24 January 2011

Post 303: Cinderella Ate My Daughter

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. ISBN: 9780061711527 (eBook).

I suppose most of you have probably guessed this by now, but I have never really identified much with the "girlie girl" stereotype. In fact, most people peg me as being masculine, and I've even been labeled dyke, queer, whatever. This is less true. I am most certainly a female; I even enjoy being a female and have no desire to be a male, I just have no desire to be shoved into dresses and to wear makeup even when I'm working out, or to only take certain jobs because those other jobs are "too manly" or "gross."

When I was a young girl I played with Barbies and wore a certain amount of pink and even played house. That last one sometimes made me uncomfortable because the way that little girls played house was very structured. I could pretty much be a mommy, or I could be the "weird" kid who played the daddy. Since my mother was the breadwinner and a more fully functioning human being than my father, I identified more with her, so I always wanted to be the one to go to work. My friends thought this was strange since it was typically the reverse in their household. I may have been more comfortable playing homemaker if my father's stints at home didn't mostly involve him sitting in his underwear, watching TV, and smoking. Had he added value to our home life, it would have been easier to accept a role in which I was not as active outside the pretend home, but still contributed to it.

As I grew older I was more falsely assigned the "tom boy" label and soon became stuck with that image. In some ways this was even less accurate than the girlie girl label. But I was more comfortable wearing that label than I was the girlie girl label and so I stopped playing house and I stopped wearing pink (I even hate wearing pink underwear and it angers me that the 10-packs often have 3 or 4 pairs) and I stopped playing Barbie, at least in public. Even though I did all these girlie things, they were never the focus of my play. I always gravitated more towards play that involved exploring my world or taking on some kind of power. I remember that fairies were big at the time because of FernGully. Even though Crysta was kind of a flake, she did end up as the most powerful fairy and the most influential member of her society once she took up Magi's mantle. I frequently played witch by mixing up various bits of leaves and dirt and bugs and chunks of hair into a metal bucket.

I think perhaps the reason I was misunderstood and mislabeled as a tom boy was because most of my play was solitary. This is especially true after we moved from California to Oklahoma sometime during 2nd grade. Perhaps if I hadn't started in the middle of a school year it would have been easier for the other children to accept and get to know me. Instead I had to make friends with children who already knew each other and had different ways of playing with each other than I was used to. So instead of diving headfirst into that play, I did what made me feel comfortable: I read during recess, sometimes I even did homework until the teachers took that away from me.

I don't believe that being smart was seen as a particularly boyish trait, but for some reason my reading material leaned more towards boyish. Maybe I was more entertained by the survival stories of Gary Paulsen or the wacky ghoulishness of Goosebumps (which were insanely popular during that time). I also really, really loved X-Men and began collecting cards and reading comic books. I loved it more for the stories than anything else, but there were certainly more strong female characters in comics than any other media at that time. I especially loved Storm, who was considered both a witch and a goddess and seemed to need no man. It was just more exciting than the "girl" fare offered by The Secret Garden and Heidi and Jane Eyre. I certainly read these books as well, but there was no particular danger involved and they were all so old. It was almost as if literature was saying, "girls have done things and had stories, but only a really long time ago, and even then they involved things like gardening, taking care of elderly people, and being a teacher." It wasn't so much that I looked down on those things, but all of them were covered in Little House on the Prairie and at that time I was using reading as a way of exploring different ways of living.

This trend did isolate me and though I loved "boy" things, it did not matter that I loved them for "girl" reasons. So all of my female friends turned out to be big readers like me, we didn't often play traditional "girl" games, and I also had at least one male friend who I spent more or less equal amounts of time with. It's not that I didn't want to be a girl, although it was interpreted that way by my peers, it's that I didn't want to be the kind of girl that was being modeled for me at that time. There wasn't quite an option I was comfortable identifying with and so I blended and tried on a variety of roles. I find it incredibly disappointing that not only is our definition of female still very narrow in this country, but that it appears to be shrinking as quickly as the waistlines on supermodels.

As I like to point out to most people, gender shouldn't even become a question of importance unless you plan on having intercourse with someone. Otherwise you have no need to know what kind of genitalia someone has. A man might very well like shopping and baking as much as a woman could like playing sports and carpentry. We do ourselves a disservice by focusing on male and female roles by limiting what is seen as "acceptable" by society.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free eGalley provided by NetGalley.


  1. What an excellent post - I've been really enjoying reading everyone's thoughts on this book. I need to get my hands on a copy. And I've been telling everyone who reviews it to also try Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. I read it recently and it immediately became one of my favourite non-fiction books.

    PS: LOVE the hypothesis on your header!

  2. Thanks Nymeth,
    Glad you enjoyed the post. I'll have to check out Delusions of Gender. I think I've seen it at my local library so it shouldn't be too hard to get my hands on it.


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