Everyone knows that girls are under tremendous pressure to fit in; this is one of the reasons why they suffer from a decrease in self-esteem as they enter adolescence. This decrease is usually attributed to teen magazines, MTV, and other aspects of popular culture that give negative and conflicting messages to girls. While there's some truth in this, it doesn't explain the whole story. Girls have strict social hierarchies based on what our culture tells us about what constitutes ideal femininity. At no time in your daughter's life is it more important to her to fit these elusive girl standards than adolescence. But who is the prime enforcer of these standards? The movies? The teen magazines? Nope, it's the girls themselves. They police each other, conducting surveillance on who's breaking the laws of appearance, clothes, interest in boys, and personalityall of which have a profound influence on the women they become. Your daughter gets daily lessons about what's sexy (read 'in') from her friends. She isn't watching MTV or reading quizzes in teen magazines by herself. She processes this information with and through her friends.
We can't just point the finger at the media for the things girls do to each other. We also have to point to ourselves for not challenging the culture that creates these problems, and we must, as must our daughters. Girls will only reach their full potential if they're taught to be the agents of their own social change. As we guide girls through adolescence, we have to acknowledge it, name it, and act to change the effect of Girl World on girls.
So Why Listen to Me?
For the last ten years I've been learning from and teaching girls. As the cofounder and president of the Empower Program, I have spent thousands of hours talking to girls between the ages of ten and twenty-one about everything from gossip and cliques to rape and abusive relationships. Our motto is "Violence should not be a rite of passage," but for far too many girls, it is.
Along with Empower's staff educators, we developed a curriculum called Owning Up"* that teaches young people between the ages of twelve and twenty-one the skills to understand and proactively address the impact of Girl World (and Boy World, too). Today, through Empower and "Owning Up," we teach over four thousand boys and girls each year in the Washington, D.C., area and reach thousands more through our professional training programs throughout the country. Under the direction of professionals at Mount Sinai Adolescent Hospital and Rutgers University, our program evaluations show significant decreases in verbal and physical aggression in our students after the program's completion. In conjunction with Liz Claiborne, Inc., I have developed educational materials about abusive relationships and created specific tools to help parents reach out to their daughters.
In PTA meetings and with other groups, I talk to parents who feel overwhelmed by the challenges of parenting a teen, whether they're trying to rescue a daughter in an abusive relationship or helping one cope with the tribulations of being passed over for the prom.
I teach girls today in a variety of settingsfrom weekly health classes to speeches in front of high schools, universities, and youth organizations. Whether I'm teaching in the most exclusive private school or the largest public school, the girls all bring the same concerns and fears. No matter what their income, religion, or ethnicity, they're struggling with the same issues about the pleasures and perils of friendships and how they act as a portal to the larger world.
I'm frequently asked why I started Empower. The easy answer is that I was in an abusive relationship in high school. My "therapy" was self-defense, which I taught, in turn, to high school girls as soon as I graduated from college. While martial arts did start me on a path that ended with my cofounding Empower, it isn't the only reason. When I first developed the "Owning Up" curricula, I looked back to my adolescence for initial answers. How did I, a "normal" girl, become vulnerable to violence?
Excerpted from Queen Bees & Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman Copyright© 2002 by Rosalind Wiseman. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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