A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing Peggy Orenstein read from her latest book “Cinderella Ate My Daughter”. While much of her writing has previously been about teen girls and how their self-esteem is affected by media messages, her new book focuses on little girls and the messages they get from movies and toys that are geared toward them. Taking it back college style, I took notes! Let’s start with some fun facts:
- Pink was still considered a color for boys as late as the 1930s. It was thought to be a lighter shade of red which represented masculine power. You can still see this present in older Disney movies like Sleeping Beauty and Peter Pan.
- You may remember that Disney’s movies used to come out for a short time (3 months or so) after being in the movie theater, and then they would promptly go into the Disney “vault” for 7 years before being reissued. Now they are merchandised with no end date.
- Disney’s characters which were previously never cross-merchandised (Princesses) are now merchandised together which the caveat that they cannot look at each other. Disney’s argument is that they can’t know each other exists because they exist in different mythologies. The result is a lot of princesses who appear to have no female social support network.
Developmental Stages as a Marketing Construct
“Toddler” is not a natural developmental stage, but it became one only after it was developed by marketing companies as a way to increase the purchase of clothing for little boys. By creating a new stage in between infancy and childhood, they appealed to parent’s desire for their child to grow up into a “little man” and reinforce masculinity. Just as “toddler” was a marketing construct for little boys, “tween” is the newest developmental stage developed by marketers for girls. This stage can range anywhere from 7-14, an age range that probably should not be interested in the same activities. Orenstein also notes that while the “pink princess stage” may somewhat come naturally at the preschool age, the extreme marketing of these toys and play to girl “exploits and warps” this developmental stage.
Gendered Marketing & Play
More and more, toys that were previously androgynous (the fisher price cash register, telephone, and popping vacuum/lawn mower thing were just bright primary colors) now come in pink or blue to further the chasm between boys’ & girls’ play. While visiting the NY Toy Fair, someone from Leap Frog told Orenstein that exploiting social pressures drive up revenue. If someone buys a pink toy for their first child, a girl, and then later they have a boy, they are more likely to re-purchase the same toy in blue rather than pass on a “miss-gendered” toy to their son.
There is hope though. Recently Lego attempted to re-launch a female gendered Lego line (think pink Legos that build beauty parlors and princess castles) only to receive a petition with 52,000 signature against it. Lego conceded and is now in negotiation with new ways to market Legos to girls without selling out to typically gendered toys.
Hope for Caretakers
At one point Orenstein realized she was not going win this uphill battle by being the mom who was constantly saying “no” and depriving her daughter of the types of play and toys she wanted. She developed a new plan, fight fun with fun. Her and her partner became determined to open up their daughter’s world of play and creativity by getting quite creative themselves. What could they provide her with that would be just as exciting, flashy, & creative as the world of princesses? That’s when they discovered ancient greek mythology and the original fairytales many Disney stories are based on (Grimm’s Cinderella minus the violence & gore) packaged appropriately for kids. Their daughter was able to go as the goddess Athena for Halloween and still have all of the fantasy and costume that the princess world provided while simultaneously embodying a strong historical female character.
Orenstein also provides additional resources for caretakers on her website: http://peggyorenstein.com/