I realize that some evangelical conservatives who read Mary Pipher would prefer John Piper on the subject of adolescent girls and women. However, I think Mary Pipher comes closer to the biblical truth that God uniquely and majestically creates each young woman into a masterpiece of abilities, talents and gifts. Sin plays its part in destroying the image of God in the life of a woman, but Pipher makes a very good argument that sexism and Western cultural rituals have played an even greater role in deforming the uniqueness, character and self-perception of adolescent girls. Read on:
"Psychology has a long history of ignoring girls this age. Until recently adolescent girls haven't been studied by the academics, and they have long baffled therapists ...Simone de Beauvoir believed adolescence is when girls realize that men have the power and that their power comes from consenting to become submissive adored objects. Dr. Beauoir says, "Young girls slowly bury their childhood, put away their independent and imperious selves and submissivley enter adult existence." Adolescent girls experience a conflict between their autonomous selves and their need to be feminine, between their status as human beings and their vocation as females. Dr. Beauvior says, "Girls stop being and start seeming."
Girls become "female impersonators" who fit their whole selves into small, crowded spaces. Vibrant, confident girls become shy, doubting young women. Girls stop thinking, "Who am I? What do I want?" and start thinking, "What must I do to please others?"
Olive Schreiner wrote of her experiences as a young girl in The Story of the African Farm. "The world tells us what we are to be and shape us by the ends it sets before us. To men it says, work. To us it says, seem. The less a woman has in her head the lighter she is for carrying." She described the finishing school that she attended in this way: "It was a machine for condensing the soul into the smallest possible area. I have seen some souls so compressed that they would have filled a small thimble."
Adolescence is when girls experience social pressure to put aside their authentic selves and to display only a small portion of their gifts. This pressure disorients and depresses most girls. They sense the pressure to be someone they are not ... Parents know only too well that something is happening to their daughters. Calm, considerate daughters grow moody, demanding and distant. Girls who loved to talk are sullen and secretive. Girls who like to hug now bristle when touched. Mothers complain that they can do nothing right in the eyes of their daughters. Involved fathers bemoan their sudden banishment from their daughters' lives. But few parents realize how universal their experiences are. Their daughters are entering a new land, a dangerous place that parents can scarcely comprehend.
With puberty, girls face enormous cultural pressure to split into false selves. The pressure comes from schools, magazines, music, television, advertisements and movies. It comes from peers. Girls can be true to themselves and risk abandonment by their peers, or they can reject their true selves and be socially acceptable. Most girls choose to be socially accepted and split into two selves, one that is authentic and one that is culturally scripted (emphasis mine). In public they become who they are supposed to be ... While the rules for proper female behavior aren't clearly stated, the punishment for breaking them is harsh. Girls who speak frankly are labeled as bitches. Girls who are not attractive and skinny are scorned. The rules are reinforced by the visual images in soft- and hard-core pornography, by song lyrics, by casuual remarks, by criticism, by teasing and by jokes.
To totally accept the cultural definitions of feminity and conform to the pressures is to kill self. Girls who do this are the "Muffy's and "Barbie dolls" with hair and smiles in place and a terrible deadness underneath. They are the one who make me want to shout "Don't give up, fight back." Often girls who try to conform overshoot the mark. For example, girls with anexoria have tried too hard to be slender, feminine and perfect. They have become thin, shiny packages, outwardly carefully wrapped and inwardly a total muddle.
Girls have long been trained to be feminine and beautiful at considerable cost to their humanity. They have long been evaluated on the basis of appearance and caught in myriad double binds: achieve, but not too much; be polite, but be yourself; be feminine and adult; be aware of our cultural heritage, but don't comment on sexism. Another way to describe this femininity training is to call it false self-training. Girls are trained to be less than who they really are. They are trained to be what the culture wants of its young women, not what they themselves want to become.
America today is a girl-destroying place. Everywhere girls are encouraged to sacrifice their true selves. Their parents may fight to protect them, but their parents have limited power. Many girls lose contact with their true selves, and when they do, they become extraordinarily vulnerable to a culture that is all too happy to use them for its purposes.
Intelligent resistance keeps the true self alive." (From pages 22-23; 37-38; 44).