Review written by Leola Dublin
Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes should actually be subtitled A Blueprint for Deprogramming Your Daughters. The authors are academics, – developmental psychologists, actually – but they make it clear in the introduction, that they are not writing as academics. Instead, they are writing as mothers, teachers, and women. True to their word, the book is written in an accessible language that most parents will find reassuring.
Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown write for their audience, and their word choices let parents know that you don’t have to be an academic to see through the marketing schemes aimed to brainwash your daughter. Throughout the work, their references to popular kids’ toys, songs, and celebrities demonstrate that they have done their research. What becomes clear early on is that the authors’ strategies simply boil down to more involved and active parenting. Following the suggestions of Lamb and Brown might mean that an already tough job is about to be tougher. But their in-depth analysis of what girls (and their concerned parents) are up against makes it easy to see the benefits of ratcheting the involvement up a few notches. If you get nothing else out of the book, you will learn ways to improve communication with your daughter – at several distinct stages of her development.
The book is divided into six chapters. The Introduction is followed by chapters on what girls wear, read, listen to, and do. These chapters provide parents with the necessary background for the sixth chapter. It is this chapter that makes the book an essential resource for parents. Entitled Rebel, Resist, Refuse: Sample Conversations with Our Daughters, this chapter offers resistance strategies that parents can use – without alienating their kids, something that is especially important as children enter the adolescent period that we all know so well. At just under 300 pages, the book looks intimidating. The good news is that it reads almost like a novel or a collection of really good magazine articles (or blog posts!) and doesn’t necessarily need to be read in one sitting or in chronological order. There is also an index for quick reference and a detailed guide to Online Resources for girls, teens, and parents.
Chapter 1, Pretty in Pink: What Girls Wear sets the tone for the book. Lamb and Brown cover topics like tattoos and piercings, Halloween, and most importantly the different girl types that are marketed to girls based on their age. The authors spend time in clothing stores and give a detailed report on the clothing (and increasingly accessories) that are being sold as paths to “girl power.” They name names here, and there are discussions on Limited Too, J.C. Penney, Hot Topic, and Claire’s among other retailers.
See No Evil?: What Girls Watch is the second chapter. Lamb and Brown spend several pages on Disney and their fantasyland monopoly on defining girlhood. Other animated female characters are discussed as well, but Disney’s saturation of the market justifies the time they spend sharing their observations. TV shows and movies for pre-teens, tween movies, extreme makeovers and adult-oriented shows like Friends and Sex and the City are discussed in this chapter as well. Highlights include a list of 15 questions you can ask your daughter about what she watches that will help become a more critical viewer and a list of “Movies That Feature Strong Girls and Fewer Stereotypes” (116).
The third chapter is entitled Do You Hear What I Hear: What Girls Listen To. Surprisingly, this chapter isn’t just about music lyrics. Chapter 3 covers music as well as gossip, and messages that girls receive in conversations at home, from peers, and from teachers. The section on “fat talk,” and the hidden messages that mothers send daughters about food, body image, and shame is especially interesting.
Chapter 4, “Reading Between the Lines: What Girls Read”, is just what it claims to be – an analysis of the books our daughters are reading. Included here are sections on books for little girls, pre-teens, and pre-teen through teenaged readers. The prize in the cereal box for this chapter comes at the very end: a list of “Books and Series That Have Strong Girls and Few Stereotypes” that the authors recommend, followed by a list of the same types of books from trusted librarians, authors and parents. This list can easily be photocopied and tucked away for trips to libraries or bookstores, or sent to relatives who don’t know what book to buy your daughter.
Chapter 5, “Wanna Play?: What Girls Do,” looks at the world of play for today’s girls. Included in the discussion are sections on social networking (MySpace and Instant Messaging), drugs, parties, physical play, games and toys. Highlights here include a discussion on the ever-controversial cheerleading and a fantastic section where the authors list the types of messages that aliens would receive about humans if they landed in the girls’ toys section of Toys “R” Us, Wal-Mart, or Target.
In the final chapter, the authors offer sample conversations for parents of younger girls, pre-teens, middle-schoolers, and teens. Each subsection has headings that reinforce the message the authors are sending: encourage your daughters to think for themselves and to begin seeing through the haze of marketer’s messages. For each age-level of girls, Lamb and Brown offer parents examples of strategies that include “Engage,” “Question, Listen,” “Be Honest,” “Don’t Argue,” “Don’t Be Afraid to Agree,” and “Reflect, Share Discomfort, and Provide Counterexamples.” The emphasis here is clear – conversations are much healthier and more productive than lectures.
Packaging Girlhood is a wonderful resource for many parents, and a great investment for those looking to intervene in the assault that media and marketers have launched on our daughters.
For more insight on these critical issues visit PackagingGirlhood.com.