But most important, we can change our culture. We can work together to build a culture that is less complicated and more nurturing, less violent and sexualized and more growth-producing. Our daughters [children] deserve a society in which all their gifts can be developed and appreciated. (p. 13)
In early adolescence girls learn how important appearance is in defining social acceptability. Attractiveness is both a necessary and sufficient condition for girls’ success. This is an old, old problem. Helen of Troy didn’t launch a thousand ships because she was a hard worker. Juliet wasn’t loved for her math ability. (p. 40)
Girls are trained to be less than who they really are. They are trained to be what the culture wants of its young women, not what they themselves want to become. (p. 44)
I first read Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, Ph. D. when it came out in 1994. Even then I was searching for me. I was very confused about being female and looking for answers that would make me worthy in the eyes of society. I missed what Dr. Pipher was saying. Society is not the place to turn to for answers, it will only confuse you and set standards which are impossible to meet. I wasn’t ready to hear that I was good enough on my own, and screw society.
Twenty years later, I returned to this book in search of answers on how to be a good auntie to the children in my life who have been raised in a society which is more pornified and sexualized than when Reviving Ophelia was first published.
I didn’t find those answers either. Not because Pipher doesn’t offer a good explanation of what happens when puberty hits and many of the ways parenting and society can stack the deck against young women without meaning to.
I have to take it on intellectual faith that the maelstrom that is puberty and adolescence really is as described. There was so much other dysfunction going on in my family that I truly cannot relate on an emotional level and do not have physical memories of what it was like to be a teenaged girl.
Hormones rampaging? Didn’t notice. Black and white thinking? Don’t remember. It’s hard for me because my memories involve a father who came into my bedroom at night and a mother who undermined my development at every turn.
Watching my six nieces grow has been quite the education for me. I can see the things Pipher describes happening in them and I have learned it’s okay because it’s normal. I’ve watched them go through these stages and come out the other end to be strong women who can face society on their own terms. In no small part due to the parenting they received, from family prepared to teach them the pitfalls of living in a pornified society filled with highly sexualized standards for girls and women.
Reviving Ophelia is well-written and easy to read. Dr. Pipher’s case studies are still relevant, as are her explanations about what goes on when a girl hits puberty. That I didn’t get what I wanted from it is not Dr. Pipher’s fault, I was looking for a book she didn’t write.