What About the Girls?

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Image by bass_nroll via Flickr

There are two very important topics relating to girls’ self-esteem weighing heavy on my mind lately.  Both deal with the fate of young women and how they think of themselves and each other.

Cyberbullying and Teens

First, I’d like to call attention to the recent surge of suicides among teen girls due to cyberbullying.

In Massachusetts, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hung herself two months ago after repeated verbal assaults by classmates on social networking sites. And, horror of horrors, the nine bullies who are being charged with harassment, stalking and rape, mocked her death online after she passed.

According to an article in the New York Times, “two boys and four girls, ages 16 to 18, face a different mix of felony charges that include statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury, harassment, stalking and disturbing a school assembly. Three younger girls have been charged in juvenile court, Elizabeth D. Scheibel, the Northwestern district attorney, said at a news conference in Northampton, Mass.”

There’s a similar case underway in New York regarding 17-year-old Alexis Pilkington and the harassment she experienced on Facebook that also drove her to commit suicide. Both of these incidences show the intense need for intervention among teen interactions. In both cases, boys and girls were involved in the torment of these girls.  And, given how easy it is to verbally attack someone on Facebook or Twitter, we need to find ways of protecting girls’ self-esteem — and their lives. Even bullying among boys is often related to gender issues, specifically the notion of being more “masculine.”  Blogger Kelly Croy talks about his experiences with bullies and what he thinks people should know about it.

Not sure what cyberbullying is exactly?

  • Sending mean, vulgar, or threatening messages or images via email, text, instant message, or by posting on social networking sites.
  • Posting sensitive or private information about another person (this includes sexting).
  • Posing as someone else to make that person look bad online.
  • Intentionally excluding someone from an online group.

In an article I wrote for Channel One News you can get a closer look at cyberbullying and its affect on teens, including very interesting studies about teen behavior online and information about the psychological effects of bullying: http://www.channelone.com/news/cyberbullies/.

Women’s History Month: What Girls Need to Know

One of my other concerns for girls and young women involves self-esteem and pride. I was thinking about Women’s History Month.  I haven’t seen many tributes to women in the media. Have people forgotten about the rich cultural history women’s rights has brought to the world? Shouldn’t we be teaching young women to take pride in their accomplishments and honor those of other women?

I read this article by Allison Kimmich, about how women’s historical achievements should be incorporated in school curriculum better.  Kimmich is right. Much of what is taught about women leaders, revolutionaries, writers and activists ends up in the recycle bin after the month is over. We need to move beyond creating poster boards and find ways of including women in the classroom.

Kimmich makes another great point, women also need to be encouraged in the fields of math, science and technology. She recounted an anecdote about her daughter that reminiscent of the classroom gender dynamic many experience growing up.

“When my daughter was 5, she announced after school one day that ‘girls don’t do science.’ And in a recent meeting, her third-grade teacher praised her for helping a male classmate keep his desk neat.  So my daughter learned quickly that girls are not ‘supposed’ to excel in certain subjects, but teachers reward ‘feminine’ behaviors such as caretaking and neatness — sometimes more than, or in place of academic performance.”

Though these two aspects of you gender culture among youth seem disparate — they are not.  The subjugation of young girls and the pressure to be “feminine,” which can include taking abuse, not standing up for one’s self and even being tidy in the classroom, are all gender norms we impose upon young girls. We must teach them to defend who they are and their interests in order to preserve and encourage self-esteem among girls and women.

Until we are willing to accept that these problems are gender related and the roots lay deep in the stereotypes females grow from — we will continue to see young women suffer from problems like cyberbullying, low-self esteem, depression, suicide and even a disinterest in more “masculine” studies like math and science.

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