Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cinderella Ate My Daughter? Or Was It The Unnatural Selection?

I've done very well with nonfiction lately; not so well with fiction, sadly.  It's a shame, because now that my summer vacation has begun, I could really do with some lovely frivolous reading.  Well, it can't be helped.

One very entertaining nonfiction book I read lately was Cinderella Ate My Daughter, by Peggy Orenstein.  A prolific writer about girls and growing up female, Orenstein has a bit of shock when she finally has her own daughter.  Determined to raise an empowered girl, who does not feel trapped by stereotypes, she encourages her to like the characters of her choice (Thomas the Tank Engine) and engage in any type of play, not simply girl-specific activities.  However, she soon realizes that this will not work -- Daisy's Thomas lunchbox hits the dirt as soon as a classmate points out that "only boys like Thomas the Tank Engine," and Orenstein soon sees her daughter swallowed by the whole Disney Princess culture -- in spite of her best efforts to indoctrinate her daughter against that world.

This book explores much of this culture -- Orenstein goes into the world of kiddie pageants, American Girl dolls, fairy tales, and Disney movies.  She explores the role of girls in popular culture (or lack thereof) and does a great deal of hand-wringing over her lack of control over how her daughter finds her place in the world.  I think this book speaks more of our inability to really form our children in the way we'd ideally wish, and how culture and the outside world has so much influence.

Once we're on the topic of gender, Unnatural Selection comes along with a warning tocsin, citing new research in Asia and even parts of Europe that show parents electing to abort female fetuses after ultrasound identification.   Mara Hvistendahl, the author, sketches for the reader the cultural background for this alarming trend, and goes further by proposing the unintended consequences of such behavior.  And these consequences may in fact be dire.  It's an interesting read, if a bit panicky.

On another topic entirely, Malled is the account of a journalist seeking some additional income who goes to work as a sales associate for The North Face.  She goes on and on about how industry culture treats the lowly sales associate like dirt, who subsequently treats the customer badly, eventually quits or is fired, explaining the ridiculous turnover rate.  One thing I came away with -- I will, in future, always attempt to be friendly, appreciative, and courteous to any sales associate who assists me.

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