Tag Archives: Peggy Orenstein

A Different Take on the Miley Cyrus Affair


Image, Wikipedia Commons

I didn’t really expect to wade into the pearl-clutching and outrage over Miley Cyrus. But, I’ve been thinking about her all day, and after discussing her notorious VMA performance with Darcy and finding out we shared the same point of view, I decided to write a post.

I think there are four separate topics at work here.

1. What does Miley Cyrus owe the girls who followed her as Hannah Montana, if anything?
2. The issue of hypersexualized girls and the men who love them.
3. That creepy Robin Thicke song.
4. The actual Miley Cyrus performance.

The Rise and Fall of Hannah Montana

One of my friends had tween girls back at the height of the Hannah Montana craze and I watched an episode with them. For those lucky enough to have escaped the show, Hannah Montana is a celebrity teen singer, but no one knows her true identity: she’s actually a suburban normal girl by day. Pretty wholesome right? Well, yes and no. First of all, I buy into the Peggy Orenstein point of view that those Disney Channel teen characters are the second wave of the princess phase. I highly recommend everyone read her book “Cinderella Ate My Daughter.”

What’s the first wave? Think about the fairy tales the traditional Disney movies tell: Snow White, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast. Sweet harmless fun, right? Not really. Because when girls embrace the pretty princess dresses and act out those movies, they embrace the message of those stories: someday, my prince will come if I wait around and am beautiful enough.

Eventually as they age, girls tire of the Disney Princess merchandise and move on, according to market research, to a different set of toys. Monster High, Bratz, Hannah Montana dolls: what do they have in common? Well, they are more grown up than the princesses. Yet, these dolls may be worse. These toys celebrate “sassy” “gothic” girls who are thin and wear short skirts.

How does this affect our girls? From The Daily Beast:

“Studies show young girls today face more pressure than ever to be ‘perfect’ (like a princess?) — not only to get straight A’s and excel academically, but to be beautiful, fashionable, and kind. And the more mainstream media girls consume, the more they worry about being pretty and sexy. One study, from the University of Minnesota, found that just seeing advertisements from one to three minutes can have a negative impact on girls’ self-esteem.”

This can lead to a wormhole of eating disorders and self-destructive behavior, which all studies indicate are on the rise among young women.

Back to Hannah Montana. The series was mostly a bunch of silly misunderstandings about how Hannah had to hide her real identity as a world famous pop star. What I was struck by was how awed my friends’s daughters were by the idea of becoming a pop star princess. Because, Hannah Montana IS a princess of sorts. Back when I was 10, I wanted to be a lawyer. I thought that was a super glamorous career. These girls wanted to be a pop star. And I found that problematic.

The Disneyfication of many pop stars seems to follow the same path each time: tween and teen girls are packaged into wholesome, pink bubble gum virgin sweethearts, but inevitably they rebel and begin to break out of the mold in their late teens or early twenties. We’ve seen it with countless models: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Demi Lovato, Amanda Bynes and now Miley Cyrus.

Here’s where I differ from most parents: I will not let my daughter watch shows like Hannah Montana. And I don’t blame Miley Cyrus for who she has become.

When Miley Cyrus was cast as Hannah Montana she was 11. Now she is 20. Can you imagine the changes you went through in those nine years? Why would we expect Miley Cyrus to stay the same?

The Lolita Phenomenon

Often these tween stars flirt with acting like a Lolita. Probably, this is a natural evolution of coming to terms with their power as a woman of beauty, attractive to men. When you are an actress or a pop star (or aspire to be one, like millions of girls) the way you look is your calling card. The thinner you are, the blonder you are, the cuter you are? The better. Hannah Montana didn’t look like an opera star diva, did she? The glorification of being pretty, being a model, being an actress: it’s one dimensional, it’s often out of your control, and even if you are the most beautiful girl in the world? Beauty fades.

Probably the most notorious Lolita of them all was Britney. No one really put herself out there in that pervy way like Britney, who at the age of 15 was wearing Catholic girl short skits, and licking lollipops. To me, she never seemed to be in control of what she was doing. In this scary interview (complete with cringe-worthy narration by some guy old enough to be her father), it seemed that she thought of her stage persona as if it was some distant out-of-body experience, and not real. Dudes ate this up, of course. Whomever was manipulating her image (I’m pretty convinced it wasn’t her, there just doesn’t seem to be a “there” there with Britney) was appealing to creepy, base instincts in grown men. And that was disturbing and gross.

“He Has the Look of a Man Finally Coming Into the Privilege He Was Sure Was His All Along.”

Mel covered the Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines” pretty well. The uncensored video features a number of listless looking models shuffling and bouncing around naked. They don’t really look like they are fully present, they look kind of drugged. The men in the video remain fully dressed, awake, aware and openly leer and fondle them.

Enter Miley Cyrus, Stage Right

SO, let’s move on to the actual performance. Here’s what struck me first of all: Miley Cyrus chose to send up the Lolita image right away, by entering stage right out of a giant stuffed teddy bear. But her stance was immediately agressive: this was no passive little girl. She was sticking out her tongue and making lewd gestures of the sort Michael Jackson used to use. She seemed in control of the performance. You can debate the merits of her dancing, her lack of rhythum, etc. But she appeared to be calling the shots and carefully choosing her moves. I’d say her dancing was kind of, well, masculine. Even in the skimpy outfit.

Then she dueted with Robin Thicke, and to me, she seemed just as agressive as he was. She seemed an equal partner in the song, singing half of it by herself. Yes she twerked, but she also grabbed him by the neck. She touched him with that foam finger. Unlike the robotic mannequins in the video, this was a woman in control of herself and her actions. Yes, she was sexualized, but in a way that had her being just as assertive as a man. Robin Thicke certainly wasn’t center stage and he wasn’t in full control like some later day Christian Grey.

In other words, she wasn’t just sitting around licking her lollipop, waiting for her prince to objectify her.

I was listening to the radio this morning, and the tiresome local shock jocks were jeering her performance. They called it a “missed opportunity” that those dreary models from Robin Thicke’s video weren’t there instead. And then they called Miley Cyrus a slut.

No one referred to Robin Thicke as a slut. Yet, how is his behavior different from Miley’s? Or, worse? “You know you want it.”

I think what really has everyone up in arms is the change of Miley Cyrus from a passive Pretty Disney Princess into a complicated woman who calls the shots, sexually.

As always, I want to know, what say you? Were you upset about the performance? If so, why? Has the response bothered you?


Filed under body shit, What Say You?

My Twitter Addiction, er, Problem

I’m having a post-vacation let-down.  Being back home, watching the kids without Darcy and restaurant meals: I ain’t gonna lie. I miss that golden family time already.  I also really enjoyed connecting with silver and golden friends, but now that I’m back, I’m reminded how isolating my day-to-day life is.

And that most of the people I see in person regularly bring me down.

Enter Twitter.

On Twitter, it’s a virtual Round Table at the Algonquin. You can try to trade quips with literary heroes and your favorite bloggers.  Of course, at this table I am the dullest, smallest piece of dust on the oaken plank.  But at least I’m there.

My silly tweet about Peggy Orenstein, whose memoir about infertility, “Waiting for Daisy” was my bible when I was going through IVF. This tweet was about “Cinderella Ate My Daughter”, which I have written about before.

She responds! Squee!

Tweets also act as a way to foster advocacy: many tweets remind others about causes like NIAW.  I think Twitter was probably the main reason PETA backed down.

It’s also a huge time waster.

And procrastination vehicle extraordinaire.

I have a feeling that in a few years time, I may look back on my tweets as woefully as the abysmal, self-important journal I kept during my first trip to Europe. Sample entry: “The Louvre is an essential storage facility for art. But it certainly isn’t convenient as a visitor’s gallery.” *cringe* And yet, I don’t feel that way about my blog posts. I’m pretty pleased with them.

What do you think of Twitter? Friend or foe?


Filed under Family, Parenting After IF

Unoriginal Thoughts on Disney, Part One

So, Disneyland. The last time I was here I drove from my college on a free day, on a whim. I was twenty. Things have changed…

It really is a magical place. The level of detail is astounding. We took a train ride around the place to chill out from the rides, and one of the tunnels re-enacts the land of the dinosaurs! You can’t escape the magic.

The cast members were straight out of diva-land. I loved them. They had their own shuttle, hang-out areas and were in their element. Overheard phone conversation: “Did he not like the bird? I can lose the bird.”

It does seem to be the land of the fertile. One woman at the Best Western asked me, “Do you want four kids?” Her kids were misbehaving, you see. Can we ban that joke, like, forever?

I read “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” and agreed with so many of Peggy Orenstein’s points. I don’t encourage the princess phase, in fact, my daughter has never heard of Cinderella. (She kept asking me who she was, she’s quite prominent in the land of Walt.) I do like “Alice in Wonderland” and she wore her Alice costume to the park. She’s never been so noticed and many adults and children approached and told her she was beautiful, which made me both anxious and proud.

There is something so wholesome about Disneyland. You see these guys with shaved heads, fully tattooed, gently lifting their sons into the Dumbo flying ride, and I witnessed a hard-faced, downtrodden- looking teen smile with pure joy as she got into the Indiana Jones jeep. The park appeals to our better angels. I love that.

Are you a fan of the Disney resorts? What do you like and dislike about them?


Filed under Discovering joy, Family

Day 36: What To Do About the Girly Girls?

I finished Cinderella Ate My Daughter last night. I had already been fighting a battle to keep away the princess-y claptrap that seems to surround pre-school girls if possible. This has been an intuitive reaction on my part, with no real reason behind the emotion. My daughter seems to gravitate towards pink, tulle and flowers, which I do NOT push on her. The book was very alarming.

Before I begin my critique, here’s a pop quiz to take the pulse of how “girly” I am:

Which of the following are true?

A. I took ballet until I was 14.

B. In high school, I was a cheerleader.

C. On my wedding day, I walked down the aisle to the theme from “The Princess Bride”.

D. On my wedding day, I wore a tiara.

E. A and C.

F. All of the above.

G. None of the above.

I’ll let you know the answer at the bottom of the post.

Peggy Orenstein’s research comes to a few scary conclusions: today’s princess culture teaches young girls that being “the fairest of them all” is the most important trait, encourages young teens to be “hot” and “sexy” too early, and has led to the large increase in eating disorders of all stripes. Some pretty serious accusations. Apparently, most young girls naturally need to define themselves as female, and the Disney princess gear allows them the chance to do this, but the gear is really bad for them.

She doesn’t really provide any solutions or alternatives to counter this culture, other than “say no” to your daughter when she asks for the Sleeping Beauty Manicure/Pedicure Station. Which I already do. And also, to tell her she’s beautiful when she’s doing hard work or pursuing an athletic activity, not when she’s wearing a pretty dress or has her hair done.

I had mentioned that one thing I liked about the pioneer, stoic culture of the mid 1800s was that they valued in appearance stoutness and the ability of the physical body to do hard work. If you were thin, you were to be avoided as a spouse because you were probably sickly.

So I guess I should encourage my daughter to appreciate what her body can DO and not what it looks like.

Does anyone have any other ideas about girly girls? Because I’m afraid the answer to my quiz is F. I am a girly girl myself. I hated sports, and dance was the only activity I was good at. I planned my wedding when I was 5. My mom, a tap-dancer and high-school cheerleader herself, discouraged the ultra-feminine. Barbie was not allowed, and sports were encouraged. It didn’t work. Is my daughter destined to be a girly-girl? How do I help her avoid the traps associated with such things, if so?


Filed under Discovering joy, Family, Fear

Day 24: Books, Feminism and Princesses, Oh My

Edited to Add: Obviously I don’t blame men, but wonder about the societal norms and pressure put on young men to party, have fun and settle down much, much later (late twenties/early thirties). I asked my husband tonight why he wanted to wait so long before we had kids and he said, “Because I thought that was the way things were supposed be done.” I also asked if he regretted not starting earlier and he said yes.

Both my kids are sick, and I haven’t slept in about 48 hours which probably explains why I am willing to tackle such weighty topics. Blaaaame the sleep sleep sleep deprivation.

Peggy Orenstein wrote a fantastic memoir about her experience dealing with infertility called “Waiting for Daisy”. It was the only good read I found out there that spoke to me when I was enduring the crappy turbulence of IVF. (I did NOT enjoy “A Few Good Eggs” and Melissa Ford’s book “Navigating the Land of IF”  had not come out yet.)

She just published a new book called “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” that I am eager to read for a few reasons. I have an aversion to the whole Disney princess thing, mostly because I’m afraid the movies have one main underlying message to women: being beautiful is all that matters. Yet my daughter is drawn to all things girly and pink and she calls herself a princess. (I have never even uttered that word ALOUD since she has been born.) I have been trying to channel these urges into books like Madeline and even Fancy Nancy. Anything but Sleeping Beauty. I’d like to try to raise her to be a strong, assertive, responsible and kind woman, not a princess. Obviously feminism plays into these goals.

I consider myself a feminist. I worked many years in a demanding job, and I certainly believe in equal pay for equal work. Yet the truth is our best years of fertility are in our 20s. This is why Runny Yolk’s essay caught my eye: she blames feminism as she struggles with her own infertility. It’s a compelling read.

You know what? I blame MEN. Why are all guys such commitment-phobic, fancy-free, don’t-tie-me-down JERKS in their 20s? Or, ahem, the ones, you know, I met during that time. Even Darcy, my husband, that paragon of men, put off our own family-building for four years until he was ready.

I think a re-education of men is called for. Let’s stop targeting women with these scare-tastic campaigns about their eggs. The truth is mens’ sperm have more problems as they grow older, too. Who knows this? Not very many men.

What does this have to do with Peggy Orenstein’s book? (And boy, did this end up being a RANT!) Maybe the answer is to encourage my adorable little son to realize that his peak fertility years are in his 20s, and he shouldn’t be a jerk to women, and maybe even he should start searching for “the one” in his early twenties. Maybe he’ll tell his friends and then my daughter will meet a wonderful man in her twenties. I’m also going to try to teach him to value more than physical appearance when it comes to choosing his mate.

Imagining my son as a thoughtful, caring husband to a wonderful woman makes me happy. Am I making a nuanced situation too simplistic? Talk to me…


Filed under Discovering joy, ICLW, Infertility