Thursday, 27 May 2010

Reviving Ophelia: Saving The Selves of Adolescent Girls (Mary Pipher)

--The blurb--
"At adolescence, says Mary Pipher, "girls become 'female impersonators' who fit their whole selves into small, crowded spaces." Many lose spark, interest, and even IQ points as a "girl-poisoning" society forces a choice between being shunned for staying true to oneself and struggling to stay within a narrow definition of female. Pipher's alarming tales of a generation swamped by pain may be partly informed by her role as a therapist who sees troubled children and teens, but her sketch of a tougher, more menacing world for girls often hits the mark. She offers some prescriptions for changing society and helping girls resist."

--The review--
The parenting section of bookshops is becoming increasingly significant, along with other 'soft subjects' such as the self-help genre, as people everywhere turn to various gurus in the help that someone will tell them with authority how best to manage this whole 'life' thing. You might therefore think that the market for such books is saturated, but even though there are certainly plenty of manuals from which to choose, many of them are too general and lack focus, even if they ostensibly appear to have a specific topic. However, Mary Pipher has perhaps broken down with her mainstream psychology effort, Reviving Ophelia. The title is intriguing and will also appeal to Shakespeare enthusiasts, although the rest of the title (Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls), while initially sounding a bit happy-clappy, clarifies the issue and hones its focus for those looking for a parenting manual, or for those such as youth workers who are looking to understand those on the receiving end of their work a little better. This gives us the first point, then: Pipher seizes an interdisciplinary approach, reaching out not only to parents but also to anyone seeking to understand teenage girls.

The research from Pipher's work as an accredited and qualified psychologist is serious, but increases its appeal to a more populist market by splicing the research with anecdotes, speaking in accessible language, and keeping the book's length limited. Even though it does not cover everything that it is possible to cover (and how could it, without confining itself to the dusty halls of university libraries to be read by only few?), the scope is successfully adventurous and wide, discussing depression, families, general development, eating disorders, substance abuse, sex, violence, and more. Pipher is patient and explains well, enabling the reader to understand and explore their own relationships and personality as it was when teenaged, as well as better comprehend those of others.

Despite me wanting to see topics in the book that weren't covered, such as more unusual relationships beyond girls' relationships with their parents and boyfriends, the book is pleasing and makes me want a follow-up, as well as an equivalent for understanding teenage boys.

Illuminating and fascinating in equal measure, the book is broken into readable chapters, and yet manages to remain interesting and appealing to the popular market without being patronising. A book that girls and women can dip into throughout their lives for comfort, thought and advice, and all without getting (too) schmaltzy, Pipher's book deserves a place on any female's bookshelf.

Other works by Mary Pipher
Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World (2010)
The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families (2008)
Writing To Change The World (2006)
Letters To A Young Therapist (2005)
The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter The American Community (2003)
Another Country: Navigating The Emotional Terrain of Our Elders (1999)
Hunger Pains: The Modern Woman's Tragic Quest For Thinness (1997)

1 comment:

Yolande said...

As a teenage girl myself, reading Reviving Ophelia for a school assignment was truly interesting. With the different stories of individual girls, I could relate myself, my friends and peers to different situations. I also realized the issues that arise by one person simply joking around and insulting another person. I would recommend not only adults, particularly parents of girls to read the book, but also teenage girls themselves. Whether it be one chapter, one story from the book even, it makes us as girls realize why our peers or friends might be acting the way they are, why they are who they are and what this could mean for both them and others.

The media is portraying girls as objects, tools and simply, dehumanizing females. It makes us seem like we can only be beautiful, attractive or sexy if we are plastic. In fact, most of the time, when women are in advertising are so airbrushed that if there was such a person, they could not be living.

It is scaring for me to find that all people, except those few, care about is looks, and brains don't count. However, I will not change for anyone, anything, but only for myself, and as long as we do so, there will be hope.