January rocked. We got to see 60 girls at our winter reunion, 134 girls signed up for summer camp, and 225 new families took part in our Real Parents, Real Daughters workshop series! When we weren’t teaching or working on new programs we were taking in some amazing new resources for supporting the next generation of leaders. Last Tuesday GLI friend and colleague Peggy Orenstein published the much-anticipated Cinderella Ate My Daughter, her humorous, honest and insightful look at the girly-girl culture. In this newsletter Rachel interviews Peggy about the book and her thoughts on the GLI mascot, Ronald the dog. We are also passing on some other great finds, such as the Boulder-based father daughter group, Velvet F.O.G. and a new international summit to save healthy body image, Endangered Species.
What is more inspirational than reading about the work that young GLI campers are doing right now? Read below about Frances’ activism project in Dallas, Texas. If you live in Colorado, below is our warning to catch one of the last few GLI program spots left for the year. Summer Camp programs are starting to close out, so if you plan on hanging out with your GLI family at Smith this summer, don’t wait to apply! We hope that you are staying warm and slush-free!
All my best,
Rachel’s Interview With Peggy Orenstein
The short answer is: I had a daughter. Until then I was blissfully unaware of how gendered, hyper-sexualized and appearance-focused the culture of even the tiniest girls has become. The Princesses had sort of blindsided me. We didn’t have the products in the house. I had never even heard of Disney Princesses (because, it turned out, the Princess concept didn’t even begin until 2001).
But within a few weeks of starting preschool Daisy suddenly knew every one of the Princess’s names and gown colors as if by osmosis. So Princess obsession marked her first real foray into mainstream culture. And what did that culture tell her about being a girl? Not that she was competent, strong, creative, or smart but that every little girl wants—or should want—to be the Fairest of Them All.
And so while you may say, well, what’s the big deal about Cinderella at three years old, you’ve then got the lip smackers collection at 4 years, Monster High Dolls at 6, America’s Top Model at 9…girls are put into this little pink box at ever-younger ages. So while I’d always been interested in teenage girls, I had always written about teenage girls, but I realized all those things we have concerns about, the risks liniked to premature sexualization and obsession with appearance—depression, negative body image, eating disorders, poor sexual choices—do not just spring forth when a girl blows out the candles on her 13th birthday cake.
Right now, for instance, Daisy, who is 7, is really into Mad Libs, so we were at our local independent book store in Berkeley and what do they have? PINK Mad Libs. On pink paper. And the topics of the little stories were, I kid you not, “The Perfect Makeover,” “The Cutest Boy in Class,” “A Trip to the Mall…”
I mean, HONESTLY!
Can girls be convinced to look at Disney with a wary eye, or is this a lost cause?
Not when they’re little. A 3-year-old can’t understand your brilliant deconstruction of a sales pitch. The only thing that penetrates is PRINCESSES and TOOTHPASTE TUBE.
But just saying “no” all the time is a trap too, because it’s hard to convince your daughter that you’re trying to offer her more choices when you keep limiting what she can have. So it’s really important to provide her with equally fun alternatives that satisfy that preschooler need to assert your gender.
That means, I’m afraid, that I’m telling parents they have to do some work. I hate to do that, because I’m a mom and I’m exhausted and frankly, it would be a lot easier to just let her have the spa birthday party. But if it’s any comfort, I get a lot out of looking for books, movies, toys and such that we both can embrace. Plus, I’ve noticed this interesting thing just recently. The toys that kids are “supposed” to play with are time bound. They know EXACTLY when they’re supposed to grow out of Disney Princesses and after the stroke of midnight on that day, they will NOT touch those gowns. Same with Barbie or Bratz or any of that stuff.
But I got Daisy these Papo figurines of kings, queens, fairies, Joan of Arc — this whole array of characters. They were $5 each, cheaper than most Barbie or Disney Princess junk (and God knows, American Girl). And they aren’t licensed out as breakfast cereal. They just are what they are. So she doesn’t know when she’s supposed to grow out of them. Therefore, she has played with them every day since she was three. And she’s still going strong using her true imagination with them. Best $50 I ever spent.
As to older girls, like you, I’m all about the dialog.
You have to listen to why they like what they like. You have to acknowledge what’s fun about it. And you can also express concerns, ask questions etc. Because, like I said, it’s not about Disney Princesses per se—it goes on and on.
I call it Girlz with a “z” culture. You see that “z” all the time. Bratz. Moxie Girlz. It’s “sassy” girl culture, which is little kid for “sexy.” It’s “all about you!” Self-absorption passing as self-expression. It’s the culture that tells them not only that they should be beautiful and sexy but that femininity is defined by narcissism. That girl power is about the power to choose to objectify yourself, rather than the freedom from it. Girlz Power. So I think with older girls you can really probe that distinction.
Already, at 7, Daisy is getting it. We were at Radio Shack recently and she dragged me over to see this robotic talking pink pig. It was named Princess. And when you touched its nose it said things like, “Oink, my name is Princess and I’m a princess,” “Oink, I’m going to marry a prince” “Oink, do you like my outfit?” We laughed so hard we nearly got kicked out of the store. For days we would look at each other and say, “Oink, my name is Princess and I’m a princess!” So she’s getting pretty savvy. And meanwhile, I am loving the things that she IS picking out—the movies, the books, the toys.
What are 3 things parents can do to make sure their daughters don’t consume the destructive messages of princess culture wholesale?
Number 1: Lock them in a tower. No, just kidding. That’s not really our job. Our job is to help them navigate through the culture, or to navigate through it for them when they’re too little to do it themselves.
One thing I want to be clear about is that, again, I’m a mom like any mom. I am totally imperfect. In the book I reveal all my horrible foibles as a parent of a daughter—all my contradictions and hypocrisies and embarrassing public scenes (like the time I had a meltdown in Target over a Barbie). I get tired, really tired, of these bloody constant “teaching moments.” I don’t WANT any more teaching moments. But this is the world in which we live. So you do your best.
Sometimes you mess up. But if you don’t try, you’re leaving your daughter at the mercy of the marketers. So you really do have to say no, find alternatives, talk to your daughter as she gets older. I am finding that works, at least for now. At least to a degree. It’s what I’ve got as a parent, you know?
And I believe we have power as parents. I do. I think about the food movement. Ten years ago, organic produce was fringy. PRODUCE was fringy. But because of a couple of books, parents were educated and they insisted on better. Now Congress has revamped the school lunch program. McDonald’s offers some healthier options. If we can change McDonald’s lord knows we can change Mattel.
What does your daughter, Daisy, think of the book?
She liked the last book better because her name was in the title. Honestly, I think she’s proud that I’m writing about how we raise and treat girls, as much as she can understand it. I do really wrestle, though, with the ethics of writing about my child. And I’m pretty sure I’m gong to stop doing it shortly. She’s getting old enough where it will soon be an invasion of her privacy.
Is it true that you have met Ronald, the Girls Leadership Institute mascot?
That business about how I left the back door ajar and he pushed it open, took off and we had to chase him for fifteen minutes is a nefarious rumor, no doubt perpetrated by Disney.
Anything else you want to tell us?
You know, if looking in the mirror and asking, “Who is the Fairest of them All” at three years old helped them attain a healthier body image, shielded them from eating disorders, gave them healthy perspective on their appearance, reduced their obsession with it, gave them more control over their sexual choices, I’d be all over it. I’d say go for it. Pink me, Dude. But it doesn’t, it just doesn’t.
It’s a really damaging paradox: girls are told that the thing that makes them girls is the obsession with appearance, but that that appearance is never good enough. Most of us lived that. None of us want that for our daughters.
Girl Meets World Curriculum Training
Join us in Boston for three days of curriculum training with Rachel Simmons. This fun, interactive small group program trains participants to deliver the highest quality social-emotional education for girls. You will learn the latest research on girls’ development and the best teaching practices from the Girls Leadership Institute workshops and summer camps. Apply here. Space is limited.
Wednesday, March 30 — Friday, April 1, 2011 Simmons College, Boston.
Last Chance for Colorado Workshops This Year!
GLI’s first Colorado Spring Break Day Camp for girls in grades four and five at Boulder JCC is open for registration! Join us from March 21 – 25 for five fun-filled days where girls will celebrate being themselves and learn the skills to build authentic, rewarding relationships. Register early to save $50. Learn more.
We feel so fortunate to have enjoyed an amazing welcome to Colorado this year. We couldn’t have done it without our amazing partnership with the Parent Engagement Network. If you live near Boulder and have been wanting to try us out, here is your last chance till next fall. Check out these programs:
• Real Parents, Real Daughters at Friends School of Boulder, Grades 4 & 5, Thursdays in April
• Real Parents, Real Daughters at Eldorado School in Superior, Grades 2 & 3, Thursdays in April
• Real Parents, Real Daughters Weekend for girls in grades 6 – 8, April 29 – May 1 at Boulder Country Day
Act For Endangered Species
We may have come a long way, but many women and girls still struggle with toxic cultural messages about their bodies. Taking a stand against the ever narrowing definition of beauty, the upcoming Endangered Species: Preserving the Female Body summit will create a new visual culture that celebrates the diverse beauty of real girls and women. To be held in New York City on March 18th and 19th, the summit will address questions about the causes of this phenomenon and pursue various means to effect change. Sponsored by Any-body, brainchild of Susie Orbach, this event is sure to save us from ourselves.
Foggy With a Chance of Fun
At a recent event in Boulder, Colorado we were lucky enough to meet the Velvet F.O.G. (Fathers Of Girls), a new group of dads committed to supporting each other as parents and sharing a love of the outdoors and a lust for life with their girls. These dudes and daughters are up to all kinds of adventures, planning outings to women’s college basketball games, youth in sports days, father-daughter dances and more. We’re forecasting a lot of fun for this group – and who knows, maybe this group will inspire more father-daughter groups to organize!
Leader In Action
By Frances Desmond, 11th grade, Dallas, TX
When the other girls in Sophomore Summer and I sat down on the first official day of camp to watch a few videos to get our ideas flowing, I already knew what project I wanted to do. At the high school I attend, 1/14 of students are teenage mothers and more than twice that number don’t graduate. The Sophomore Summer goal is to bring some change back to your community, and I figured that preventing drop-outs and motivating girls at my school to be independent and self-confident would be a good way to tackle some of the problems my community faces.
Over the next few weeks, with the help of my counselor, Lindsay Dedow and the other girls in Sophomore Summer, I developed a project called GROW. GROW (Girls Reaching Our World) is an inter-school mentoring club dedicated to spreading the message of girl power by selecting female students at risk of dropping out from my high school to mentor disadvantaged girls attending our feeder middle school.
So far, GROW has been approved by the administration and I have two teacher sponsors. My aunt, a graphic designer, is helping me design a poster promoting the club and I’ve completed the curriculum for the first 6 weeks of GROW. In the next two weeks, guidance counselors will begin selecting students who would benefit the most from this club. We are also working to get a corporate sponsor to fund field trips, activities, and snacks (FOOD GOOD)!