Is There Girl Power Fatigue?
How Mixed Messaging is Diluting the Empowerment Message
Yesterday I posted a link to this article, “Please Stop Empowering Me”, on Facebook and Twitter. It was written by a Harvard University student, Nian Hu and expressed her frustration with the girl empowerment movement. It came up in my Google search on “Do teen girls care about the empowerment movement?”
Why was I searching this? The whole topic of whether girls really do care about the empowerment movement has been weighing on me recently. In the last few years, girls have been surrounded by empowering messages from all forms of media. Do girls have “empowerment fatigue” or has the message become so diluted with disingenuous organizations jumping on the bandwagon that the message has lost its relevance?
Maybe both. The message that girls can do anything, be anything and achieve anything is not entirely new. I think for millennial young women they have been hearing this their whole life. Alas, through the power of suggestion, many believe it to be true. At the same time, girls and women are bombarded by conflicting messages from the very same sources that are seeking to inspire them. Take, for example, the magazine Discovery Girls. A slick, glitzy publication filled with messages about “girl power” delivered by beautiful and beautifully made up, Photoshopped young girls along with articles about what bathing suit is best for their body type. Or the experience of Nian Hu, the author of the article above, who heard one of her first empowerment speeches in high school. The presentation was given by the founder of the website Nerd Girls who told her and her classmates that “pretty girls” could be engineers too. For all the good that I think Nerd Girls may be trying to do, the website still has a whole page dedicated to casting calls for pretty, yet smart, girls to appear in “television shows and other media events”. The images of these “Nerd Girls” (see below) feel more naughty school girl than empowered young woman. And for women? Open the latest issue of More magazine, a digest dedicated to helping women over forty embrace aging. There you will find articles about loving the way your aging face looks right next to an advertisement for the latest face cream that is going to “turn back the clock”. It seems there is no point in a girl’s life where she can escape the mixed messages from the media.
Considering all this, is there any wonder that girls may have an enthusiasm gap with the girl empowerment movement?
I grew up in what I like to call the “sandwich era” – sandwiched between a stereotypical 1950’s-ish almost “Mad Men-esque” upbringing and a time of unprecedented advancement for women in the workplace and in leadership. Despite my “traditional values” upbringing, I was always expected to get a college education so I could be independent and take care of myself. (Thank you, Mom and Dad!) However… before the ink was barely dry on my diploma the conversation turned to when I was going to get married. My dad judged each boyfriend with a litmus test of whether he would marry me or not and I was reminded not worry about my career too much because, “that will make it harder to give up when I have my kids”. (Please don’t get me wrong, my parents were wonderful, loving people that just came from the mindset of a different time.)
As I was raising my own daughter, I thought about how glad I was that I could raise her without all of these contradictions. Now I look around and wonder have we really come that far? Yes, the messaging has improved for girls but we still need to work through the contradictions that are making girls like Nian Hu say – “please stop trying to empower me.”