands as a reminder to her rugged little sister that she better get with the program, apparently by age five" (42).
Several mothers even argued that they shouldn't be trying to keep their daughters "little girls" for longer and that children should be allowed to grow out of Dora. This, among other arguments against New Dora, can be found in one mother's blog, Viva La Feminista.
New Dora is only one example of how young girls' dolls are straying away from childhood innocence for a cooler, more sexualized look. One collection of dolls this is most often used to illustrate the sexualization of toys is the Bratz dolls. The American Psychological Association (APA) confirmed that these dolls, among other forms of mainstream media, have a negative effect on the mental health of young girls. Although these dolls are more aware of racial diversity, they make it clear that there is only one attractive body type (thin) and that tight shirts and short skirts are cool and show attitude and maturity. Bratz dolls, like New Dora, give young girls the message that it is more important to look good than to explore the world around you.
Point to Share:
Another part of these two chapters that I found very interesting was when Orenstein talks about how the more women achieve, the more they become obsessed with physical appearance. It is as if women "unconsciously defuse the threat their progress poses to male dominance" (18). In other words, we have the ingrained belief that it is unfair for women to achieve the same things as men, so in exchange for achieving these things, we give up the ability to live life without constantly worrying about the way we look. I want to talk/think much more about this idea and see how it relates to my own life and the lives of other people.