Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Girls Under Pressure: Can a YA Book Help?

A new study in Scotland finds tween and teen girls crumbling under cultural pressure: 
Over the two decades, (Helen) Sweeting found that, while the 15-year-old boys she spoke to had experienced a small increase in psychological distress, the number of girls of the same age reporting mental issues from mild anxiety to issues serious enough to justify hospital treatment, had jumped sharply ... "Girls are growing up schooled like no other in the fine art of dissatisfaction – with their lives, their possessions and their bodies."
Assuming a growing global homogeneity of youth culture, I shared this article on twitter today and asked two questions:
  1. Are there cultural sub-pockets where strong girls find shelter from the "be successful *and* sexy or else" stress storm?

  2. When it comes to cultural pressure on teen girls, should YA writers try to mend, join the trend, or neither?
Theater, sports, Girl Scouts, fasting from media, and strong families were among the responses to the first question. (If you have others, leave them in the comments.)

As for the question of responsible writing for tweens and teens without didacticism, Janni Lee Simner, author of Bones of Faerie, gave this balanced answer: "They should try to show [the pressure] truly — to give it and readers a voice."

Books were definitely a haven for me in the face of cultural pressure, even though I came of age in a much less stressful time for girls. That's why I'm proud Secret Keeper made the 2010 ALA Amelia Bloomer List, a bibliography "intended to highlight feminist books examining women’s history, those that celebrate women who have blazed trails, and those that describe problems and identify solutions for situations we face today."

3 comments:

MissAttitude said...

I suppose in religions girls can feel safe and have no pressure to be sexy. I definitely agree with the sports one! Bit I also think ins sports there is a lot of pressure to be sucessful and WIN.But that drive can be good. In most extracurriculars activites really, whther it be debate team, Model UN, math team, medical club, etc. these help shelter girls and help us to grow and feel more confident that we can do anything.

This is a sad study and I imagine if girls in Scotland feel this way, American girls feel it even more. I know I do.

Joanna said...

I am a graduate of and a former teacher in an all-girls high school. I highly encourage parents to consider single-sex education for their teen girls. I realize that this is not feasible for many, but for those to whom it is accessible it is an invaluable opportunity. This article articulates the argument much better than I could http://www.newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/graduates-of-all-girls-schools-85038.aspx.

As for the responsibility of YA writers, I feel the mere fact that YA literature has completely exploded since I was a teen in the mid 90s is enough . I read adult fiction as a teen because there wasn’t much around then (or nobody was pointing it out to me) and by then I’d already outgrown Francine Pascal’s blond twins (worthy of another whole discussion). As the mother of a girl, an educator, and a library student, I feel it is the responsibility adult readers to connect teen girls with stories that portray strong heroines.

Thanks for the thought provoking post!

Kristi Bernard said...

I agree that girls coming from strong families are more self defined and less interested in getting caught up in the peer pressure of sex.

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