Friday, March 22, 2013

Reviving Ophelia: A Reading

"Most preadolescent girls are marvelous company because they are interested in everything -- sports, nature, people, music, and books. Almost all the heroines of girls' literature come from this age group -- Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, Pippi Longstocking and Caddie Woodlawn. Girls this age bake pies, solve mysteries, and go on quests. They can take care of themselves and are not yet burdened with caring for others. [...] 
Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence. Just as planes and ships disappear mysteriously into the Bermuda Triangle, so to do the selves of girls go down in droves. They crash and burn in a social and developmental Bermuda Triangle. In early adolescence, studies show that girls' IQ scores drop and their math and science scores plummet. They lose their resiliency and optimism and become less curious and inclined to take risks. They lose their assertive, energetic, and "tomboyish" personalities and become more deferential, self-critical, and depressed. [...]  
Psychology documents but does not explain the crashes. Girls who rushed to drink in experiences in enormous gulps sit quietly in the corner. Writers such as Slyvia Plath, Margaret Atwood, and Olive Schreiner have described the wreckage. Diderot, in writing to his young friend SOphie Volland, described his observations harshly: 'You all die at 15.' [...]  Simon de Beauvoir believed that adolescence is when girls realize that men have the power and that their only power comes from consenting to become submissive adored objects. They do not suffer from the penis envy Freud postulated, but from power envy.

She described the Bermuda Triangle this way: Girls who were the subjects of their own lives become the objects of others' lives. 'Young girls slowly bury their childhood, put away their independent and imperious selves and submissively enter adult existence.' [...]
Girls know they are losing themselves. One girl said, 'Everything good in me died in junior high.' [...] Parents know only too well that something is happening to their daughters. Calm, considerate daughters grow moody, demanding and distant. Girls who loved to talk are sullen and secretive. Girls who liked to hug now bristle when touched. Mothers complain that they can do nothing right in the eyes of their daughters. Involved fathers bemoan their banishment from their daughters' lives. But few parents realize how universal their experiences are.

pp. 19-21, 23, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, Mary Pipher.


  1. This book was published for 1990s America, so I can't help but wonder how true it is outside of that context.

  2. Having been a teenage girl once, and having read this book IN my teenage years, I think that it's accurate. I mean, this particular snippet is a fairly flat taste of the book as a whole, but the idea that girls go through this incredibly emotional and mental change is basically true. Not all, of course, which I award to exceedingly successful parenting, but for the most part, girls enter their teen years only to find that the entire world is looking at them differently, and we have to either shrug that off--a difficult task for someone so young--or change how we react to being seen. I could postulate for hours.


Thank you for visiting! Because of some very clever spambots, I've had to start moderating comments more strictly, but they're approved throughout the day.