One of the critical pieces of evidence Peggy Orenstein unearths in her new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture (Harper Collins; $25.99), is that girls need role models. They need “larger than life heroes, especially in the all-important realm of fantasy, where they spend so much of their free time.” Orenstein, who has researched and written about girls for almost 20 years, spends the majority of her book trying to figure out which of our culture’s role models are positive, which innocuous, and which downright harmful. She prefers women in capes to sexy avatars, Hannah Montana to Miley Cyrus, and gory, unedited versions of European fairy tales to preschool pageants. But ultimately, though she “refuses to believe that parents are helpless,” she comes up empty. Yes, she ends the book with the vague advice that motherhood should somehow involve “staying close but not crowding them, standing firm in one’s values while remaining flexible.” But she leaves her reader unsettled. How can we compete with the army of marketers dedicated to grabbing our girls’ attention, subliminally guiding them towards a scripted womanhood of empowered acquiescence?
Cue Jessica K. Taft’s book, Rebel Girls: Youth Activism and Social Change Across the Americas (New York University Press, $22). This is not only a powerful sociological account of the making of a counter-culture girl identity — that of the socially active, community-minded girl; it is also a treasure-trove of data upon which I am going to build my newest venture: Rebel Girlz TM*($55 per doll). Just imagine it! A whole line of dolls, American-Girlesque (though more reasonably priced!) that are more than dolls, that are, in fact, role models for our girls — the very role models Orenstein seeks. Think of it! They might even inspire competitive lines — Rebel Barbie, Rebel Bratz…the possibilities are endless!
Taft, a professor of sociology, writes that one of the questions on the minds of girl activists is “how do we make rebellion enjoyable, effective, and irresistible?” Irresistible rebellion? I’ve got it covered! With the purchase of just one doll you can be sure that the next generation of girls will be civic-minded, passionate, and socially active. Choose a doll from each of Taft’s five research locations — San Francisco, Vancouver, Mexico City, Caracas, Buenos Aires! Each doll comes with ripped jeans, a Che Guevera t-shirt and a nose ring (skateboard — $15.95, picket line — $9.99, and school-sit-in sleeping bag — $14.86 sold separately). Taft explains: “girls’ empowerment is all too often focused on incorporating girls into the social order as it stands, rather than empowering them to make any meaningful changes to it.” These dolls will not inherit the world as it is! They strive to make it better! They are hopeful! They are activists!
And, don’t worry, they are also girls. Like the girls in Taft’s study, a diverse and vibrant international community of teenage girls committed to global and social justice, these dolls “assert that girls are, indeed, more emotional, more caring, more sensitive. They then take these stereotypical characteristics into new social terrain…in short, they make some of the conventional understandings of girlhood rebellious.” Mothers like Orenstein can be assuaged. How can we help our daughters find their own “happily-ever-afters?” With the purchase of just one Rebel Girlz TM doll, we will be well on our way.
*Disclaimer: Rebel Girlz TM does not guarantee that your daughter’s values will reflect your own, nor do we guarantee against what your daughter may end up rebelling.
Maya Bernstein is Director of Education for UpStart, supporting Jewish social entrepreneurs in the Bay Area. She writes on motherhood for The Lilith Blog.