One of my favorite new bloggers—she runs a blog called Yo Mama, where she writes about gender and culture—has posted a review of the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein. It’s a book she highly recommends for its observations on girls in society and how their behavior and self-image change as they mature into adulthood. But as Liz points out, the ever-constant pressure associated with gender roles affects boys, too:
I think, sometimes, in our concern about how girls will grow into healthy, whole people despite the commodification of their sexuality, we forget that this commodification affects boys as well. One of the mothers Ms. Orenstein spoke with expressed frustration over the fact that her boy, a teenager, had just received a topless photo on his cellphone from a female classmate. This mother wondered how she was supposed to teach her son that girls are not merely sexual objects if the girls themselves are encouraging boys to view them as objects. Good question, that.
All of the aspects of culture that Ms. Orenstein examines—from gendered toys to Miley Cyrus hanging from a stripper pole to virtual friendships—affect boys just as profoundly as they affect girls. And boys have a whole host of other issues to deal with—messages from culture about what it means to be masculine, which includes the concept of pride in sexual conquest, a counterpoint to the self-objectification of girls. And, increasingly, boys are participating in sexual self-objectification, which I believe lowers rather than levels the playing field. Rather than teaching our kids to objectify one another, we should be teaching them mutual respect and helping them to develop the emotional and psychological strength to deal with their own desire as well as the desire of others.
So now my wheels are turning…if Cinderella ate my daughter, what are Prince Charming and Iron Man doing to my son? That is food for thought…and maybe a book, by Ms. Orenstein or another brave soul.
Eloquently phrased by Liz, the reminder that boys and young men don’t escape gender molds either sounds like a high point of the book. Time to add it to my reading list.