As a kid my mother thought it was very important that I have a vanity set. She wanted one as a girl but her Depression-era parents refused. The room she shared with her older sister was oppressively decorated in drab shades of brown. At night I would dream of time traveling to 1960 to sow her a flowery bedspread and adorn her room with the beautiful, albeit girlie, things she generously gave me.
With this is mind, I checked out Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein from the library. I cracked open the book prepared to defend my femininity, my extensive childhood Barbie collection and my favorite Disney princess Cinderella. I knew Peggy and I would agree that Cinderella is not a role model. God only knows what the Prince did in part two. Traveled too much for work? Didn’t support her new cupcake business? Fathered a child with the housekeeper? Then Peggy taught me being a little girl today is a lot more complicated than warded off delusions of a Prince embodying fulfillment.
I was riveted to learn about the complexity of raising a girl in a Web world saturated with sophisticated and ruthless marketers. Reading it felt like a portal into my mother’s brain. Some of the same things my mother wanted for me, Peggy wanted for her daughter: to find a giving life partner, to pursue a fulfilling career, to develop a healthy relationship with sex and sexuality.
My mother made mothering look so effortless. It hadn’t occurred to me that she may have been just like Peggy agonizing between censoring poor quality toys and media that send the wrong message about femininity and the right level of exposure needed to cultivate independent opinions. A deluge of memories from my childhood came back. The Make Your Own Book she gave me for Christmas rather than the blond doll with the bright pink bow. I flashed back to sitting in our den at age 7 listening to her read me the biographies of Sandra Day O’Connor, Martina Navratilova and Golda Meir.
I wrote about eight versions of this blog post trying to find the right way to express my gratitude to Peggy for her contribution to our gender as well as my gratitude for inspiring me to explore my relationship with my mother. Then Lady Gaga helped me figure it all out.
Out of creative frustration I hopped on the T headed to the Museum of Fine Arts. As usual I was collecting trash in the train car. In addition to gum wrappers and Dunkin’ Donuts cups (yuck!), I was picking up a ton of copies of Metro, Boston’s free commuter paper. On Tuesday Lady Gaga served as editor-in-chief. Her haunting, makeup-drenched eyes kept staring at me. Finally I relented to peruse its contents.
Lady Gaga, active proponent for social justice and human rights, was quoted as saying, “Push the idea of what a role model can be. Sometimes the most unassuming characters are the best role models.” In CAMD Peggy explored the topic of role models from Hillary Clinton to Barbie to Hannah Montana. But Lady Gaga’s words resolved my dilemma. Perhaps showing my gratitude means cultivating my relationships with dignified women, striving to be an admirable role model myself, and embodying what I want for the future of my gender.
Oh, and saying thank you.
Thank you, Peggy Orenstein. You’ve inspired me to become a greater and more active proponent for genuine female empowerment. The world is a much better place with your book in it.