I just finished the book Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher.  Although a bit dated, it scared the crap out of me as a parent of a 2-year old daughter, and I’ll Pour My Heart Out here for a minute.

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Pipher examines the enormous and contradictory tensions that adolescent girls face growing up in American culture (of the 1990s).  It seems to me that most of the trends she enumerates have only gotten more pronounced in the first decade of the new millennium.  Tensions like: be smart, but not too smart that you might threatened others (especially boys).  Be nice and fit in at the expense of your individuality.  They’re bombarded with ridiculous images of the unobtainable “ideal” woman by marketers and the media.  She argues that all of these conflicting messages undermine girls’ self-confidence and their attempts to discover their “true” selves at the very time they should be striving to do just that.  Worse yet, just at the time they could use help navigating the stormy seas of media and peer saturation, they’re told to pull away from their parents to become a true, independent adult.  And apparently it doesn’t matter much what type of parenting is involved (low-to-high affection and low-to-high control); though girls with parents high on both seem to do the “best.”

I found myself not only saddened by the struggles my daughter will inevitably go through, but even angrier at our culture than I normally am.  Why is it that even in the social sciences, there seems to be a sense that girls should adapt to the patriarchal culture?  Where are the books and theories that advocate bringing up boys so they don’t turn out to be such misogynistic d-bags? Where’s the talk about just raising your kids to treat others as humans trying to make it in the same tough world?  If it’s a realignment of our cultural values that’s needed, I say we better get on with it!

My one gripe about the book was Pipher’s comparisons of the pressures girls face to those that boys must deal with.  First she admits that she hasn’t worked with boys so she won’t comment on their challenges, but then she uses boys as the standard against which she measures the double standards that girls are put through.  And that part, if she would have left it at that, would have been fine.  But Pipher seems to imply that girls’ feelings and psyches are much more complicated then boys’, as are the challenges they face.  I’d argue that this is not only a misconception, but such a misconception is why we have trouble raising self-aware and emotionally-intelligent boys in the first place.  There are plenty of challenges and double standards that boys face, and they can be just as insidious as the ones girls have to overcome.  Indeed, if we acknowledged boys’ emotional complexity (and more importantly if we encouraged them to deal with those emotions rather than suppress those feelings that weren’t “manly”), I think society would be better off.  Instead, some of us don’t get around to that until after college (if at all).  That’s a bit late if you ask me.

In any case, I hope that we can raise our daughter to take any bullying or name-calling with a grain of salt, and hope that we can preserve our close relationship.  Of course I realize this is exactly most parents’ hopes that are often dashed upon the rocky shores of adolescence, but that doesn’t mean I have to give in to those pesky societal pressures!

This should not be our daughters' role model.

And this is not who our males should be emulating.

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