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 and Why to Form Your Own Informal Board of Advisors—Now

We all experience it: finding ourselves at a professional fork in the road.

So it’s not surprising that one of the most common questions I get from clients and readers is: “What do I do when I hit the wall professionally?”

The single most powerful tool for pulling out of a career stall is forming your own informal advisory board.

I first discovered this secret as a rookie entrepreneur. 

I’d finished my thesis and Ph.D. in record time; I was both inspired to move forward with my career goals and scared about survival issues. I had a fire lit inside as well as under my butt;  my progress in these early career years was often slowed because of the compromises I had to make for the practical concerns of supporting myself and my son. I plugged away with my ambition target always on the horizon.

When I was 32 years old, my professional life finally took on some semblance of stability.  I had a coveted academic-track research position in San Francisco. Devin was about to enter grade school, which meant fewer childcare woes.  I’d finally gotten my license and was a bona fide psychologist. Even though I was struggling financially, there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Except that I found myself yearning to sunbathe in a different kind of light.

Inspired by a business article profiling what struck me as an intriguing up-and-coming field, I decided I wanted to start my own career consulting firm.  On the face of it, this made no sense. I was trained as a licensed clinical psychologist with a background in neuropsychological testing and forensic evaluations.  I hadn’t gone to business school and I had no real training in launching this venture.  And unlike today, at that time career and executive coaching were barely on the radar; this was a brand new, emerging specialty.

My psychologist colleagues said, “You’re crazy to do this.  It’s career suicide.”

But this was an ambition I yearned to fulfill.  I knew that I loved researching and thinking about what was going on in the business world.  I knew that I was smart, creative and tenacious.  I craved the independence, opportunity, and challenge of running my own professional organization. Pursuing my professional destiny felt as vital and organic as mothering Devin, maintaining my friendships, and other equally precious pursuits. I knew that I had something meaningful to contribute.


I’d been in business for a little over a year when I discovered a mentoring program for women in San Francisco. Once a month, for a year, I would travel into the city with my business plan, strategies, and a raftload of problems in hand, and be mentored by a board of advisors on everything from setting up my accounting and books, sales, marketing and public relations to the emotional highs and lows of being self-employed.

In these two-hour meetings I, along with three other protégées, discussed our business plans and all the related obstacles and challenges with a group of fifteen to twenty seasoned, powerful professional women. We received frank, direct, nuts-and-bolts business tactics and real-time feedback and advice from CEOs, attorneys, C.P.A.s, marketing gurus, bankers, and senior executives in sales, public relations and finance. 

Having my career aspirations ratified in the face of personal upheaval was profoundly transformative.

Listening to the experiences and varied perspectives of so many successful businesswomen left me feeling confident and unabashed about pursuing my own big ambitions.  It also taught me how to take hits, toughen up, and get back up. My board also showed me firsthand: how to avoid naive mistakes; how to recognize talent; how to work collaboratively; and how to ask for and make great use of expert advice.  

We all need periodic feedback. No one can expect to reach their goals in isolation.


Here’s How To Form YOUR Own Informal Board of Advisors—NOW

Your hand-picked board of advisors will mentor and help you identify fresh opportunities, reduce your anxiety, and avoid rookie mistakes.

Here’s how to make it happen:

1. Assemble first-round draft picks. Make a wish list of movers and shakers—people you know personally, or have heard about. Target people who are at the top of their game and whose accomplishments and reputation you admire. Make sure their values and ideals are in alignment with your own; you want mentors who will lift you up, inspire you, and challenge you to be your own rival.

2. Keep in mind that your advisors needn’t be in your same field. Your goal is to create a group offering diverse, complimentary areas of expertise, gold-standard career advice, and ambition brainstorming in as many areas as possible.

3. Don't be intimidated at the prospect of approaching the best and brightest. If someone turns you down, don't take it personally.

4. Start e-mailing and phoning by sundown today. Ask if they’d be willing to be an informal adviser, explaining what it entails.

5. Emphasize that you’ll always be respectful of their time. For example, you’ll contact them periodically with a brief e-mail or phone question, or drop by their office occasionally for a quick, mission-critical question. Or you'll have quarterly 20-minute Skype check ins with your team. Or you’ll meet with your board for coffee or cocktails every four months and you'll pick up the check.

6. Draft your one-page career or business objectives plan. Include specific ambitions, ideas, questions, goals, and obstacles. Write down detailed advice you need. E-mail to board members in advance of group or one-on-one meetings; give advisors time to brainstorm before speaking with you.

7. Focus on listening.  Ask only clarifying questions. Resist saying, "Yeah, but here’s why that idea won’t work for me..."  I call this the Yeah, But-Rebuttal, and it's a sure-fire way to turn off your team. Keep an open mind. Give yourself time to absorb new ideas.

8. Become a techie.  Record phone conferences (with advisors’ permission) or set up Skype sessions; don’t be afraid to pull out an audio or video recorder at live meetings.

9. Follow your advisors on social media. Here, they may offer tidbits of information and advice. Don’t be afraid to comment or respond via this venue.  

10. Share your wins and say thank you. Let your advisors know when you achieve a big goal or accomplishment. Old-fashioned, handwritten notes offer an elegant touch.


Star achievers and people who love their work use this secret weapon. Follow their lead and soon you’ll be back on track with clear ambition objectives and on the right road to making the contribution you were born to make.

Sincerely and ambitiously,

'Enlightened Sexism' in Media Obscures Reality

9780805083262 In her latest book, Susan J. Douglas finds the treatment of women on TV is putting a haze over young women's awareness of sex discrimination. In real life, writers at Newsweek and NPR and business researchers are speaking out.

(WOMENSENEWS)--American women turn on the TV to prime-time dramas and see powerful mature women everywhere.

They are surgeons on "Grey's Anatomy," district attorneys on "Law and Order" and high-powered cops, lawyers and politicians. Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer anchor the newscast, often spotlighting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's state visits. Television has even seen female presidents of the United States, something yet to be achieved in reality: Cherry Jones on "24" and Geena Davis on the short-lived "Commander-in-Chief."

Isn't that just so empowering?

No, says Susan J. Douglas in "Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism's Work Is Done," published by Henry Holt this month. Why?

Continue reading "'Enlightened Sexism' in Media Obscures Reality" »

Do Working Moms Raise Sons Who Cheat?

IStock_kid A British psychiatrist has concluded that hiring a nanny to care for your infant boy could turn him into a serial womanizer. Why? Because you have conditioned him, from the earliest age, to the comfort and solace of “the other woman."

Yet one more example of why so many ambitious women simultaneously crave and fear our ambitious goals.

Wouldn’t it be great if women could ignore what our culture thinks about high-achieving women and eliminate the fear part of our ambition equation? Just imagine how that would change our perspective.

Continue reading "Do Working Moms Raise Sons Who Cheat? " »

Career Burnout: Maya Luz

Rising star Maya Luz quit Project Runway after just 10 weeks. Journalist Marina Khidekel, writing for Marie Claire, explores the question: Are you headed for a career crash, too?

The night before the final six designers on Project Runway's season seven were to face their next challenge, Maya Luz lay awake in bed, racked with doubt. She was thrilled to be cast on the series — a bona fide career-maker for the promising 22-year-old design school grad — but as the weeks of filming went on, something felt increasingly off. "I believed in my work, but while I was always in the top three or safe, I never won a challenge, and that really messed with my head," she says. The show's nonstop hours, constant camera presence, and rigid work rules (contestants aren't permitted to listen to music while designing and can't do any research before diving into a challenge) also threw her off. It all just felt like too much, too soon. "I started to feel like a puppet, as if I were losing myself, and I realized I wanted a sense of control back," Luz says.

The next morning, she told producers she wanted out. After a heart-to-heart with Tim Gunn — "She was on a trajectory to be a finalist," he says — and a quick announcement to her shocked castmates, Luz packed her things and boarded a plane for her mother's house in Naples, Florida.

Continue reading "Career Burnout: Maya Luz" »

Palmer, Mark. "A Man’s Undercover Mission into the World of Women Leaders." The Glass Hammer. 7 Apr. 2010.

Great article by Mark Palmer, CEO, StreamBase Systems, Inc., posted on Among Palmer's observations: -Women, if viewed as an emerging market, are bigger than China and India combined.

  • -80% of buying decisions in the world are made by women.
  • -Men spend money on women and whiskey; women spend money on the family.
  • -Hire women executives, raise profits.

Continue reading "Palmer, Mark. "A Man’s Undercover Mission into the World of Women Leaders." The Glass Hammer. 7 Apr. 2010." »

Malkin, Nina. "5 Best Looks to Land the Job." Good Housekeeping 8 Feb. 2010. Print

Malkin, Nina. "5 Best Looks to Land the Job." Good Housekeeping 8 Feb. 2010. Print


What to Wear to a Job Interview: 5 Best Looks to Land the Job: For a great first impression at an interview — and every day at work — learn from these five women, whose confidence-boosting makeovers showed them the new fashion, hair, and makeup rules.

Continue reading "Malkin, Nina. "5 Best Looks to Land the Job." Good Housekeeping 8 Feb. 2010. Print" »

Exciting News from Carol Jenkins

Wmc_email banner_012909

We have some exciting news we want to share with you, a member of The Women's Media Center extended family: the WMC has acquired, the online database of over 500 women experts. This makes the WMC the definitive source for women analysts and experts -- and meshes perfectly with our intensive media training program, Progressive Women's Voices.

Click here to read more about WMC and

Continue reading "Exciting News from Carol Jenkins" »

WMC Demands Apology from O'Reilly for Helen Thomas Insult

We urge you to join The Women's Media Center in sending an official complaint to Fox News about Bill O'Reilly. His sexist and ageist comments about legendary reporter Helen Thomas require an apology.

Continue reading "WMC Demands Apology from O'Reilly for Helen Thomas Insult" »

Staying True To Our Dreams Makes Us The Best Parents We Can Be

Dear Debra: Regarding your prior post, life is not, I repeat, not long. At best you have
about 74 years on this planet. Your children, however, will not be young forever. If you want
them to be around you when you
are 74, you may want to invest as much time and energy into
their upbringing as necessary to gain and secure their unconditional love for those years when
you will need them down the stretch. 10 year olds really don't care about your career, or how
much money you make. My wife's mantra,
when I was obsessed with my career was this: your
children are only young once.

Jim, you are buying into a socially-sanctioned, common-but-false assumption that
ambitious people face an either/or choice: either we strive to get the education we need and
devote time to create opportunities that move us toward meaningful, challenging work that
pays us well and allows us to make the contribution we were born to make, or we scale
our dreamsbecause to do otherwise requires shortchanging our children and being
rotten parents.
This is a false choice.

Continue reading "Staying True To Our Dreams Makes Us The Best Parents We Can Be" »

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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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