Hill's piece, titled "After Feminism: What Are Girls Supposed To Do?" focuses on the increasingly difficult lives of teenage girls, and how hard it's become to navigate those tricky years thanks to societal pressures regarding success, sexuality, and intelligence. The consistently mixed messages being sent to young girls, Hill notes, have lead to an increase in eating disorders, behavioral problems, and "risky behaviors" amongst the already vulnerable population: "Who, after all, wouldn't feel confused and unhappy being raised in this brave new world that demands super-skinny, super-sexy and super-brainy all at the same time?"
As Jezebel notes, every generation gets their own “isn’t anyone thinking about the children?!” stories, and there is always something new to panic about. I like to give teenage girls the benefit of the doubt when it comes to navigating the difficult terrain of growing up, since myself, my sisters, and all of my friends seemed to turn out just fine. But girls today are definitely facing a different world than I did when I was younger.
However, there are a few things that bother me about this article. First is the title. It insinuates that feminism is somehow to blame for teenage girls getting into trouble with police and flunking out of school because they have “too many choices.” Please. This is not why they are doing these things, and I’m so tired of hearing the argument that too many choices are the root of women’s problems. Choice is a good thing.
Another issue I have is with the murky statistics, for example this:
A number of other studies, both in the UK and elsewhere, have indeed come to similar conclusions. Last week government research into 42,073 children between the ages of 10 and 15 concluded that teenage girls were a vulnerable demographic, urgently in need of help.
This sounds quite alarmist, but what exactly does “vulnerable” mean, and what kind of help do they need? How urgent is this need for help? And what kind of help are we talking about here?
I will agree with a few points here. First of all, if girls are indeed facing more instances of depression, eating disorders, and other illnesses, they should be treated appropriately. This shouldn't be taken lightly.
Next, girls are definitely facing more pressure to fit in in a highly sexualized culture, where sexuality, rather than intelligence and competence, is seen as a source of empowerment:
The sex industry has moved from the margin to the mainstream. Girls are besieged by images that glorify a pornographic view of women. There is a lap-dancing club in every town centre, six-year-old girls are bought fashion accessories adorned with the Playboy logo, Shakira writhes on all fours in a cage on MTV.
Ariel Levy chronicled this phenomenon in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs, which explored how women use their sexuality as power, a trend she traces back to conflicts between the women's movement and the sexual revolution long left unresolved. You see examples of this with women lifting their shirts for Girls Gone Wild, stripping being considered empowering, and the fact that a woman runs Playboy. Now these ideologies are being placed on younger and younger women. Feminists today are working to make girls see that their self worth does not reside in their sexuality, and Jessica Valenti makes this point with her book The Purity Myth, which is about the abstinence movement and the “cult” of virginity. Girls being encouraged to hold on to their virginity to be “pure” and girls who are told to give it up to “popular” are facing the exact same message: your self worth is dependent on your sexuality.
This needs to change, but I’m not sure what the answers are to solve this problem. Hill doesn’t provide any answers either (another problem I had with this piece). We can’t stop advertising companies from sexualizing women or women like Paris Hilton from becoming a celebrity because of a sex tape, so maybe the answer lies with reaching the girls first- before the media gets to them.
Getting girls into programs, sports, and other activities that bring out and celebrate their talents, and encouraging them to work hard at what they are good at, and find power through those attributes rather than their looks can help. This is a daunting task, as the amount of influence the media has on them is great. But media literacy should be a part of everyone’s education- boys and girls- from a young age.
I also think that there should be initiatives to support both sexes as they grow up. Teaching girls that their self worth doesn't reside with their sexuality will be much more effective if boys are taught that, too. Boys are also facing similar pressures as these girls that are different than the pressure their fathers faced, and even if they aren't "suffering" in the way girls are, the issue should be addressed as well.
For more thoughts, check out the comments on this post.