We Tell Girls To Reach For The Stars — As Long As They’re Sexy Too

teenage girl compact mirrorAt the TedxWomen conference today in New York City, author Rachel J. Simmons spoke openly about the challenges facing modern young girls. Having penned such titles as The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence and Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, Rachel announced that on paper, girls are doing better than ever.

Girls are outdoing their male counterparts in classroom performance as well as in scholastic advancement, and yet she reports that scientists are finding a rapid decline in the self-esteem girls over the years. This is largely attributed, says Rachel, by the fact that our girls are being raised in what she calls a “yes, but” culture, meaning that of course they can be smart, of course they can be athletic, of course they can be inventive — but they have to be conventionally attractive and sexy while they do it.

“There has never been a better time to be a girl,” said the author. “Girls outpace boys in test scores, high school, college and graduate school rates. And yet it all depends on what you’re measuring.”

Rachel explained that although girls are cleaning up academically, their “psychological resumes” reflect the ideologies of 40 years ago in which girls are wary of drawing attention to themselves, their achievements, and their strengths. Girls become aware at quite a young age what it means to be traditionally feminine, which according to societal norms includes modesty, timidity, and any excuse to not draw attention to themselves for fear of “bragging.”

Rachel shared tidbits from her many interviews with young girls in which she asked what constitutes a “good girl.” The common answer was that she was “perfect” and “liked by everyone.”

Young girls may be excelling, but the stress they simultaneously feel to be skinny, pretty, and sexy rank just as high as their study habits. Rachel added that girls continue to get conflicting messages about power and authority, in which their brain is still not deemed more of an asset than their body. [tagbox tag=”sexism”]

To properly illustrate this phenomenon, Rachel concluded with a trend she has encountered in her own research. When inquiring who is the best runner in a classroom of first grade girls, all hands enthusiastically go up. Six-year-old girls can’t wait to share with her how fast they can tear across the playground. When asking the same question to girls a few years older, in fifth or sixth grade, the girls point to who they consider to be the best runner, automatically forfeiting themselves as a contender. And by the time girls get to the ninth grade, they’re embarrassed to even be identified by their peers.

Teaching girls and young women to take pride in their accomplishments is just as important as encouraging them to achieve them. Yet, our “yes, but” culture drives home the idea that unless they have a new boyfriend, a new weight loss plan, or a designer handbag, they still don’t have anything to brag about.

(photo: Shutterstock)

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