Goodbye Stranger and Girls & Sex: One way to navigate the complicated new landscape

So far this year-- almost halfway through-- I have a clear favorite fiction book (Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead) and a clear favorite nonfiction book (Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein). And, in my opinion, they are really in conversation with one another; though I'm not sure anyone has made this connection before. Goodbye StrangerIn her Introduction Orenstein writes, “When so much has changed for girls in the public realm, why hasn’t more—much more—changed in the private one? Can there be true equality in the classroom and the boardroom if there isn’t in the bedroom?” With Hillary Clinton securing the nomination for president (#hillyes) it's fascinating to consider this given what we know of her history... And if we know this it's inevitable that young women and girls will as well. So, how do we address these issues?

As I learned when I was writing this review piece about puberty for Brain, Child, books are a great way for parents to discuss sex and sexuality with their kids. Both can read the same book and then discuss, which helps because it is not about *your child* precisely. Furthermore, I learned that it's always useful to be doing something where you don't have to make eye contact while chatting (think driving or walking) when tackling these issues.

Putting all this together I recommend that parents read Orenstein's book (my full review in The Providence Journal available here); if you are short on time concentrate on Chapter 1. One sentence that you should be sure stays with you as you navigate this terrain in your life is:  “That’s the challenge to both parents and girls themselves: whether you’re discussing dress codes, social media, or the influence of pop culture, there is rarely a clear-cut truth.” (24)

Stead's book shows how this plays out in real life for some boys and girls, especially when it comes to the "sext." The book tackles friendships, romance, technology, family dynamics, and more, without being sensational. One of things I liked most was its verisimilitude-- it felt like this is probably what happens annually for thousands of American teens. When I read how one of the character's explanation that she liked that she felt good about her body, I couldn't help but be reminded of Orenstein's book, but also her caution that looking good isn't a feeling. 

I love the bridge between fiction and nonfiction here and hope some find this connection between two amazing recent books useful!

HuffPo Piece: Cinderella Ate My Man-Eating Tiger Daughter

This originally appeared on The Huffington Post on April 1, 2011. Note that the same day my piece was posted, news broke that Amy Chua's eldest daughter, Sophia, was admitted to the Harvard class of '15 (during the most competitive admissions cycle in Harvard's history, with a 6.2% admit rate); Sophia will be matriculating in Cambridge this fall.

Looking for advice on how to raise a successful daughter? Recent bestsellers offer conflicting advice. In Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein trumpets Girl Power over pink princesses if you want a smart, independent woman. But Kay Hymowitz writes in Manning Up that you should poo-poo this New Girl Order -- at least if you want your daughter to be a wife and (working) mother someday. And then there's the now infamous Tiger Mother Amy Chua who painstakingly details how she "Chinese parents" her two daughters to be the best at everything they touch in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother; her girls tend to trounce everyone (girls and boys) while wearing princess-style dresses.

Chua recently spoke at Harvard (otherwise known as mecca for Tiger Moms), where she proclaimed, "I could not in a million years imagine my book to be perceived this way, as preaching Chinese parenting as superior... This is not a parenting book. It is a memoir." Indeed Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother covers Chua's childhood and family life, and describes how her relationship with members of her family changed while raising her over-achieving Chinese-Jewish-American children. These humanizing details are interspersed between the more horrifying anecdotes -- well known, thanks to the excerpt printed in The Wall Street Journal -- about denial of dinners and sleepovers, and threats to burn stuffed animals and give toys away.

As Chua was excoriated in the media, Orenstein's own parenting book-cum-memoir appeared. Cinderella Ate My Daughter is a spirited journey through the princess-industrial complex created by Disney and fed by American Girl, Club Libby Lu, other toy companies, child beauty pageants, and many more. Orenstein, a journalist who specializes in women's and girls' issues, details how this pink culture developed historically and how it impacts girls today at younger ages than ever before--including her own daughter, Daisy.

In many ways Chua and Orenstein's families and concerns are similar. They both have daughters. In fact, they both are raising Asian/Jewish daughters. They both find something wrong with current American parenting techniques, especially when it comes to raising their girls. But Peggy Orenstein is revered and Amy Chua is reviled, and when you read the books you can see why. As unyielding as Chua is (even when conceding defeat), Orenstein is questioning -- a crucial difference between the two books. Orenstein is also humorous. Chua claims she was trying to be a funny writer, but any self-deprecating humor just doesn't come across as genuine, especially when she repeatedly lists the accolades of her various family members. In the end, Orenstein is just more admirably ambivalent, honest, and likeable about mothering a young girl today.

Click HERE to keep reading!

Good Girls Gone Botoxed

Have you heard about Britney? Not Britney Spears, but Britney Campbell. Well, you might want to sit down. Two days ago The Sun reported that mum Kerry injects her eight-year-old daughter, Britney, with Botox. Her first injection was a gift for her eighth birthday, in fact! Mom buys the Botox over the Internet and injects Britney herself-- but she tests it first to make sure it's "safe." Why do this? To be a pop superstar, of course.

Not only does Britney get Botox, she also gets a monthly "virgin wax." I confess I had  to Google virgin wax.  Apparently, I am way out of the loop because in 2008 MSNBC ran a story on this new trend.  Supposedly if you wax the colorless hair on a girl's legs and bikini line, it won't grow in once the girl hits puberty and the hair darkens and coarsens. I'm not sure why Britney gets a virgin wax every month though, as aesthetician experts suggest you only need to do it 2-6 times. By the way, my favorite line about virgin waxing is listed on the website of a New York City spa, Wanda's European Skin Care on West 57th: "Save your child a lifetime of waxing... and put the money in the bank for her college education instead!" Just think of how much more pocket change we all would have had in college...

There's a connection to child beauty pageants here, especially because Kerry Campbell says Botox, virgin waxes, and even plumpers/fillers are common practice on the San Francisco child beauty pageant circuit (I'm personally not aware of a big high glitz pageant circuit in the Bay area-- anyone else?).  According to, on Toddlers & Tiaras this past season several moms were shown waxing their daughters eyebrows, as I've written about here; we've also seen moms shave their daughters' legs so the little leg hairs don't show up on stage. I can see some pageant moms doing the virgin wax, but nowhere close to all of them, especially those who don't do high glitz. As for Botox I just don't buy it. Some day when they are older I am sure a lot of pageant girls will pursue plastic surgery-- but trying Botox so young and risking disfigurement is simply foolhardy and too risky.

Not surprisingly, this story has some legs and got picked up pretty quickly. Jezebel's coverage concedes that neither the US nor the UK have laws preventing a parent from injecting their children with Botox. I mean, why would there be? We'll see if that changes; in the meantime it's quite possible Child Protective Services may be visiting the Campbell household in San Francisco.  Otherwise, as Perez Hilton said, let's hope this is a joke. Perhaps it is because, really, how did The Sun reporter find native Birmingham, UK resident Kerry in San Francisco?

This story made me think of Charice, the Filipino pop star who has appeared on Glee. Last July there was a big brouhaha about her getting Botox to make her look younger and to smooth her eighteen-year-old face for the show. The media even ran pictures of her getting the injections. Clearly Botox is in among teenagers pursuing pop stardom-- but Charice is a decade older than little Britney Campbell.

Keeping female, teen popstars looking young and "pure" is quite a task on many levels, as the always informative and entertaining Peggy Orenstein explains in "The Good Girl, Miranda Cogrove" which will be in the Times Magazine this Sunday.  Her discussion of teen idols produced by the Disney and Nick machines is related to a chapter in Cinderella Ate My Daughter; Orenstein expands on that work with a thoughtful profile on "iCarly" star Miranda Cosgrove.  One of the most refreshing parts of the piece is hearing about, and from, Miranda's parents (her dad still runs the dry cleaning business he had before Miranda starting raking in seven-figures and her mom is with her pretty much all the time).

Somehow I don't think Britney Campbell will be the next Miranda Cosgrove, do you?