You'd recognize this cultural ill even if you've not read Cinderella Ate My Daughter or How To Talk To Little Girls. You spot it in toy aisles, for example, where boys and girls have the same building blocks except in different colors. You notice it in department stores, where you can buy makeup kits for girls. You see it on TV with shows like Toddlers & Tiaras and the Kardashians. You watch it on MTV, where the cast of 16 and Pregnant are billed as celebrities. I'm not necessarily saying that pink is bad, or that gender roles are evil. I'm also not suggesting that wanting to be beautiful is wrong. But the failure to recognize the objectification of little girls and the commercialization of childhood is leaving girls with defeatist ideas of self-awareness and identity, creating people who think what they have to offer lies only in how they look.
The sexualization of toys, cartoon characters and clothes has a strong effect on how girls view themselves, because the choices in toys, television, and clothes are very narrow. Strawberry Shortcake is a prime example of how a cartoon character has been sexualized in the last 30 years. As a child growing up in the 80s, this is the Strawberry Shortcake I remember:
Zach and I have no children, so it makes me a little anxious to speak this candidly about his new painting and on the subject of how commercial culture pushes this superficial worldview on girls (even though this is not a post about parenting). We have friends with little girls and I am afraid of offending them. But I was once a little girl too so I feel somewhat qualified to speak about this topic. My childhood was not filled with Disney princesses and I was not subjected to girly stereotypes. I shared Leon's toys and wore his hand-me-downs because it didn't matter that they were not pink or made specifically for girls. There were no TV commercials that told me I should be a nurse, a secretary or some other second fiddle in a predominantly male field. My mom was not confined to shopping at Target where all the clothes and toys for girls are all marked with pink. I blame culture for how girls are being defined.
And now that I've written all these things, I am sure that if/when the time comes, our little girl is going to live and breathe pink and glitter and demand to be a sparkly princess cheerleader. She'll want her own diamond tiara and plead with us to live in a beautiful castle. But at least I know we are ready for battle.