Commentary – For Girls, It’s Be Yourself, and Be Perfect Too

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For those of you who didn't see Sara Rimer's “For Girls, It’s Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too”, one of The New York Times most e-mailed and blogged about articles this week, here's the link.

Link: For Girls, It’s Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too – New York Times.

There are so many quotable quotes in this article. I'll highlight four:

1. To anyone who knows 17-year-old Esther Mobley, one of the best students (Esther is a standout in AP Latin, honors philosophy/literature, an actress, and president of her church youth group) at one of the best public high schools (Newton North High School just outside of Boston) in the country, it is absurd to think she doesn't measure up. But Esther herself is quick to set the record straight — ‘First of all, I'm a terrible athlete…'

WJ commentary:
Do you remember Anna Fels' article “Do women lack ambition?” Quoting Fels, “Women refuse to claim a central, purposeful place in their stories, eagerly shifting the credit elsewhere and shunning recognition.” Esther's comment that she's a terrible athlete seems to be her way of sending the message that she really is feminine (e.g. by giving recognition away to anyone but herself) when society would say that her achievements and ambition suggest otherwise.

2. While it is now cool to be smart, it is not enough to be smart. You still have to be pretty, thin, and hot…effortlessly hot.

WJ Commentary:
The need to be hot seems to me like overcompensation. As if girls will be forgiven for being smart and capable if they are uber-feminine. In the case of Esther and her friends, they seem to be equating sexy with feminine.

3. I would rather be considered too assertive and less conventionally feminine than be totally passive and a bystander in my life….

[Someone I] admire [is] Cristina (Sandra Oh) on Grey's Anatomy who stands up for herself and is gorgeous and wears cute lingerie.

WJ Commentary:
Can you imagine a man saying, “I'd rather be considered too kind and less conventionally masculine” and in the same breath tell you he really likes Arnold Schwarzenegger's tenderness in the film “True Lies?” I can't either.

4. In Esther's application to Smith, her father wrote a letter, explaining that when Esther was a baby, they had gone to his wife's 10th college reunion. He described the alumni parade as an ‘angelic procession of women in white, decade by decade, at every stage in the course of human life…I still remember holding Esther as I watched those saints go marching by..and thinking I want Esther to be in that number'.

WJ Commentary:
To what extent are we as parents the keeper of our children's dreams? Do we want our children to measure up to some mistaken standard (perhaps a standard our parents/society set for us which we are now perpetuating)? And in so doing, are we inadvertently raising our daughters to believe that they are Leah rather than the Rachel they knew they were as young girls?

Enough of my pontificating, do you agree or disagree with my commentary? Why? Why not?

Any thoughts on how this article would have been different had the storyteller been a man rather than a woman? Would it have been written?

What have you watched or read or listened to lately, vis-a-vis women's hopes and dreams, that gave you pause?

When you have capably completed a task, and were inevitably congratulated, did you try to deflect attention away from you by saying “It was nothing,” or maybe pointing out something that you aren't good at?

Any thoughts on how we can change the standards by which we measure our children, and perhaps more importantly, ourselves?

Finally, what can we do to dream our own dreams, and teach our children to dream theirs?

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