INTERNET In her online interviews, author Peggy Orenstein addresses the influence of princess culture on today’s world. SUDHAMAHI REGUNATHAN

There are three interviews of Peggy Orenstein online. While the two short ones overlap for most information, the third one is less easy to listen to.

The idea that Peggy Orenstein, author of “Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the new girlie-girl culture”, conveys in all three talks is the same: the swarming influence of the “princess culture” through the aggressive and imaginative marketing of the Disney merchandising department. This book has taken the already successful author’s rating sky high.

“I did not want my daughter to feel there was anything she could not do because she was a girl or anything she had to do because she was a girl,” is how Orenstein begins her talk, and then goes on to share the dream most young girls have…of dressing up like a princess and having some notion about a prince. “When you are under ten you like to wear your mother’s old cast away tiara and feel like a princess, particularly when movies like ‘Cinderella’, ‘Mulan’, ‘Snow White’, etc. are showing, which was for a few weeks or a fortnight… and then they went back into the Disney vaults.”

Earlier, there was hardly any merchandising. Orenstein says, “It is this unprecedented marketing that is the change now. There were always movies like ‘The Little Mermaid’ or ‘Cinderella’…about ten years ago the consumer department got the idea to group all the princesses as Disney Princesses and market them separately from the movies. Roy Disney (nephew of Walt Disney) was really against it because he said it would be mixing of mythologies…he said you cannot have Snow White and Cinderella having tea…I don’t know, he probably thought the world would implode or some such thing. But that is why if you look at the products that have multiple princesses on them, they are never looking at one another, they are looking in different directions as though they do not know who the other one is there…but you would never have noticed if I had not told you. Now that I have told you, you would notice it every time…it is freaky!”

These princesses were a 300 million dollar business in the first year. Last year it became a 4 billion dollar business. This brought about another change: a marked difference between products for girls and products for boys, with meticulously separate colours. Does that mean their roles are defined right away? Everyone, from dentists to waiters in restaurants, looks at young girls and says something like, “I know what you want, I have a princess chair for you,” and fishes out something in pink.

Orenstein says, “Children, girls or boys, when they are 2-3-4-5 years old, do not know that anatomy is destiny. As far as they are concerned they could grow up to be a mommy or a daddy. They don’t fully get the idea of the anatomy …on the one hand they are extremely rigid about what it takes to be a girl…so they do not want to wear pants, that is they want to assert their ‘girliness’ or ‘boyness’. On the other hand what we know about neuro-plasticity…it is the time when the brains are most flexible, the most malleable, the most open, to changing their ideas on what it means to be male or female. By encouraging or amplifying their natural tendencies you are actually short changing them in terms of emotional, psychological and cognitive development…so it becomes really important for boys and girls to play together…” Orenstein says the idea of opening up the world for a young girl, or a boy for that matter, becomes all the more difficult because even board games come in different colours like pink for girls.

Is this a subversive way in which the woman is being typecast again as the sex symbol sheathed in pink for the 21st Century?

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I did not want my daughter to feel there was anything she could not do because she was a girl or anything she had to do because

she was a girl