Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Girls Are Not Alright

Let’s see… things are not going very well for America’s girls. They are suffering from notable emotional problems and mental illnesses. Therapist Mary Pipher has the culprit in her sight. Hold on to your hats: it’s social media and smartphones.

Before presenting Pipher’s (and her daughter’s) exposition of how bad things are for girls in America today, I will remind you that, a quarter century ago, Pipher wrote a best selling book, later become a motion picture, called Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls.  The clunky title, in and of itself, ought to have warned you off the book. It’s a feminist tract, designed to do for adolescent girls what feminism had done for adult women. 

Whereas feminism had empowered women, it had not empowered girls. Thus, Pipher issued a “call to arms” to empower girls. If women are victims, then surely girls are pre-victims, bullied, harassed and demeaned by sexist men and oppressive patriarchs.

Since Betty Friedan promised that women who became feminists would naturally gain better mental health, Pipher offered the same promise with the same nostrum. The world had been aligned to oppress women. Women were suffering from a malady that had no name. Through Pipher the world discovered that girls too were suffering from the same problems. Now, by exercises in empowerment girls would be liberated, as were women.

Dare I say, the social experiment has not been a rousing success. Five decades of feminism and the workplace is fraught with sexual harassment. Apparently, all of that raised consciousness and sensitivity training has done what it was not supposed to do. It has made women victims, picturing them as weak and vulnerable. Or it has made them dangerous, even radioactive. While ideologues cry out for justice-- and who can really argue against them-- the truth remains that #MeToo has damaged women’s prospects in the workplace. 

However just the complaint or the accusation or the indictment, bringing down powerful men does not make women powerful. True power lies in building things, not in fighting against the patriarchy. And besides, why would anyone trust a woman who might, for all we know, be dedicated to overthrowing the patriarchy and to living out her jejune radical ideological fantasies. 

The feminist game plan, applied to the workplace, has seen more women rise in corporate ranks. But, it seems not to have garnered women very much respect or trust. As for the promise of enhanced mental health, it has not been quite what was promised. Unless you believe that hooking up is a good thing for women, and for their reputations. And unless you believe that the fertility crisis among older women is good for their health. And let’s not forget the spike it divorces, the increasing reluctance of anyone to get married, the increase in eating disorders and depression and anxiety… and you would have to say that five decades of feminism has not exactly fulfilled Betty Friedan’s promise.

And now, two and a half decades after Mary Pipher sounded the alarm about the way America brought up girls, the outcomes are clear. Things are getting worse for American girls. In a standard confusion between causation and correlation, Pipher suggests that the fault lies with… social media and other assorted techno gadgets. 

The moral is clear: Pipher cannot bring herself to take responsibility for the mess that she and some of her sisters produced. They are getting in front of the problem by shifting the blame. You can read her Wall Street Journal article from beginning to end and you will not find the least hint of a sense of responsibility for what she has done.

Like Friedan, Pipher has certainly contributed to the troubles that teenage girls are facing. Blaming it on social media and iPhones is far too convenient. It would have been more persuasive if she had been able to show that girls around the world, granted access to the same gadgets are suffering the same mental health problems. I suggest that she cannot do so because it isn’t true.

As for how feminism contributed to the problem, one would note that it has stripped young women of all social roles. It has made them into persons, not wives and mothers. It has unsexed them while at the same time insisting that they enjoy sex exactly as men and boys do. It tells them to be upfront, to assert themselves, to go for the gusto and to lean in. When it does not work, they blame men. So, no rules, no customs, no courtship, no division of sexual labor, no defined roles within the family… such is the feminist ethos. Too many American girls are lost and abandoned by adults. I am confident that they do not have Tiger Moms.

In the end, what did you expect? 

Pipher writes:

I have friends with debilitating problems like cutting and OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder],” a girl named Jordan recently told us. “It’s frustrating because I can’t help them. I mean, I’m only 14 myself.”

Young Americans have become unwitting guinea pigs in today’s huge, unplanned experiment with social media, and teenage girls like Jordan are bearing much of the brunt. In conversation after conversation, adolescent girls describe themselves as particularly vulnerable to the banes of our increasingly digital culture, with many of them struggling to manage the constant connectedness of social media, their rising levels of anxiety and the intense emotions that have always been central to adolescence.

Girls in 2019 tend to be risk-averse, focused on their studies and fond of their families. They are also experiencing high levels of depression and loneliness. A 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 36% of girls report being extremely anxious every day. They are particularly worried about school shootings, melting polar ice and their ability to afford college.

These girls have been brainwashed. They have been enlisted to fight to save the planet, to give their lives over to radical action against the patriarchy. 

Since the rules and roles designed to produce constructive relationships have been discarded, tossed onto the trash heap of history, these girls are living out the dream of being independent and autonomous. Which means, as no one ever told them and as their feminist foremothers never understood, being alone:

But girls today aren’t as self-sufficient as their counterparts in earlier decades: They are less likely to possess driver’s licenses, work outside the home or date.

They are also more solitary. Research from the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future project shows that, since 2007—the dawn of the smartphone era—girls have dramatically decreased the amount of time they spend shopping, seeing friends or going to movies. We found that many girls spend their Saturday nights home alone, watching Netflix and surfing social media.

If you enter a world where you do not know the game, do not know the rules, do not know the players, you will suffer from anomie. Today’s girls, having been disabused of any defined place in society suffer from panic attacks. Pipher continues:

When girls do eventually leave home, they often find themselves ill-prepared to navigate “real life.” In 2011, the American College Health Association reported that 31% of female freshmen said they had experienced overwhelming anxiety or panic attacks; by 2016, that had shot up to 62%.

Apparently, social media plays a role. Because, in the absence of defined rituals like dating and courtship, these girls are lost and bewildered:

The American Association of Pediatrics now warns that too much social-media use can lead to depression and anxiety. Social media works against basic developmental goals—physical, cognitive, relational, sexual and maturational. Girls sleep with their phones and react to every notification. As they create more interesting, supposedly happier virtual personas for themselves, their real selves diminish. Girls collect “likes” instead of making friends. They can be devastated by a cruel text or a tepid reaction to a selfie. Long before they hold hands with a date, they are exposed to online pornography and misogynistic messages.

In a sense, modern girls are never truly alone and never truly with others. In a 2018 national health survey by Cigna , girls reported the highest levels of loneliness on record.

“Honestly, sometimes I wish we were living in the ‘olden’ days, when kids hung out with friends and went on dates,” Genevieve, 16, told us. “But that just isn’t what my friends and I do.”

Many of the girls we interviewed articulated many of social media’s drawbacks even as they declared that they can’t live without it. “After an evening online, I go to bed feeling unhappy,” Izzie, 13, told us. “I wonder, ‘What did I do all day long?’ Then I wake up and do the same things the next day.”

Now, why do you think that these girls long for the “olden days” when they could hang out with friends and go on dates? Well, for one they have been liberated from such social constraints. They cannot prepare for traditional female roles, so they are less likely to find themselves in such roles. If they do, they will immediately believe that they are being oppressed. It does not make for a happy home or a happy marriage.

For her part Pipher encourages team sports and volunteerism. We concur heartily. And yet, those are surely not enough. Without structured social activities, without being a girl or a woman means something more than biology, these girls will remain lost. Unless of course they have Tiger Moms who prevent them from wasting their time on their phones. As it happens, Pipher suggests that girls make a pact with each other and choose to put their phones down at, say, 9:00 p.m. 

But, think about it. These are children. They are not adults. They ought to have parents in their homes, parents who can enforce rules about the use or misuse of cell phones. How strange to see Pipher discounting parental authority.

She notes that the girls have generally good relationships with their mothers, but they probably do not have good relationships with their fathers… because, you know, never trust a man… especially a patriarchal male.

Pipher continues, offering solutions:

Mothers and fathers need to protect their daughters (and sons) from the culture’s noxious elements and connect them to life’s goodness and beauty. In an increasingly complicated world, much of the answer is simple: Unplug and do the things families have done since the beginning of time—tell stories, laugh, work together and talk through life’s big questions.

Huh… life’s goodness and beauty… how about another dose of psychobabble. The answer is not very simple, especially when so many children live in broken homes or live in homes where their parents never bothered to get married at all.

As for a solution, how about family dinners, how about routinized family activities. And how about teaching some of these girls how to make a home, how to cook dinner… Naturally, in our day and for a Mary Pipher such ideas never cross their minds. If they do cross anyone's minds, the immediate response is that cooking dinner is a sign of oppression... producing neurosis and psychosis and mental illness and general misery. As it happens, girls who have been brought up to reject such roles seems to be suffering from all the emotional problems that liberation was supposed to cure.

And yet, if girls are going to have homes they ought to know how to make a home. Assuming that their mothers know how-- not very obvious-- they can engage in constructive activities like peeling potatoes and grilling zucchini and even setting a table. If not, they can go to war against their fathers and brothers, accusing them of being abusive for not doing enough housework.

Nowadays, girls are being recruited and trained to be the vanguard of the revolution. Pipher concludes on a dispiriting note:

This generation of girls, we found, is particularly eager to make its opinions heard and defend its rights. “I stand up for myself and others,” Greer, 16, told us. “It gives me hope, because when other girls accept themselves like I do, we can take all that energy and launch the Industrial Revolution of girl power.”

If that is what they have been brainwashed into thinking, they are lost. We should not be surprised to see that they are suffering from an epidemic of mental and emotional problems.

Their adult overladies should begin by taking responsibility for what they have done. These girls did not learn the lessons of girl power from their smart phones. They learned them from the culture, and not from men. Time to step up and accept responsibility, ladies. That would be a step in the right direction.


whitney said...

How many adults can put down their phones? I'm online every day even on days when I tell myself no. How about you?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I don't have a cellphone... solves the problem.

UbuMaccabee said...

When my wife and I go to dinner, I order for my wife, myself, and then for each of my phones (corporate and personal). I sometimes ask if the restaurant has a ‘phone menu’. It’s best done with a straight face and with a waiter who gets the gag and writes down my order. If it goes right, Bob Newhart would be proud. I’m ashamed, but it’s not my fault. I have an illness and am actively seeking therapy—to not feel shame, not to leave the phones at home.

Those girls are doomed. The solution is so far removed from anything in their field of vision that I cannot see how any of them can arrive at normal life. Good luck, I’m too old and selfish to care, and I have no obligations by being related.

whitney said...

I am completely nonplussed by that response. I don't even know how that's possible

Anonymous said...

When the telegraph was first invented, a journalist marveled: "With this invention, there is no is all here."

If wired communication greatly reduced the sense of *elsewhere*, it seems that portable wireless communication greatly reduces the sense of *here and now*.

I have actually seen a person stop midway going through a door to stare at their cell phone.

David Foster

trigger warning said...

The "Industrial Revolution of girl power".


JPL17 said...

Reply to Anonymous's comment, "portable wireless communication greatly reduces the sense of *here and now* .... I have actually seen a person stop midway going through a door to stare at their cell phone":

I've seen worse; i.e., I've watched a twenty-something woman cross 9th Avenue in NYC into the path of a huge, speeding SUV that had just run a red light, while she blithely stared at her cell phone ignoring my repeated screams to "Look out!". Fortunately for her, she snapped out of her daze when I changed my scream to "STOP!", halting just a split second before (and only 3 inches from where) she would have been killed instantly.

To a certain demographic, 'tis more important to have a reputation for snappy text messaging than to live.

Anonymous said...

It’s been very well documented that all the leading players of the Silicon Valley hegemony either curtail severely - or sometimes even forbid completely - the use of social media by their own children, for fear of its deleterious effects on them. Loren Brichter, who designed the ‘pull to refresh’ function on a noted social media platform, designed it to mimic the handle function on a slot machine. Addiction was built in to the design deliberately. It’s hard for the young people of today to fight against such malice aforethought.

Sam L. said...

I have a flip phone. It's usually OFF.

trigger warning said...

I'm betting "pull to refresh" brings up a "new" set of ads and eyeballs revenue. If so, clever! In my intro stats class, I used to show images of a board above a casino roulette wheel as a perfect training machine for the Gambler's Fallacy. It's fascinating how cheaply a money machine can be built.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

I am struck by how America is plagued by so many angry victims. All they want is MORE and they want it NOW. It’s getting tiresome.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

No doubt Government needs to DO SOMETHING!

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

“Get action; do things; be sane; don't fritter away your time; create; act; take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action.”
(Theodore Roosevelt)

Good advice here,methinks.

Sam L. said...

whitney, you must be severely minused!

"Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...
No doubt Government needs to DO SOMETHING!" No, no, NO! Don't give them any ideas! On your own head be it (as long as it is attached...)!

Anonymous said...

All women and young girls had to do were do what they asked men and young boys to do. Men and young boys neede to remember that women and young girls were our mothers, daughters, sisters, et al. For the most part, men and young boys did try to thing of women and young girls as an important part of our lives against some of being portrayed as toxic. Unfortunately, women and young girls never paid any attention to the other side of the equation. Men and young boys were their fathers, husbands, sons, et al. Point in fact that the condemned men and young boys to the point where men and young boys no longer cared about women and young girls and started to separate themselves in a significant number of ways.
They made their own special HELL by not remembering that respect and all of the other kindnesses go both ways. It is hard to feel sorrow for someone who believes you are the enemy. Men and young boys rightly have no reason to care. At what point are women going to recognize their own responsibility in building a wall between what is the most important relationship that human being is a part. I hesitate to extrapolate the growing problems that will befall the human race and especially women and young girls. The pendulum always swings back the other way no matter how one attempts to impede its progress.

Anonymous said...

Yep. I'm with the "I don't have a smart phone" crowd. More people should consider the consequences of being available to anyone, any time of the day. (One odd consequence is, because THEY are on it all day and night, they assume all other adults are, as well....which means an ADULT population which can no longer fathom that people are not addicted, as they are, as in the first comment. Wow.)