Adolescence is one of the most difficult times for development. This difficulty is experienced very differently for boys and girls. This paper will examine how gender role socialization effects girls more specifically, the emergence of eating disorders and depression in adolescent girls.
Mary Pipher, Ph.D. in her book “Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls”, discusses extensively the varied and difficult road that adolescent girls travel to adulthood. This book is a collection of Pipher’s experiences with clients, her daughter, and her own adolescence as well as a thought provoking social examination. The title refers to William Shakesphere’s character Ophelia, the young girl who drowned herself in a river after being shunned by Hamlet. Ophelia is the epitome of lost female youth. The transition that happens from girl to woman is quite difficult for most.
Pipher examines the loss of self that most girls experience in their adolescence. She brings up the fact that preadolescent girls have the ability to be androgynous, as well as an interest in nearly everything. Gender roles are not limiting at this age, it is their time away from the female gender role. The onset of puberty changes most girls into very confused and ever changing creatures. They go from being carefree to careful of what their every move is. Most adolescent girls are hyper aware of themselves, over analytical of the reactions they receive from others, are critical of their bodies, and they “crash and burn in a social and developmental Bermuda Triangle”.
The central question Pipher asks is “why are American adolescent girls falling prey to depression, eating disorders, and suicide attempts at an alarming rate?” There is no easy answer to Pipher’s question. Is the problem girls face a product of our culture? Or, is the problem that adolescent girls face a natural part of becoming an adult? Piphers answer is that the problem girls face is both culturally ...
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... to behave in the same manner that their parents behave in within all situations? Girls are highly aware of the behavior of their parents, as well as the expectations of who they should become. Women are everywhere in advertisements, selling toothpaste, beer, auto insurance, and coffee. The concept of a ideal woman is one who is passive and yet strong, a caregiver who sacrifices all to provide for everybody else. That role is so terrifying to many that it is either rejected, mixed up, or deeply internalized. Anorexics may just be the reality of this perfect woman. Thin, in control, passive, and concerned with what others want of them physically the anorexic seems to embody all the qualities we attribute to perfection. Is that truly what one should aspire to become?
The role of a woman is ever changing. Perhaps one day it will adapt to be more androgynous. Women and men should both strive to become more then just masculine and feminine counterparts. They should be free to rise above masculinity and femininity, to a more equal and blended place.
Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. Pipher, Mary P.h. D. Ballentine Books: Random House 1994.
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