What’s Wrong With Cinderella?

Peggy Orenstein is joining Catherine Newman in the pantheon of My Favorite Modern Writers. I read her NYT article, What’s Wrong With Cinderella? this morning and it got me thinking about my conflicts over Grace’s nascent princess fascination. The stat about girls with the most conventionally held beliefs being more likely to be depressed and less likely to use contraception (gasp!) really makes me sad – but also validates so many of the concerns I have about raising a girl.

I love that Peggy cites “The Paper Bag Princess,” long one of my favorite children’s books. One of my beloved teachers at Exeter gave it to me at graduation, and I’ve since read it hundreds of times to Grace and given it at many birthdays. I guess I don’t care if Grace wants to be a princess, as long as she still wants to be strong and smart and all of those other things. But that emphasis on being perfect, being everything, just falls into the trap exposed by the Girls Inc study that Orenstein mentions.

It’s hard to avoid confronting my own deep-seated gender expectations as I watch Grace veer between playing dragon with the boys and playing Snow White with the girls. I realize that my outsize pride at her choice of firefighter as a Halloween costume reflects the inherent value that I place on a girl with tomboyish leanings. At the end of the day I suppose it’s as simple as acknowledging (and oh, how this admissions pains me) that I am most comfortable with Gracie becoming the kind of little girl I was – athletic, rule-following, high-achieving, perfectly happy playing soccer in the mud with the boys, but also blessed with close female friendships and as interested in clothes and teeny bopper pop stars as the rest of the girls.

In that uncomfortable reflection, I am forced to accept that I’m exactly the kind of pleasing, all-things-to-all-people kind of girl that emerged from the Girls Inc study. So how am I really positioned to do anything other than drive Gracie into the same trap? This is the kind of foxhole of thinking that parenting has introduced me to. I suppose all I can do is validate her for all the things she does well, and try my damndest to withhold judgment as she makes choices that I don’t personally like. Easier said than done, no?