Feminism, marketing, raising little girls, plus a bit of homeschooling

From the couple of articles I’ve read, and the excerpt of her book, I can tell I’m not nearly as feminist as Peggy Orenstein.  But, I still put her brand-new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter:  Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, on hold at the library.  We seem to think very similarly, at least on some things.  In one article, Orenstein recounts how her daughter’s tastes radically and immediately changed, upon entering “preschool” at the age of two, discarding her formerly beloved pin-striped overalls and love of Thomas the Train and taking on a new, rabid adoration of pink tulle and Disney Princesses.  For now, let’s skim past the part where people feel compelled to SCHOOL THEIR CHILDREN AT THE AGE OF TWO, to the part where marketing and peer pressure have so adversely affected our society that our two-year-olds reject their “first loves” in lieu of what’s being shoved down their teensy throats by Madison Avenue!

You think I exaggerate?  I do not, fair reader!  It starts even earlier than that!!!

Late last month, the company quietly began pressing its newest priority, Disney Baby, in 580 maternity hospitals in the United States. A representative visits a new mother and offers a free Disney Cuddly Bodysuit, a variation of the classic Onesie.

In bedside demonstrations, the bilingual representatives extol the product’s bells and whistles — extra soft! durable! better sizing! — and ask mothers to sign up for e-mail alerts from DisneyBaby.com.

The above excerpt is from a New York Times article dated February 6, 2011, my emphasis added.

Another disturbing tidbit:

Disney estimates the North American baby market, including staples like formula, to be worth $36.3 billion annually. Its executives talk about tapping into that jackpot as if they were waging a war. “Apparel is only a beachhead,” said Andy Mooney, chairman of Disney Consumer Products.

For those who may wonder about Disney’s intentions to further infiltrate your home,

Beachhead:

1. A position on an enemy shoreline captured by troops in advance of an invading force.
2. A first achievement that opens the way for further developments; a foothold.

I am stridently opposed to marketing directly to children.  I praise the likes of my cousin, Romney, who has campaigned to rid her own preschooler’s school of its McDonald’s affiliation, in which the school receives money in exchange for “events” where children attend mandatory pep rallies with Ronald McDonald, and are given Happy Meals, all without parental consent, all built into the school day.  (And people wonder why homeschooling school days are so short.  Why, because we actually LEARN STUFF during our school day — apparently trivial, outdated stuff like math, and literature, and grammar, and history — and don’t attend baldfaced marketing sessions given by the McDonald’s corporation!!  But, I digress.)

Well, maybe I’m not digressing.  One of the unintended benefits of homeschooling is that my children feel much more free to develop into the people God made them to be.  They’re not mocked (at least, not regularly!) for their interests, nor pressured away from something — anything, be it their Christianity, to their choice of clothes! — just because The Herd does not endorse it.

So.  I’m sure Orenstein, in her book, is not trying to make a case for homeschooling.  But, since that’s a passion in my heart, I can’t help but see that part of the problem might be the pressure to place our children in preschools as early as the tender age of two, schools which aren’t so much a center for real learning, but a hotbed of social conformation, where our wee ones are unknowingly being sucked up into the “invading force[s]” of the likes of Disney Baby!

ALL OF THAT SAID…  Part of me is really pleased that my four year old, Audrey, feels very free to be a girl.  I was startled when she began exhibiting true girlie-girl behavior — coyly flirting with Daddy and having a passion for shoes — before she could even crawl!!  And, I’m glad to give her a home in which she feels confident in her super-girliness.

Just this morning, I laughed delightedly over the Pillow Princess she made.  Onto the floor, she laid a (hand-me-down) Disney Sleeping Beauty dress-up dress, under which she placed various throw pillows, to give it a plumped-out appearance.  Another pillow, fringed, formed the Pillow Princess’s head, onto which she placed an Ariel tiara (also hand-me down), and cut-outs, made from white paper, colored with Crayons, which formed the eyes, nose, and very pink mouth.

There’s a fine line there…  I know I’m treading it with care, trying to give my daughters the freedom to express their femininity — even if it does include an excess of pink frilly stuff! — without exposing them to so much marketing that they feel like they’re “supposed” to love Disney Princess, and they need to discard anything not-pink.

~sigh~

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About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on February 14, 2011, in Babies, Birth, Books I'm Reading, Character Development, Clothes, Homeschooling, Introspective Musings, Library, Motherhood, Parenting, Political Thought, Sad Things, Scary stuff, Shopping, The Kids. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I love what you have to say about allowing your daughter to “be girly” in spite of your gut feminist reaction against it. That is something I will take to heart as I raise my daughter. We certainly don’t want to overcompensate.
    I happen to love a bunch of those Disney movies from which the infamous princesses came. It makes me sad that if my daughter one day appreciates the movie Beauty and the Beast that she will suddenly be bombarded with a bunch of crap at the store that has Belle branded on it.
    We’ve already got that problem with Elmo and Dora. /sigh/ It’s sad when we can’t walk down an aisle at the grocery store because I see a bunch of Elmo junk she won’t be able to live without.

    • Yeah, Kim, regarding overcompensation… Martin and I talked about it before Audrey was born, whe I was alreayd on my no-pink kick. We decided that when she could make her own decisions about what to wear, and her interests, etc., that I would really listen to them. IOW, I wouldn’t NOT let her wear pink just because *I* didn’t like it. So, her bedroom, her clothes, her blankets, etc., when she was a baby, had NO PINK. It was feminine, lots of florals, but virtually no pink. The word even got out for the baby shower, and even as gifts, I got virtually no pink. It was quite a challenge to dress her like a GIRL but not have the clothes be PINK. Anyway. Now, she will tell you that her “favorite, favorite, favorite color is pink.” Ha! And, she was very girlie from the get-go. Fiala (for whom I interrupted this response to play catch) is definitely a girl, but a lot less girlie… more like me… not too picky about her clothes, not requiring bling, not hyperventilating in the shoe aisle, not as picky about her hair… It’s interesting to see the contrasts between the two.

      I must admit that I *HAVE* overcompensated a bit regarding Disney movies. I have avoided them. Plus, have you watched any lately? I understand the need for conflict and drama, but pretty much all of them, even the older ones, are downright scary for even a 4yo, to whom so many of those “Princess” things are marketed. I think my fave Disney movie from the last 10-15 years is Mulan. HOWEVER, I’m a little annoyed at Disney for lately, making just about every plot involving a girl, all about Girl Power, which I also have conflicting thoughts about. But, I guess that’s for another post. Someday.

  2. SO with you on the evils of marketing to babies children.

  3. Two things come to mind. 1) A disturbing documentary about marketing to children, which, as you point out, begins at (or even before) birth. It’s called “Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood” and it’s available on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uUU7cjfcdM
    2) A series of even more disturbing posts at Sociological Images blog about how many long-running lines of toys have been transformed to have a “sexier” appearance. What struck me the most was the makeover for the board game Candy Land. That game doesn’t even have words or numbers, so a 3-year-old could play it. When I was a kid, the box had two very ordinary-looking kids exploring a magical land on the front. Now it’s got disnified sprites and princesses. Why do toys marketed to toddlers and young kids need these kinds of makeovers? Here’s one of the posts, with links to the others: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2010/12/07/more-sexy-toy-makeovers-my-little-pony-rainbow-brite-and-candy-land/

    The most powerful tool the marketers have is social networks. They don’t even need a kid to be exposed to the message. They just need to influence some of the kids in the network. All of this to say that parents need to take a very pro-active role in limiting exposure to corporate marketing and helping kids process what exposure they do have. I can see how homeschooling would help achieve these ends.

    • I appreciate your comments, Gary. I viewed that page on making toys sexier a few days ago. (I’ll have to view the documentary later.) I agree: Candyland’s makeover was particularly disturbing. Adding to what you point out, I saw that Candyland was keeping up with the trend to make everything “witches and wizardry” very appealing. “You, too, can be a sexy, ten year old witch with flowing white-blond hair and a sparkly wand!” It really makes my skin crawl.

      It’s not like I started homeschooling to avoid marketing schemes, but it is definitely one of the (nearly countless) unexpected by-product/perks of educating my children at home.

  4. For me, the reason I dislike the newer Disney princess movies are because everyone is overly sexy. I saw newer because the old ones like Snow White are modest. But the new ones, oooooooooo, la, la! My kids don’t need to be looking at sexy cartoons!

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