This is an enjoyable and entertaining read by a writer who conveys passion and conviction for her cause. Orenstein is a journalist rather than an academic (and her style reflects that), but she's done her homework and there are some fascinating and really interesting points made throughout the text.
As someone with a professional interest in gender studies I was keen to get my hands on a copy once it came out. So, one morning last week, the delivery arrives - and ripping open the Amazon packet excitedly I take in the front cover. The artwork is delightful, albeit of course ironic with its glitter appliqué, but this excitement is quickly tempered when one notes the low quality of paper the publisher has used. Maybe I'm a book snob but I felt the paper took the work down-market in a way that kinda does the content an injustice. *Just saying guys*.
So - to the text:
The author draws on her experience of raising a daughter in the 21st century to illustrate concerns that trouble many of us with pro-feminist values. It's as if there is some kind of backlash against the whole 1980's 'dungarees and crew-cut' image of second wave feminism that had ordinary women recoiling in horror and making sure their daughters would become 'proper girls' (ie: not lesbians) - and as if to make the point the definition of girl-approved identities suddenly becomes strangled in pink tulle, as girls are schooled in the notion of looking pretty and attracting a handsome prince.
Orenstein explores the images and imagoes that our daughters are exposed to and reminds us that the whole 'pink' thing, where malls and toy-shops become gender delineated by strict colour ways is actually a relatively new phenomenon: back in our generation yes girls were coached in the ways of becoming proper house-wives and encouraged to play with dolls but there were also gender neutral toys like Lego (which sadly more recently succumbed to the whole 'girl-market=pink/lilac" zeitgeist). As she points out, play was more open, more creative and less fixed by script or branded characterisation. If you wanted to be Cinderella or Snow White, mum had to make the costume on the Singer sewing machine or you adapted pieces from the dressing up box and pretended.
Any analysis of the social meta-messages pummeled into young girls these days has to consider the pre-sexualisation of girl's bodies and the notion of the female body as a commodity: and this is a theme that is weaved throughout the text. There is an interesting chapter looking at the child beauty pageant, and the family Orenstein highlights in the text have to balance the emphasis on how 'beautiful [and normal]' their daughter is in contrast with their son who has severe disabilities: it's a poignant narrative. In another particularly thought-provoking chapter, "Just between you, me, and my 622 BFF's", Orenstein explores the use and impact of social networking, and offers the notion that having 622 'friends' is in a sense to have created a quasi-audience for the pseudo-celebrity performance of the [gendered] self. She is right to raise the concern as the feedback from the peer group has the tendency to reiterate dominant [hetero-normative] messages and stifle individuality -particularly within teen peer groups where fitting in is often at the cost of expressing the true self.
I do have some disquiets with this book (cheap paper aside) - I felt the use of promotional quotes at the start of the book was a little over-done - this book doesn't need a hard sell, its value can stand in its own right and again it started to put me off - why the need to shout so loud if the book is that good: surely I'll work that out a few pages in. That's a publisher issue I suspect. *just saying guys* . And, there are places where the author's natural ebullience and irreverent tone jar a little and in a couple of instances I suggest, slipped towards the distasteful (in particular here, I'm thinking of her reference to the David Reimer case by way of example, or in her reference to Lindsey Lohan)
We might wonder who the book will appeal to: academics may find it lacking in gravitas but then it is written for a broad audience and needs to follow a different convention. Parents of daughters of course is the primary audience but I suggest that these will split into two - those who collude unquestioningly with these constraining norms, who don't consider the subtle but powerful messages influencing the mindset of the next generation of women (a generation more concerned than ever about youthful looks and impossibly unattainable physical ideals), and those parents whose own feminist beliefs has had them pushing Tonka toys into the hands of their daughters in desperation (for whom this book will no doubt resonate powerfully - albeit we are preaching to the converted here).
In writing this review I wanted to summarize my experience of reading the book by likening it to Big Mac and fries. It has a very American feel to it and the tone can feel a little brash on this side of the pond. That said, I enjoyed it. McDonald's don't make an outstanding burger but what they produce is consistently good enough to meet a particular market. I hope its not unkind to suggest that what Orenstein offers has that same broad market appeal and it's not pretending to be academic any more than McD claims to be haute-cuisine. This book adds a worthy voice of concern to the way we raise girls and for these reasons I offer a 4 star rating and hope others will be encouraged to give consideration to the points raised in this work.
grrlAlex - author, academic and social activist