Monday, July 11, 2011

Read Elsewhere: Pressure

"There is, however, ample evidence that the more mainstream media girls consume, the more importance they place on being pretty and sexy.  And a ream of studies shows that teenage girls and college students who hold conventional beliefs about femininity - especially those that emphasize beauty and pleasing behavior - are less ambitious and more likely to be depressed than their peers . . .

Meanwhile . . . girls repeatedly described a paralyzing pressure to be "perfect":  not only to get straight As and be the student body president, editor of the newspaper, and captain of the swim team but also to be "kind and caring," please everyone, be very thin, and dress right."  Rather than living the dream, then, those girls were straddling a contradiction:  struggling to fulfill all the new expectations we have for them without letting go of the old ones.  Instead of feeling greater latitude and choice in how to be female - which is what one would hope - they now feel they must not only "have it all" but be it all:  Cinderella and Supergirl.  Aggressive and agreeable.  Smart and stunning . . .

In her brilliant book Enlightened Sexism, Susan Douglas refers to this as the bargain girls and women strike, the price of success, the way they unconsciously defuse the threat their progress poses to male dominance.  'We can excel in school, play sports, go to college, aspire to - and get - jobs previously reserved for men, be working mothers, and so forth.  But in exchange we must obsess about our faces, weight, breast size, clothing brands, decorating, perfectly calibrated child-rearing, about pleasing men and being envied by other women.'"

-Peggy Orenstein, Cinderella Ate My Daughter


  1. Yes. That last paragraph, especially, is like a punch to the gut.

  2. Sigh. This is something that I always worry about for Anna. Did she address how to change this or how to help our daughters somehow avoid this "fate." I've been plagued with it myself. It drew me to my career and out of it, it directed much of my life. In my Master's thesis, I studied the impact of the thin ideal in the's so pervasive. How do we change this picture of what a woman is "supposed" to be? How do we change how we and our daughters view our selves, our femininity, our imperfections? Thanks for posting.

  3. Kel, she does address it a little towards the end of the book, but she doesn't have any tidy solutions. I checked out her website after finishing the book (which I would recommend for you; I wish I had read it five years ago), and I love this list of resources she shares there: