How Disney Invaded American Childhood to Shill Worthless Crap to Our Kids
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And that well-meaning part is really key. I mean, when you walk into Pottery Barn Kids, it’s like apartheid in there. For girls, it’s hearts and flowers and hula girls -- and the boys have sailboats, trucks, sports. I know somebody who was writing the [Pottery Barn] catalog, who said, “We’ve tried to make more gender-neutral items. And they just don’t sell.” We ended up with sea-creature sheets. So that was sort of neutral. [B]ut eventually your daughter may go, “Uh-uh. I don’t want this.” And if you keep disallowing it, giving her things from the boys’ side of the store, she’ll think you believe the stuff for girls is bad -- and maybe even that being a girl is bad. And that’s a problem, too.
Could it be that there’s just a cultural fear of exploring what it could be like to be female outside the bounds of narcissism?
There was some interesting research that I put in Cinderella Ate My Daughter, finding that the more egalitarian a society is, the more they believe that certain traits in men and women are innate -- stereotypical traits, obviously. In the chapter “Pinked,” I cite a study by a college professor who’s been polling students on gender-related traits since the 1970s. And interestingly, over that time, the association of women with certain stereotypical traits -- such as being talkative or friendly or indecisive -- has increased. You could say that, “Well, now that we’re more equal, we can see what’s innate.” Or you could say, “The closer we get to an egalitarian society, the more we fear we won’t be different enough and won’t be attractive to each other.” Whatever the reason, it does seem that the more opportunities women get, the more simplistic we become in our thinking about each other’s psychological makeup.
There’s also the issue that if everyone skews more toward gender neutrality, or even if we allow for greater variation in each sex, you risk having boys who might seem “feminine,” and everybody freaks out at that thought. It’s that baseline homophobia. So that, I think, always keeps us in check.
You can’t win, it seems.
Well, I’m not ready to say that. I do think there needs to be more discussion of context, and more assumption that we -- as parents or girl advocates or whatever -- have control over some of this, that we have a say in it. There’s a real incentive, of course, on the part of the people who are creating the culture to make us feel like we don’t have control. That you really don’t have a choice. But you do.
I really do believe that change can be made on a micro level. You can think about it and make decisions about what you buy, what you expose your child to, how you talk about it -- all that stuff. I think it makes a big difference. I mean, I know it does. My daughter was Athena on Halloween this year. That’s a long way from Little Mermaid. One of the ways we countered the princess thing was to read a lot of Greek myths. She needs models of femininity and she needs to act out fantasies that affirm her as a girl. She hooked into Athena -- that’s a lot better than the alternatives.
So where do you think trends are moving now?
I don’t have a crystal ball. Who could have ever guessed what we would be contending with in terms of mass culture, like the Internet and social media? I mean, five years ago, you wouldn’t have been able to predict all this, and we still don’t know the impact of it. I wouldn’t even venture to guess what the next generation will be dealing with.