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Reviving Ophelia

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Submitted By blaine
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The book, Reviving Ophelia, is about the hardships girls go through when they are growing up and trudging through puberty. As the author Mary Pipher states it, adolescent girls tend to lose their “true selves” in order to fit in and comply with the standards that society sets for women. Pipher, a practicing therapist, uses her own case studies to show how pressures put on girls forces them to react in often damaging ways. In most case studies she tells the audience how she helped these girls heal and regain control of their lives. It seems that her primary goal is to warn people of what certain effects can have on girls and what not to do. The one thing that Pipher tends to overlook is what parents can do right to raise healthy children. Pipher named this book after a character named Ophelia. “The story of Ophelia, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, shows the destructive forces that affect young women. As a girl, Ophelia is happy and free, but with adolescence she loses herself. When she falls in love with Hamlet, she lives only for his approval. She has no inner direction; rather she struggles to meet the demands of Hamlet and her father. Her value is determined utterly by their approval. Ophelia is torn apart by her efforts to please. When Hamlet spurns her because she is an obedient daughter, she goes mad with grief. Dressed in elegant clothes that weigh her down, she drowns in a stream filled with flowers” (20). Pipher wants to Revive Ophelia. She wants to save her from her sorrows that eventually led to her suicide. If Ophelia could have been stronger, and true to who she was, she would have never had to rely on a man for her own happiness. She wants this for all girls; to keep alive who they are rather than give in and conform for others to rule our lives.
“Girls have been trained to be feminine at considerable cost to their humanity. They have long been evaluated on the basis of appearance and caught in myriad double blinds: achieve, but not too much; be polite, but be yourself; be feminine and adult; be aware of our cultural heritage, but don’t comment on the sexism” (44), says Pipher. America puts so much pressure on girls to be something that is nearly impossible to be. Girls are constantly hit with double standards that make it confusing to know how to act appropriately. “Sex Sells” is all around us but if a girl puts out too much she is considered trashy. “America is a girl-destroying place” (44) and I agree. Some of the hardest issues for girls to deal with are relationships with friends and family, sexuality, substance abuse, and especially image. If a girl doesn’t wear the right clothes or do her hair the right way than it is impossible for her to fit in. “Beauty is the defining characteristic for American women. It’s the necessary and often sufficient condition for social success… In a city of strangers, appearance is the only dimension available for the rapid assessment of others. Thus if becomes incredibly, important in defining value” (183), says Pipher; later she goes on to say, “ In all the years I have been a therapist, I’ve yet to meet one girl who likes her body…When I speak to classes, I ask any woman in the audience who feels good about her body to come up afterward. I want to hear about her success experience. I have yet to have a woman come up” (184). I think that is amazing that she has never met a woman who is completely content with the way she looks, but then again I don’t think that I have met one either. Girls often choose destructive ways to deal with their problems. They find ways to hurt their bodies and sprit. Another way that girls chose to deal with their problems is to block it out with the use of drugs and/or alcohol. Pipher explains, “Often heavy chemical abuse is a red flag that points to other issues such as despair, social anxiety, problems with friends or family, pressure to achieve, negative sexual experiences, or difficulty finding a positive identity” (191). I think that if society didn’t demand so much of girls they would be much better off. The main goal is to gain popularity when that shouldn’t be the case. Girls should want to follow their hearts and do the things that they want to do rather than being pressured into doing what everyone else wants to do. Some girls are worse off than other though. The ones that do better at keeping their “true selves” are the ones who have had more supportive parents.
After reading this book, I decided that the best parents were the ones that loved their children at all times. They are the parents that allow their children to make decisions for themselves, but are always there to intervene and point down the right path. The best parents will keep their children active and still respect their decisions; as Pipher says, “Both families were reasonably protective and yet allowed the daughters freedom to grow in their own direction” (99). “Teenagers need parents who will talk to them, supervise them, help them stay organized, and support them when they are down” (134). To me that is the definition of a great parent. True, it is nearly impossible to nail each one on the head, but adolescent girls need an adult that is there for them. Mothers have the hardest job of all, “Mothers, on the other hand, are criticized unless their involvement is precisely the right amount. Distant mothers are scorned, but mothers who are too close are accused of smothering and overprotecting” (103). I have experienced this with my own mom. I would get mad at her if she wasn’t around when I needed her but I couldn’t stand her when she was there all the time. Pipher explains the best type of fathers she found by interviewing teenage girls, “Supportive fathers had daughters with high self esteem and a sense of well-being. These girls were more apt to like men, to feel confident in relationships with the opposite sex and to predict their own future happiness. They described fathers as fun, deeply involved, and companionable” (118). I think that fathers have a large impact on their daughters but not as large as a mother because girls usually identify with their mother more. The best way that any adult can help an adolescent is to pay close attention and be there for her but respect her decisions and who she is. Adults also need to remember that girls grow up in a very different world than they did.
Fifty years ago, the world was a lot different. There wasn’t as much pressure put on girls to be things that they aren’t. Family values seemed to be stronger too. Adults look at teenagers now, and think that they are a lost cause. I think that in the future, girls will be even worse off then they are now. More will be expected of them and the desire to rebel will be even stronger. The situations that girls have to deal with will be different but the way that they are dealt with will remain the same. Pipher has found, “Girls have four general ways in which the can react to the cultural pressures to abandon the self. They can conform, withdraw, be depressed or get angry” (43). Even fifty years ago girls dealt with issues the same way that girls do now. I predict that in the future, the biggest change in how girls deal with problems is that their tempers will be a little bit shorter. I think that they will still conform, still withdraw, and still become depressed. Just like today, I don’t think that all girls will be screwed up. I think that they will all have hardships, but come out of them just like girls do now.
If I had to pick one girl from a case study, that is most like me, I would pick Margaret. Many who read this book skipped over Margaret because she comes in towards the end in chapter 14. Margaret reminds me of my friends and me in many ways. Like Margaret, I was very close to my brother when we were young, but was pushed away once puberty came. Like her, I didn’t care about popularity entering middle school and became confident in knowing who I am before I left. Our friends are the biggest similarity. “They picked scapegoats and encouraged the other girls to scorn their unlucky choices. The girls agreed because they were afraid that if they didn’t they would be next” (260). Margaret went along even though she knew it was wrong, as did I. Margaret eventually became the girl that everybody was mad at. I was lucky enough to never be put in that position. During middle school, in my group of friends, one girl would find a reason to dislike a member. It would spread around, and after about two days, the entire group was mad at one person. It was unfair and cruel, but we didn’t know any better. Even though we would all agree not to do it again…people would start talking eventually. Margaret responded more dramatically than my friends would. She faked sick for several months so that she didn’t have to go to school. Eventually a teacher had to intervene to fix the problem, where as ours would die out after a month or so. Other than Margaret, I really didn’t relate to any of the other girls, but I did relate so some of the things that Pipher talked about. I used to have the dramatic mood swings that she describes, and pressures to be the best. I honestly found this book very interesting. A little stereotypical, but interesting. Not every girl is screwed up, but I think that knowledge that I gained from this book can actually help me in the future if I have a daughter of my own.…...

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