Talmud and Tiaras?

Peggy Orenstein visits YU with A Look at the New Culture of Girlhood

By Aimee Rubensteen
On February 12, 2012

On February 6, Koch Auditorium filled more than 200 seats with professors and students from SCW and visitors from other universities to hear from internationally acclaimed author and commentator, Peggy Orenstein, in a discussion titled "From Princesses to Pop-Tarts: A Look at the New Culture of Girlhood," followed by a book signing of her New York times bestseller Cinderella Ate my Daughter. The room's estrogen level rose and the anticipation became palpable as Assistant Professor of Psychology, Dr. Robin Freyberg, introduced Orenstein

Freyberg began the event by explaining the importance of having Orenstein speak on our all-women's campus. "Peggy Orenstein's message about the prevalence of Disney's princess culture, and its wide-reaching, long-term impact on young girls' self-esteem, body image and development, resonates deeply with our students, in particular, as they navigate the challenge of developing into strong, independent, young women who may eventually raise daughters of their own."

Initially, many students, especially female students, became nostalgic for their childhood days filled with hours of repetitive Disney movies and toys, but soon they began to question Disney's influence on their own psyches.

After years of research, book writing, and parenting a daughter of her own, Orenstein explains the long-term impact of Disney Princesses and 24/7, 365-days-a-year of pink on female's femininity, sexuality and identity. She discussed how the princess culture of Disney has made children become more materialistic and image-conscious as they grow older. Girls begin to make choices between their feminine identity and feminism at a younger age. Orenstein pointed out that Disney could only market several princess characters on one product if, and only if, each princess was looking in different directions; their eyes never meet and they never acknowledge the others' existence. If Cinderella and Belle, major role models for young children, are so self-obsessed that they can't even look at each other, how are children supposed to learn to share attention and recognition? She suggested that Disney is more concerned about their princesses than the children who are playing them.

Furthermore, Orenstein explained the impact of pink on girlhood. Every toy franchise has the opportunity to double its profits by duplicating a toy in pink. For example, if a family has a son and buys him blue toys, if they then have a daughter, they will need to buy her the same toys but in pink. Orenstein stated, "While pink celebrates girlhood it also fuses it with appearance." Girls are bombarded with everything in pink. The notion of pretty in pink, and only in pink, begins to limit girl's creativity, isolate girls from playing with the opposite sex with gender-neutral-colored toys and tell girls that appearance is that important. Juggling these dilemmas at an early age, girls naturally become aware of their position in society and usually fall into the marketing and advertising trap below the glass ceiling. However, it is important to consider that pink toys do not force girls to become subordinate women, rather they are important factors to consider when teaching a child about the numerous other colors in the rainbow. 

Orenstein urges the crowd that kids are getting younger older (KGOY), and somebody needs to step in and offer guidance. Numerous women feel the need to do it all, and look hot while doing it. Not only do women on campus feel the need to be getting the highest marks on their exams, but they also need to be president of a club or participate on sports teams. Even though SCW is an all-women's campus, the pressure of effortless perfection is a common overheard topic in the halls, elevators and lounges. 

A senior Stern College For Women student explained she was glad Orenstein was addressing this topic because "as a women's college, it is important for us to be constantly reminded about the factors undermining our emotional, psychological and physical health, hindering us from reaching our potential and contributing to the world."

In order to combat the pressure within our society and the information being fed to children, Orenstein alerted the audience to be aware of the agenda of marketing companies and the expectations we mold for ourselves. Orenstein proved her point quite clearly when she displayed a t-shirt that had crossed off "Future Princess" and scribbled "Future President" instead. Little girls should not have to be limited to dressing up as a princess, so too, women should not have to be limited to choosing between being a future princess or president. Women can do it all, and still have their happily ever after, they just have to learn to define it on their own terms.

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