Connecting the Book Reviews of Guyland and Cinderella Ate My Daughter
By Josiah Hatfield, Laura B. McGrath
While writing book reviews on similar topics, Laura and Josiah thought it would be interesting to discuss the thoughts and feelings they were contemplating and processing in reviewing their respective books and in how each text relates to student development and higher education in general. What follows is a transcription of the conversation that includes a few (not all) of their reactions and hopefully allows the two books to interact on a reader level.
Josiah Hatfield: I think a major redeeming aspect of Guyland is that guys do change themselves based on the group norm. Although I guess that’s also the whole problem with Guyland. But if you reverse that, it can have the opposite effect. If the group norm is to do something beneficial, or think on one’s own, or to practice good, healthy lifestyles, I think that does have an influence on guys in groups. The general thesis of Guyland is that guys might not completely buy into the negative parts of their atmosphere, but because it’s the group norm, they act accordingly. So if the reverse can be done, I think that can be a redeeming aspect of Guyland. And, in describing the young male adult culture, the author even talks about there being some redeeming qualities. They’ve seen mistakes their parents have made, and they’re trying to account for that. There certainly is a negative aspect of guys not growing up in college or post-college. But there is the positive aspect: we are taking more time to think about what we want to do, and make sure that what we are doing is something we want, something we can do well. What about Cinderella Ate My Daughter? Are there any redeeming aspects about Princess Culture?
Laura McGrath: I think there’s something similarly positive in Cinderella Ate My Daughter regarding group mentality, but in a different way. I think it’s in the way that you consider how much consumer culture has impacted our ideas of gender. And while I think that consumerism to this degree is unhealthy, I think there’s something positive to knowing that girls and women are such a strong force in the economy and defining what’s being bought and sold. I think if we can vote with our feet and vote with our money, buying and promoting the things with positive images or positive impacts on little girls’ sense of self, I think there could be a positive impact. Considering how closely the spending power and interests of women and girls is being monitored and their “interests” are being considered, I think we could see something positive. I don’t like that the impact is still more consumerism, but at least it is in some way managing the messages that could be sent. I imagine that what’s presented to men in the media is very different. Did Guyland deal with consumer culture issues?
JH: Not specifically. It kind of sets up the atmosphere of what Guyland means, what it’s built on, and gives examples. Porn is a big thing and guys’ perceptions of women is a big deal. That’s a big impact of consumerism. Video games, too. Video games are much bigger for guys than just what they’re spending their money on, though. But there’s certainly an element of consumer culture feeding Guyland.
LM: So what are some of the primary images of gender relationships in Guyland? You talked about porn in regards to views of women. Did it talk about the impact on relationships at all?
JH: In Guyland, he argues that guys see girls either as “bitch” or “babe.” Either a girl is super strong-willed, has her own opinions, and she’s a bitch. Or, she’s a babe, which means she’s really attractive and totally conforms to how guys perceive the world and the atmosphere they’ve created.
LM: I think Peggy Orenstein would argue that she’d rather see more bitches—determined, willing to think for yourself, and strong-willed. But most of Princess Culture is built around the desirability of being a babe—be likable, but be compliant, wait for a man to save you.
JH: Right. Connected to that is a guy’s idea of an ideal girl. Someone who is all of the things that a babe is. She can have an opinion, but not too much. She is really attractively, but at the same time, she can do all things effortlessly. She can just say, “I just woke up and came here,” when really she spent two or three hours getting herself ready. I think, specifically in the sports chapter, girls can be a part of the conversation, but never to the point that they’re going to have more knowledge about sports than guys. So it’s really cool if a girl likes to watch sports, but she can’t have a strong opinion about sports. She can’t put down a guy and his knowledge or opinion about sports. It would be a total turnoff.
LM: In Princess Culture, you should be a babe. All the way, in all circumstances. The stepsisters are the “bitches” in Princess Culture, and they’re ugly. Beauty is entirely tied to compliance. And, an idea I’d like to explore more, is the connection of economic privilege to a young girls’ sense of self. It seems like you can get out of Princess Culture, to some degree, if you can pay for it, if you can buy American Girl Dolls instead. The little girls who can afford it can take care of themselves. For those who can’t, they have to be compliant. They have to wait for someone else to lead them, because they don’t have the economic power to “have it all.” So, you can be a “bitch” if you’ve got money.
JH: You wonder what comes first with advertising, mass media, market culture. Are they producing based on what people want? Or do people want what’s being produced?
LM: Yeah, that’s a great question. And how does mass market culture impact Christianity, and our faith-based images of gender? How do you think the ideas in Guyland relate to Evangelicalism, or a Christian college campus?
JH: I think there might be some similarity in the rigidness of saying “this is what a guy is.” In Guyland, there are a lot of things that Evangelical culture does not support, that they openly disagree with. But in Guyland, there is a fairly specific idea of guys and they can only like this, this, and this. And in Evangelical culture, there’s the same idea of “this is what a guy is.” The classic example would be that of Wild at Heart(Eldredge, 2001) saying this is what a Christian man is. The idea of masculinity [in Wild at Heart]is pretty limited, and that’s an unfortunate thing. Maybe that’s not consistent across the board in Evangelical culture, but on a surface level, it is. Especially in the residence halls, there’s this idea that, “This is what the good Christian male looks like,” which may not be consistent for all guys across the board. Basically, in the halls, there might be a very prescribed version of what a male is, which is pretty reflective of the larger culture’s narrow idea of this is what a man is. Although what Evangelicals say about masculinity is somewhat healthier, it doesn’t allow for any variance in males that may not like to hike, or may not want to save a girl. So that’s one sort of similarity.
LM: It’s interesting that you mention Wild at Heart (Eldredge and Eldredge, 2001), because I was thinking a lot about Captivating (2005) as I read Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Peggy Orenstein spends a lot of time examining different images of femininity, and I was so thankful that she didn’t talk about Evangelical femininity. I find it to be pretty unhealthy, the images that we talk about. We’ve taken these cultural icons, and somehow, made them biblical. There’s nothing you couldn’t watch in Cinderella that you wouldn’t also read in Captivating. You know, “someday my prince will come,” and all that. Which I think is really consistent with what I see on Christian college campuses. There’s always an expectation of an idealized, perfect man. I am so concerned about what that communicates and what that teaches men. I don’t think that there’s anything prescriptively biblical to lead us to think that. But for some reason, we’ve linked the idea of a Princess to a biblical ideal of womanhood. I don’t think that allows women the opportunity to define themselves, to find their value in Christ. That’s what I want to see for college women: the opportunity to say, on their own, this is who I am. I think the way we talk about gender in an Evangelical context as very prescriptive. A good Christian woman is a babe, and if you’re not a babe, you’re deviant, unacceptable, undesirable.
JH: And unfortunately, a general critique of Evangelical culture is that often we see little but a reflection of culture at large, not a reflection necessarily from the biblical example. We take our cues from the broader culture, not from our understanding of Jesus. We may be kind of “Christianizing” something that doesn’t necessarily deserve to be “Christianized.”
LM: We’ve talked a little bit about how these work on college campuses. Is there anything in Guyland that directly relates?
JH: A lot of the male culture in Guyland very clearly translates to residence halls. In one way or another, guys in dorms are going to be effected by these ideas. In residence life, we want to create strong, positive atmospheres for guys. We have to be aware of this really negative aspect that can creep in.
LM: I think Cinderella Ate My Daughter taught me a lot about the very pervasive nature of these stereotypes. It’s important to help women break out of those stereotypes when they don’t fit. You don’t have to fit in a mold to be female and you don’t have to fit into a mold to be desirable. I don’t think the goal should ever be a marital or romantic relationship as much as it should be personal development. That was helpful to think about while reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter. These images are so prevalent, so pervasive. Helping someone move beyond them, for males and females, it takes a lot of work. But we have to do that, for the one lone male that’s standing apart from a group, or for the female who wants to speak her mind but feels like she can’t.
Eldredge, J. (2001) Wild at heart: Discovering the secret of a man’s soul. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Eldredge, J. & Eldredge, S. (2005) Captivating:Unveiling the mystery of a woman’s soul. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Kimmel, M. (2009) Guyland: The perilous world where boys become men. New York, NY: HarperCollins
Orenstein, P. (2011) Cinderella ate my daughter: Dispatches from the front lines of the new girlie-girl culture. New York, NY: Harper Press.