Sunday, February 19, 2012

Judaism's Girl Power!

Today's girls face significant pressure. They are at higher risk for depression, eating disorders and even suicide. Dr. Stephen Hinshaw, in his book The Triple Bind- *Be Pretty, Sweet and Nice * Be Athletic, Competitive and Get Straight A's,* Be Impossibly Perfect sums it all up in his title. Dr. Hinshaw informally refers to the above triple bind as having three elements.
  1. Be good at all of the traditional girl stuff.”
  2. Be good at most of the traditional guy stuff.”
  3. Conform to a narrow, unrealistic set of standards that allows for no alternative.”
  1. Be good at all of the traditional girl stuff.  Listed amongst these skills are being pretty, nice, having empathy, being cooperative, having relationships and making sure to please everyone- parents, peer and teachers. All of this at the risk of subduing what she really wants or needs. A mainstay of this expectation is body image. Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair. co-author of Full of Ourselves -- A Wellness Program to Advance Girl Power, Health, and Leadership, asserts "You can't talk about a girl's sense of herself without talking about her body image. By middle school, for the vast majority of girls, who they are and what they look like is inextricably intertwined.” The increasing sexualization of girls in society, which our community most definitely feels as well, compounds the pressure.
  2. Be good at most of the traditional guy stuff.  Girls are now expected to get straight A's, be super-athletes, be assertive or even aggressive to win at all costs.
  3. Conform to a narrow, unrealistic set of standards that allows for no alternative. “At first glance, you might think that a girl was free to become anything she chooses. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll see that whatever else she may decide, she must also always be sexy, thin, pretty; have either a great boyfriend or a husband and kids; and be wildly successful at her career.”
What is the secret to combating these pressures? Dr. Hinshaw speaks of the importance of helping them learn to listen to their “internalized” voice- the “self-talk” that we teach our students in Advisory. What messages are you sending yourself? Which ones are realistic? Are you telling yourself that it is okay to make mistakes? We also help them think critically about the images bombarding them in the media and the culture around them. Aside from the computer-enhanced imaging they learn about in Advisory, we also speak to them about “What is true beauty? Are the people they see in the media truly happy?”

Most importantly, we focus on strengthening their self-image. All the research indicates that the way to strengthen our girls against eating disorders is not education about the disorders, nor is it a class about healthy eating. Rather, it is consistent discussion (which we proudly do in Advisory for boys and girls) and sending the message of how to strengthen that self-image.

For girls, there often is an additional element of the focus upon what it means to be a girl or a woman in today's world. Otherwise known as “girl-power!” We do this by at times having separate- gendered Advisory. As Jewish women, our girls need to have the additional understanding of what it means to be a Jewish woman in today's world. That was the goal of our new “Girls-Only Torah Learning Chug (club)” that I started last week. I opened the Chug to 7th and 8th grade girls and had an overwhelming response. Once a week the girls signed up will daven together followed by our group. The topics that we came up with were (not necessarily in this order): 1.Girls and bris? 2. Women and torah learning 3. Women and tefillah. 4. Mechitza 5. Mitzvot special for women. 6. Woman prophetesses. 7. Famous Jewish women who changed Jewish history. 8.Relationships 9. Women in the Talmud- example: Bruriah, 10. Kol Isha 11. Creation of woman
  1. שלא עשני אשה
  2. חכמת נשים בנתה ביתה
  3. בזכות נשים צדקניות נגאלו אבותינו ממצרים.
It is no wonder I am so excited about the time I will spend with the girls hearing their insights and helping them gain the perspective to be proud of who they are as Jewish women. As a psychologist and as a Judaic Studies teacher I revel in the idea that through the Torah our girls will develop stronger self- images and become more resilient to the pressure of the triple -bind.

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