Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From The Frontlines

Cinderella Will NOT Eat My Goddaughter, My Nieces--or 
My Sons or Nephews. 
Are You With Me? Or With Cindy?

"There is ample evidence that the more mainstream media girls consume, 
the more
they partake in the media junk culture, the more importance they
place on being
pretty and sexy, and a ream of studies show that teenage girls
and college students
who hold conventional beliefs about beauty and femininity,
especially those that
emphasize beauty and pleasing behavior – are less ambitious,
and more likely to
be depressed and to make poor sexual choices (including not
requiring their partners
to wear condoms) than their peers. That’s terrifying."
-Peggy Orenstein, speaking with me on AMBITION Radio
Yesterday was my goddaughter's 6-year-old birthday. 

I spent a ton of time in recent weeks doing research on great books, toys, and
gifts to shower her with on her special day. As I was perusing  sites like
(“Expert-Selected Toys Matched to a Child’s Development”),  I was not at all surprised –
but was annoyed and disappointed – to find categories by gender. 

Boys Versus Girls: Why?
Searching through “Toys for 6 Year Old Girls” and “Toys for 6 Year Old Boys” yielded 
very different recommendations.
A super cool-looking “Spy Night Scope,” a “Shrinky Dinks Insects” kit, and an “MLB Multi-Position 
Batting Tee”
were served up for the boys.  
Spy-Gear Spy Night Scope
A “Brain Noodles – Princess & Frog Kit” (WT? This hurts my brain on so many levels), a
“Shrinky Dinks Jewelry”
kit, and a “Paint Your Own Bathroom Set” were among the top
recommended picks for girls. There was even
a “Hooded Princess Cape” set, complete
with a silver magic wand and the caption, “Who’s afraid of the big,
bad wolf?” categorized
under – get this – “Fun Learning, Child Development, Educational Toys” for girls.
(Not to
mention, last time I checked, Little Red Riding Hood’s cape was RED, not pink, but I digress.)
Creative-Education Hooded Princess Cape

The Socially Sanctioned Message is Clear

Painting your own ceramic bathroom set, or fantasizing about kissing the right frog to become a
princess – and
making jewelry for that encounter – is SO much more fun than swinging a bat, or
playing dark-of-the-night spy,
or crafting cool insects – IF you’re a girl. (The rules of the world
are different for boys.)

The Dark Side of Pink and Pretty 

Searching for great gifts for my young goddaughter's impending birthday, I was reminded
of a recent AMBITION Is Not A Dirty Word Radio
show I did with an old friend and colleague from
my San Francisco years, Peggy Orenstein, author of the
New York Times bestseller,
Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of The New Girlie-Girl Culture.

Peggy Orenstein is an acclaimed journalist and author of the groundbreaking bestseller Schoolgirls
who, as a new mother, was blindsided by the persistent ultra-feminine messages being sent to a
new generation of little girls—from endless permutations of pink to pressures to be “a hot tot” and
a “spoiled brat princess.”

When Orenstein published an essay in The New York Times Magazine about the “princess-mania”
that has overtaken a new generation of little girls, she was not prepared for a firestorm. But
What’s Wrong with Cinderella?” swiftly shot to the top of the Times website’s “most emailed”
list and elicited hundreds of reader responses.

Orenstein, who had garnered a reputation as an expert on girls’ development, thought she was
simply musing about her own observations and reactions to her young daughter’s obsession
with Disney princesses and predilection for the color pink. Clearly, though, she had touched
a cultural nerve.

Fight For A Focus on Girls' Sense of Self from The Inside

What does it do to girls’ ambition to grow up in a culture that pressures them, from a
very young age, to define their sense of self according to a junk culture’s ideals and from
the outside in, rather than from the inside? Whether you're shopping for books or toys,
or, channel surfing. are slapped with a preview of "Toddlers and Tiaras" or "Jersey Shore,"
the junk culture assaults and threatens to make you/us feel helpless to do anything to force
a course correction. 

We do not have to stand helplessly by, shaking our heads at what's out there: on television,
social media, in print, in stores, being served up by the junk culture. We can spot, confront,
interpret, and defy the pernicious messages flooding our kids. We can help them reclaim
what it means to grow up in a meaningful way with an eye on making the contribution
they were born to make -- according to what matters to them as individuals, rather than
being distracted or derailed by the junk culture. (Enough already.)

But we must be conscious of socially sanctioned cultural messages and assumptions,
swirling about us, mindlesslessly sucking in us and our children.

Wake-Up Call – And What To Do About It, Starting Today

My AMBITION Radio show with Peggy Orenstein reveals the dark side of pink and pretty in
a wake-up call to parents: The rise of the girlie girl is not that innocent. Grab a glass of
pink lemonade and tune in to hear Peg and I discuss why the rise of the girlie girl
is not that innocent.    

01b copy

Of equal importance , we talk about practical, simple – even fun! (we’re not talking going
Mommie Militant here) – things  you can do in your and your kids’ everyday lives to empower,
rather than limit, how your children shape their identities and dreams to ambitiously navigate
through this, our junk culture, according to their own informed sensibilities.


Happy Birthday Little Sister Sledge,

from your Big Sister Sledge Auntie. I’m thrilled that you love your new Jr. Telescope Set,
your binoculars, and your great new hardcover books (adding to your library being one of
our celebratory rituals and holiday traditions) – none of which are about princesses kissing 
frogs. Your mom and I are on the front lines with you. We are family.


I invite you to weigh in below. Are you with Cinderella? Or will you take a stand to protect
YOUR daughter (and nieces and goddaughters and, even your sons and young males in your
life) from the junk culture that dumbs down girls' sense of selves and expectations?

Nothing less than our daughters' identities and their futures is on the line.



How To Confirm Where To Vote

2008 will be remembered as one of the most historic election seasons in our nation's history.  Tomorrow, each of us will become a part of history by casting our ballots. If you want to reconfirm where to vote, find out here. 

We've already seen record participation in this election. People recognize how high the stakes are. A handful of votes could make the difference in determining our next president, how many voices will join Congress, serve in our state houses, and manage the cities in which we reside.

If you've cast your ballot already, please remind your friends and family to cast theirs.

Thank you for your support of the Women’s Business Alliance and for your commitment to our nation's  political process.


Dr. Debra Condren


I'm traveling through the Little Rock, Arkansas airport hours after meeting in New York with a group of women to talk Hillary and women and ambition. Exiting security, the first thing I see, through the airport bookstore's window, is a large black and white poster of a photograph of Hillary, Bill, and Chelsea walking up onto a podium. The caption reads:

"Get Ready to Pary Like It's 1992".

Don't put on your party shoes just yet. There's still a hill to climb. And not just over substantive differences between candidates. Hillary's up against the same old story: it's tough being a working woman--and her campaign proves it, say female execs. They may or may not back her, but successful city women say  Clinton's travails show what they're up against.

Tory Johnson, CEO, Women For Hire, workplace contribitor on "Good Morning America" and anchor of "Home Work" on ABC News Now called a breakfast meeting to talk about what successful working women are saying about Hillary Clinton. Tory's resulting article was originally published in the New York Post, February 25, 2008 and is reprinted with permission below.

Nypost22508_5SISTER ACT: Tory Johnson (center) talking Hillary and careers with (from left to right) career coach and business psychologist Debra Condren, Working Mother Media CEO Carol Evans, attorney Sara Newman and Hyperion Books publisher Ellen Archer.

Guest post by Tory Johnson, CEO, Women For Hire.

LOVE her or hate her, win or lose, successful working women are talking about Hillary Clinton.

But it's not her politics that have them fired up. What getting under their skin is a laundry list of gender-nuanced issues brought to the fore by  Clinton's run for the ultimate corner office.


Beat the Bitch? Straight Talk on the B-Bomb

John McCain wants to be the next leader of the free world, and he gives a free pass to someone calling his opponent a "bitch", calls it "an excellent question"? And it took him endless obfuscating just to be able to rally to say, "I respect Hillary Clinton"! Never confronting the dropping of the B-bomb? Are you kidding me?

Continue reading "Beat the Bitch? Straight Talk on the B-Bomb" »

Hair, Hemlines, And Husbands: Shifting The Focus

by Dr. Debra Condren, author: amBITCHous

Women have made significant progress in the political arena, but we still have work to do.

Ilana Goldman, President of Women's Campaign Forum, notes: "From community organizing to the legislative process to the nomination and confirmation of judges, it is clear that we need women involved now more than ever. While we are delighted that a record number of women will be serving in federal and state government in 2007, there is still a long way to go."

"With 16 women in the U.S. Senate, 71 women in the U.S. House, nine women governors, and 1,732 women serving in state legislatures in January, we have only scratched the surface. Even with these successes, women currently hold fewer than 25% of all elected offices in the U.S. ... Despite the tremendous class of women who ran in 2006, the overall numbers of women running for office are still alarmingly low."

Gloria Feldt of reported earlier this week that "while women are heads of state in countries as disparate as Liberia, Chile, and Germany, and their numbers are increasing globally,  America ranks 67th in percentage of female congress members, behind Pakistan, Liberia, and Mexico." 

Enough media coverage of what labels our women leaders are wearing, how much leg is showing, which celebrity stylists cut their hair, or armchair analyses of their marriages.

It's time to laser in on the important issues:

● Getting more women into office
● Demanding to hear from more women experts in the news media as policy shapers and leading voices of authority on critical issues
● Collectively, as women, opening our wallets

So let's talk strategy. What are the best ways for us to achieve these objectives?

One of the biggest and most powerful things we can do is to simply ask women to run. 

A key research finding is that, for many women in public office, it never even occurred to them to run until somebody else said,  "Hey, you're such an incredible leader, have you ever considered running for office?  Would you ever consider it? I really see you in this role."  Clearly, being asked to run has powerful leverage on women's willingness to put themselves out there. 

WCF'S Goldman argues, "That's really our biggest problem--women are equally effective as men at running for office, but we're just not getting out there and running to the same degree." Why not?  "Think about how many boys and girls grow up being told, 'You can be a senator.' Maybe today more girls are being told this, but boys do definitely internalize that more.'" 

There's more from the research on why women do or don't run for office.

There's a perception about resume--women believe that one needs to be a lawyer, a multi-millionaire business owner.  But what about the doctor, the educator, the nurse, the P.T.A. president?--it's not clicking in women's brains that they have impressive transferable skills that will lead to success on the campaign trail.

Back to being asked to run. Visitors to the Women's Campaign Forum website are asked to nominate women they think would be great candidates.  Goldman's mission? "Tell us [WCF] what her name is and we will reach out to her. We will get her to come to a training and we will talk to her and work with her about what ways she can become active in public life."

WCF also provides education to train hard fact skills,  including being a more effective fund raiser, a more effective public speaker, and strategizing in terms of how you think about presenting your policy positions.

As Golman points out, "There really is some degree of science that has been developed in terms of how to be effective. Women need to understand this." Why?

Women are much less likely to put themselves out there unless they enter into the process feeling that they know exactly what they're going to be doing and what's going to be involved.  Once they get a lay of the land, they have the epiphany, "Yes. I can write that kind of appeal letter. Yes, I can ask for that money. Yes I can read that poll."  Gaining that understanding and that competency makes women more willing to run--and that's precisely WCF's mission.

The bottom line objective that will get more women into office? It's simple--we need to get women started.

There are many great organizations that are working on different issues relevant to women's leadership. WCF's focus is on getting women off into their first steps in public life, whether that's as an activist or in an appointed position, a volunteer staff person.

Goldman explains: "Most importantly, we help candidates--it's very hard to do this. We don't have enough women out there asking women to run; we don't have enough training to help women build the skills they need to be successful on the campaign trail. We make endorsements to help our candidates be successful, but we really try to be the people, not that are going to do the $15 million independent expenditure in the last week of the race. Instead, we try to come in at the very earliest stage when no one yet is taking your calls to help you build the name, and credibility, and the infrastructure that lets later-stage groups and investors feel competent to go out for you. 

Demand to hear from women in the news media as policy shapers and leading voices of authority. reports that:

● On the influential Sunday morning political talk shows, women represent only 14% of guest appearances ("Who's Talking?" The White House Project, 2005.)

● On the three main U.S. broadcast networks, 87 percent of expert sound bytes are provided by men. (Women, Men and Media and The Freedom Forum Media Studies Center, 1998)

● Despite their growing ranks as experts in fields ranging from national security and military spending to technology and health care, women continue to be drastically underrepresented in the news media as policy shapers and leading voices of authority on critical issues. We've heard from journalists that say the main reason they do not quote women as experts on a range of topics is simply because they do not know how to find them. closes the gender gap in news coverage by making it easy for journalists to connect with women experts on topics of interest. With a few quick clicks, journalists can find women experts in a variety of fields across the country.

There's one additional critical initiative that we need to focus on:  Women need to give.

Women make up a fraction of political donations and there's a huge fallout in terms of how successful women candidates can be, in terms of public policy positions that get attention.  In an age when women enjoy increasing income power, increasing access to wealth, increasing access over spending--it's really time for women to start taking this piece of their civic action and putting their checkbooks behind the causes they believe in. 

Nancy Lafferty-Wellott, founder and CEO of Habits & Habitats, reports these stats: 

● Women control 83% of all household spending. 
● 80% of checks written in the U.S. are signed by women.
● 78% of women agree that they seek fulfillment on their own terms.
● 75% of all mothers are in the paid labor force.

That's a lot of fire power.

There's more.

Women vote more than men; we volunteer more; and depending on how you look at it, we're certainly strong philanthropic givers.

But--and here's a huge problem--we women have yet to make the connection between the causes we care about and our political financial giving. 

It's time for a collective shift in our thinking about our ability to shape policy, whether we pull out our check books, or step up to run for office, or shake up the media.

To recap, here are three action items you can do now to further the initiative to get more women into office and into policy making roles:

1. Go online right now and nominate a great woman that you know. Think about it--every one of us knows a woman that, when we think of her, we realize, "Wow, she could run the world."  (I just thought of someone else.)  Or consider running yourself; think about it--do you have skills and talents that could transfer to running for office, or that should compel you to accept an appointment, or that would make you an effective volunteer in a political campaign? If so, step up. The world deserves to hear from you.

2. Pull out your checkbook and give to the political causes and candidates that you care about. And then write another check next week, next month, next quarter. Repeat. Give.

3. Contact major media outlets and demand to hear women authorities in the media.  Make their jobs easier: recomend sources like Start an e-mail and phone campaign today insisting on this change.

It's time.


A Personal Invitation From WCF President Ilana Goldman:

Join Women's Campaign Fund for the Annual Parties of Your Choice:  CELEBRATING THE PIPELINE. New York City,  March 12, 2007.
  This is a rare opportunity to meet incredible candidates and talk politics with esteemed special guests, all in the backdrop of magnificent homes and fine cuisine.  The evening will begin with a cocktail reception from 6:00 - 7:30 P.M. featuring a special performance by Sarah Jones, Tony Award Winning playwright, actor and poet, Bridge & Tunnel, a tribute to the state and local leaders who make up the pipeline, and an exclusive exhibit at Christie's, 20 Rockefeller Center, New York, NY.  At 7:30 P.M., proceed to the Party of Your Choice. Click here for information and tickets.

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I’m all about creating ways for ambitious women to share our stories with each other.

I am a business psychologist, researcher, author, executive coach, and career advisor. I lead workshops and lecture frequently on women’s need to embrace our ambition. I founded the Women’s Business Alliance, a motivational think tank for more than 2,500 women. For more details, see my about page.

I’d love to hear your story. Ambitious women owe it to ourselves—and the world—to make the contribution we were born to make. Let’s keep the dialogue flowing.


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