Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Reviving "Reviving Ophelia"

I have been an adolescent girl, I have worked with adolescent girls, and I have birthed two adolescent girls. Okay, not really, just trying to keep the continuity. I do have two girls that seem destined for adolescence and if the media and culture have anything to do with it, it will be sooner rather than later. The issues of girls are very much on my mind.

Even though I have long since left my own adolescence behind I find that certain problems and problematic language followed me and the women I know into adulthood. I want better for my girls. I want a culture that doesn't invent a separate and distinct demographic just to sell to them. I want them to be supported by a community of sisters who love and support them and would never even dream of undercutting, judging, ridiculing, or treating them maliciously. I never want them to hear that "women/girls are just like that. women are so (insert host of negative comments here)...." Hey, those are my girls you are talking about!

Obviously, as much as it breaks my heart, I can not give them any of those things. But, in my living room with a group of wonderful girl-raising mamas, we came up with ideas of things we could give them.

We prepared for this world changing discussion by reading "Reviving Ophelia." First of all, who knew that book had gotten so old, where does the time go? However, it is still a great, timely, and relevant read. I really appreciate Pipher's insights and the fact that, even though there is much discussion of what is wrong and toxic in our culture to our daughters, it is very much a positive and solution focused book. Spurred by the author we came up some things that seem pertinent to our culture and that could be contributing to Ophelia's unfortunate state:

1. Adolescence is a difficult transition. Developmental transitions are historically difficult. Think of the difference between a sweet baby and a screaming toddler who is desperate to assert their independence. A well supported and much accepted therapeutic intervention is to help families be flexible. This allows for the necessary growth and change that are part and parcel of transitions. A toddler needs new rules and privileges, so does an adolescent.

2. However, even the best and most flexible parenting is (at least partially) negated by the fact that our culture is forcing girls into adolescence before they are even really adolescents. Geez even their bodies are turning them into adolescents earlier and earlier. It seems culture, media, and the food chain are colluding to force girls to grapple with issues of body image, friendship, and sexuality at younger and younger ages.

FYI-there is some great research on how once the media creates a demographic and starts marketing to said demographic it begins to decompensate and become symptomatic. Here are some articles:
This is fantastic, a MUST READ, and there are great links at the end of the article.

In an effort not to get too carried away "celebrating the problem" (because seriously this culture stuff is sooo involved and sooo depressing and none of us wanted to spend our daughters adolescence in my living room) we stayed on task to come up with some tangible and concrete things we could do. Here they are:

1. Build a positive web of support and opportunity for our girls. Dance, theater, sports, church groups, etc, etc. Give these girls a world with depth and breadth. Give them plenty of opportunities to meet similar kids with similar interests, plenty of opportunities to feel successful, try out different talents.

2. Volunteer. This time in a girl's life is prime time for "center stage syndrome" or extreme self focus. It is neither good nor bad, it just is at this stage of development. There is a reason that narcissism is not diagnosed until adulthood! Building connections and getting outside of one's self and one's problems is very unlikely to hurt any of us.

3. Language. Or as my wacky and beloved former professor always says, "Word Patrol!". Language is such a powerful and shaping force. My girls won't hear their parents making negative or stereotyping generalization about their sex. How can one not start internalizing when you are faced with a barrage of comments such as "women are so catty, women are so back-stabbing, women are so manipulative, blah, blah?" Feel it, think it, write it in your journal. But for the love of god man, don't say it. And furthermore have an exploration of why this is. What in our culture promotes this and why and do we participate in this BULLSHIT about ourselves?

4. Model sisterhood. Because, sure women can be that way. I will cop to having acted every single one of those ways. But it isn't a mandate. I wasn't born that way, original sin style. How can I model something different? What is gained and what is lost when my daughters hear me judging or talking about someone that I probably should be talking to? I can be a positive and supportive woman to my friends and family. I can surround myself and my girls with a positive and supportive group of women who do not participate in and actively reject the "Women are so..." culture.

I plan to write more about each and every one of these list items but wanted to get them all out there before I started forgetting some of the wisdom passed around in my living room. Seriously, you should have there, these women were sooo.... fantastic!

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