When I was growing up, I was a tomboy.  One of the many things I learned in the book I’m going to tell you about was that some women apparently SAY that they were tomboys even though they really weren’t.  Who knew that being a tomboy was a badge of honor?  But seriously, though.  I have tomboy cred.  When I was growing up, my father put a lot of effort into teaching me how to throw a ball in a way that was “not like a girl.”  My throwing skill would later be rewarded when I would be the only one left on my side of the gym when the sadistic gym teachers would decide a) to make us play dodgeball and b) to set up the game as boys vs. girls.  I had a pageboy haircut for years, and was in fact mistaken for a boy as a child.  When I wasn’t wearing a school uniform, most of the clothes I wore consisted of jeans, T-shirts, and (God help me) overalls.  My favorite colors were always purple and blue, until I gradually learned to appreciate brown and green.  I never liked wearing pink.  I never played with dolls.  And I’ve never had a manicure in my life.

Most of the time I was okay with my tomboy status.  I was proud of my ability to throw a ball, to win math prizes, and to beat the rest of the girls in my class in the overhand pullup competition.  I thought it was cool to dress up as male characters like Mr. Spock and Doctor Who for Halloween.  But there were times that I wished I was more girly.  When a neighbor came up to  my father and told him, “What lovely boys you have,” I wanted to die.  I immediately began pestering my parents to see if I could wear lip gloss, get my ears pierced, and grow my hair long.  It was definitely an uphill struggle, and there were many arguments along the way.  I also wished that I was more girly in elementary school, when my friends and I remained dateless wonders while OTHER girls were dating boys and … you know.  Making out with them.  Or so we heard.

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be really girly.  From the time that I was little until the present day, I’ve looked at “girly” girls with a mix of curiosity, envy, confusion, and disgust.  What would it have been like, I wondered, to have grown up in a family where my feminine side was encouraged to bloom?  What would it have been like to sleep in a four-poster bed with frilly sheets, to dress like a princess on Halloween, to do my nails, to wear makeup, to style my hair, and all the rest of it?  Well, as many options as I had (and lost) to be ultra-girly when I was growing up, there are MANY more options now.  That’s what I learned by reading an engrossing new book called Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein.

Orenstein was an intelligent woman who knew just how girls SHOULD be raised, until she had a daughter of her own.  She soon realized that no matter how hard she tried, her daughter grew to love the very things that Orenstein tried to keep out of the house.  Like Cinderella and the other Disney princesses, for example.  Orenstein did lots of research about the changing feminine ideal in different ways, like reading, conducting interviews, and going to toy stores.  Several times while reading this book I was both entertained and astonished, but I found her discussion of toys aimed at girls to be especially memorable:

Consider the “girls’ editions” of classic board games, each of which appears to have been dipped in Pepto-Bismol.  The sparkly pink Ouija board includes a deck of seventy-two cards that “Ask the questions that girls want to know.”  (“Who will text me next?”  “Will I be a famous actress someday?”)  Pink Yahtzee includes a fuzzy shaker and dice that boast, rather than numbers, hearts, butterflies, flowers, cell phones, flip-flops, and dresses.  Monopoly Pink Boutique Edition claims to be “All about the things girls love!  Buy boutiques and malls, go on a shopping spree, pay your cell phone bill, and get text and instant messages.”  The raspberry-tinted fantasy these products peddle assumes, like Disney Princesses, that all girls long to be the fairest of them all (and the best dressed and the most popular), but something, somewhere, has shifted.  The innocence that pink signaled during the Princess years, which seems so benign, even protective, has receded, leaving behind narcissism and materialism as the hallmarks of feminine identity.  The customization of these toys verges on parody; it also discourages the possibility of cross-sex friendship.  Could you share your Pink Glam Magic 8 Ball with a pal who happened to be a boy?  My sources say no.

FWIW, I especially agree with that cross-sex friendship point.  I think I got along with boys as well as I did because I enjoyed the same things / read the same books / played the same games that they did.  And while I didn’t have a lot of toys, I had a REAL Ouija board and a REAL Magic 8 Ball, thank you very much!

There were a few more eye-opening revelations, including things like:

“Tween” girls now spend more than $40 million a month on beauty products.  No wonder Nair, the depilatory maker, in 2007 released Nair Pretty, a fruit-scented line designed to make ten-year-olds conscious of their “unwanted” body hair.

Oh, for God’s sake!!!  And if, like my boyfriend, you have trouble believing that such a product exists, I have to tell you that it really does.  You can even get glitter wax strips that smell like green apples!  Hey, you know that if you want to market your product to girls, you should definitely add some glitter!

Anyway, Orenstein discusses a plethora of things that have molded, influenced, and challenged the idea of femininity.  These topics include:  Effects of animated Disney Princesses (and their marketing campaigns), fairy tales (and Bruno Bettelheim’s interpretation thereof), the Twilight series, child beauty pageants, American Girl dolls, Barbie dolls, Bratz dolls, Disney TV stars like Hillary Duff and Miley Cyrus who fell out of favor with their young audiences when they started acting too grown up (“the virgin/whore cycle of the pop princesses”), plastic surgery, female superheroes (Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Hawkgirl, and … Big Barda???), Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, The Spice Girls, The Daring Book For Girls, The Girls’ Book: How to Be the Best at Everything, educational sites like Whyville, online games aimed at girls (Disney Pricesses site, BarbieGirls, B-Bratz, Moxiegirlz), Facebook “friends” (there’s a chapter entitled “Just Betwen You, Me, and my 622 BFFs”), cyberbullying, sexting, online pornography, and social networking sites for kids.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter is one of the most interesting nonfiction books I’ve read in a while.  It took me a while to get through it because there was so much information in it, but I thought it was a really compelling read.

Okay, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the Pink Glam Magic 8 Ball comes with its own pink pillow, but still … WOW.