Soraya Chemaly on girls turning anger into depression.
To become a woman, especially a woman of color, in our culture is cognitively dissonant, and girls respond differently to that experience. Girls, like boys, feel fully human, but culture tells them that they are not. Even the most privileged girls, those that can afford doctors, psychologists, good schools excellent teams, etc. etc. get this message. Sometimes they rebel, sometimes they compartmentalize, sometimes they agitate for change, sometimes they bury their heads in the sand, sometimes they conform, sometimes they get angry. Sometimes their anger is pathologized instead of given free expression because we’d rather call it anything but anger.
I think it took me an exceptionally long time to notice that. I think it wasn’t until I started getting pissed off about my older sister’s weirdly minimal life that I noticed it. That wasn’t until I was 18 or so. Then I started getting pissed off about all the mouthy SDS men and their silent passive girl friends at my university, and I was launched. But until then – I didn’t get the message. Probably because I went to a girls’ school.
You know what else happens in the buildup to puberty besides the “hormonal problems” that beset girls? Girls have to come to terms with a broad assault on their sense of self. They face a daily virtual avalanche of micro-aggressions whose messages would anger and sadden any thoughtful, sane adult. Think about what girls experience as young children and they enter puberty:
- Seeing virtually no valued stories told about you or the women around you in the world. We are nowhere near gender balanced in our storytelling – not in books, not in movies,theatre, history lessons, bylines or TV– and girls and boys see this. (Even among those that are told on TV and the theatre, most fail the Bechdel Test)
- Repeatedly processing the information that our culture thinks being you or like you. (a) Is the ultimate insult. What girl hasn’t heard “cry like a girl,” “throw like a girl” or “scream like a girl?” and (b) Means you’re untrustworthy, catfighting and backstabbing (ie. Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl, Don’t Trust the Bitch…all of reality TV)
Yes, yes, yes, yes. All of that. The “like a girl” thing is starting to truly eat at me, because of what it must do to all the actual girls. All those men who think it’s hilarious to “insult” each other that way? They need to stop doing that right now.
- Having your ideas and interests, abilities and hard work take back seat to your sexualization (Note: NOT your sexuality). Girls are repeatedly told through media messages that their “hotness” is paramount, regardless of anything they say, do or aspire to. There is a reason that, “by the age of 14, girls drop out of sports at twice the rate that boys do.”
- Intuiting and experiencing the worlds’ relentless desire to cut you in to bits and pieces while retaining the wholeness of your male counterparts. Girls feel like human individuals, but eventually see themselves in culture, their sisters and mothers and friends portrayed and spoken about as animals, objects, commodities. (Gee, just around the age of puberty. Huh. What a coincidence.) All for the pleasure or use of others.
Boys get all kinds of cultural crap too, but on the whole it’s better crap. It’s less belittling crap.