Girls, like boys, feel fully human

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:

    • 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 Bitchall 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.

Boys get all kinds of cultural crap too, but on the whole it’s better crap. It’s less belittling crap.



  1. Alukonis, metal ninja says

    This also causes some of the “chill girl” phenomenon, by girls/women who think “feminine stuff is stupid and crap, I am not stupid and crap, therefore all the masculine stuff must be for me!” and thus they feel pressured to sit around and do “guy stuff” and make misogynistic jokes and “have a sense of humor” and so forth, in a sense giving up their femaleness because they’ve absorbed that to be fully female is to be less than human, so they must distinguish themselves as “not one of THOSE girls” to retain their humanity.

  2. says

    I am so glad you drew my attention to this piece. Yes, this, a thousand times! I went through years in school being “one of the boys” to fit in, laughing at their jokes about women because I “had a sense of humour” (ugh, how embarrassing), ignoring comments about how it was “surprising I was as feminine as I was and still a scientist”, and it got to the point where I couldn’t just pretend that the obvious, and public, disdain for my gender was anything other than disdain. Having to pretend I don’t like “girly stuff” because that somehow makes me less of a person? I don’t want my daughter to grow up in a world where she has to pretend she is something other than what she is and I don’t want her to have to be angry, like I am.

  3. callistacat says

    “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.”

    I have panic disorder, it started around the time (19yo) these micro-aggressions became just a little too overwhelming. Coincidence? I’ve been dealing with panic disorder my entire adult life, it’s gotten in the way of my education and work and life in general. I wanted to go into philosophy or psychology or neurology when I was in high school. It’s always been hard to articulate this.

  4. Katkinkate says

    I reacted by bowing out of it all. I’ve sat on the outskirts watching the world go by and not taking part beyond the necessary to live and work. It’s like I didn’t like or understand the rules and the double standards I was expected to accept and decided to ignore the whole thing and the male half of the population as much as possible. I won’t play by their rules so I’m not allowed to play, don’t want to anyway, so there.

  5. GordonWillis says

    This is a wonderful post. I think it is 100% true. I would like to see many many many more such courageous expressions. I’d like to see MRA’s and bishops and imams and politicians buckle under the sheer weight of angry protest, and I’d like to see arrogant people like Paula Kirby, who see fit to despise those who are not as adaptable or as strong as she, put very firmly in their places. I think that women need to be in a position to dictate terms before there can be any general improvement in our mutual relations, and for that overwhelming support is needed.

  6. PatrickG says

    Great post, even if I now want to go back to bed from reading it and the links. I just have one (perhaps dumb) question: what is an SDS man? I googled it, but all I can find are lines of clothing.

  7. MyaR says

    Students for a Democratic Society?

    This. Probably part of the reason I didn’t go to grad school and effectively dropped out of society for a few years.

  8. ewanmacdonald says

    The link to the critique of the UN Declaration on Human Rights was extremely powerful, too. I’d never actually read the Declaration – I had no idea that it was couched almost entirely in masculine language. As the critique says:

    The ringing language in Article 1 encourages us to ‘act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’ Must we be men before its spirit includes us? Lest this be seen as too literal, if we were all enjoined to ‘act towards one another in a spirit of sisterhood,’ would men know it meant them, too?

    One need only recall the unedifying tantrums from the MRAs and their enablers in the atheist movement when someone had the gall to suggest that women should lead in atheism to know that, no, they wouldn’t know that. (In fairness this is another way in which sexism and gender wars damage all of us – because a lot of men perceive adversaries where none really exist.)

  9. John the Drunkard says

    And oh, how the relentless crushing of the right to be angry at wrongs poisons our culture!

    This links to the reluctance to name names and call out evil bastards as the appropriate primary response to creeps and trolls. Men too, still show the same reluctance when they relativse and diminish the evil behaviour of sociopaths in any given community.

  10. says

    Thanks very much for posting. I honestly definitely recognize myself in some of the points that are made in the article. Anger about all the little things and some big things that I experience that are sexist (that all build up to create a huge problem) has motivated me keep trying, keep trying to get away from it. Sometimes, it starts to feel like I’ll never be able to get away from it. Because no matter how hard I work to show that girls and women can be just a good as boys and men, there’s always this demand that there are certain things that just have to stay the way they are … because that’s just how we’ve always done things … because it’s our culture and so on. We’re in this situation where many people concede that women should be able to take on responsibilities that were once considered men’s work (like getting an education or a job outside the home) but don’t want us to have full equality … so we get more responsibility but not the same rights, not the same treatment that acknowledges our equal status as humans.

    And often the response to the anger is to tell girls we’ll grow out of it or learn better (i.e. learn not to bring it up anymore since no one listens) when we’re older.

    (Sorry if my comment is kind of rambling …)

  11. Godless Heathen says

    @callistacat – It’s interesting that you mention that. I have social anxiety disorder (although it’s pretty well managed now) and it started around the time those microagressions started (12 yo). Although there were more immediate causes of it, one of the ways I dealt with not wanting to get any attention from anyone by wearing jeans and t-shirts that weren’t form fitting and avoiding tank tops as much as possible. I was really uncomfortable being treated as a sex object. Still am, but I deal with it in different ways now.

    @Katkinkate – I’ve also gone through periods of bowing out. I did that for the first year I lived in the city I’m in now. I only stopped avoiding things about three months ago. I’m still negotiating which rules to follow and which rules to break, particularly because this city tends to be conservative in dress and style (although not necessarily politically).

  12. Godless Heathen says

    Addendum to my number 12:

    I also first developed depression around age 12 and 13 when I first started having to deal with older strangers on the street treating me or my friends as sex objects even though we were only 12!

    It was also around that time that I started hanging out with girls who weren’t as active as I was used to. I always felt that girls at that age tend to engage in fewer active activities when hanging out with their friends than boys do. (Lots of girls still participate in organized physical activity).

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