Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards ended with the proclamation, “So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon!”
“And when that new day finally dawns,” Oprah said, “it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say “Me too” again.”
What was missing from Oprah’s speech?
Those issues, and their solutions, are complex and will demand sustained dialogue over many years. To be effective, the #MeToo movement must move beyond rhetoric and a focus on today's heroes to the cultural and developmental issues that face young girls.
Before Oprah’s "new day for girls" can become reality, we must discover answers to the questions: How will the lives of young girls improve? Who will foster needed change?
Oprah’s message appropriately recognizes today’s strong voices but fails to get to the core of the continuing problem: girls growing up today lack self-confidence, see themselves as inferior to boys, and feel the pressure to be people-pleasers.
Stories that have emerged from the #MeToo movement have made it abundantly clear that a woman’s lack of self-esteem and her silence on bullying, abuse, and other gender-based issues begin early in life. Their stories should come as no surprise.
Why? Because young girls have acknowledged their feelings for many years.
A 2008 study of 4,000 girls between the ages of 8 and 17 pointed to a self-esteem crisis for young girls. Sixty-two percent of girls reported feeling insecure or unsure of themselves, and seventy-five percent reported they engaged in activities like bullying, cutting, or unhealthy eating.
Another study in 2006 found that fifty-six percent of girls agreed that females were expected to speak softly and not cause trouble and seventy-four percent felt under pressure to please everyone.
Many other studies tell the same story. “Never before have adolescent girls faced so many confusing and contradictory expectations,” according to researcher and counselor Dr. Laura Choate. “From a young age, popular culture teaches girls that their worth is based on their appearance, their ability to gain attention, and an ever-increasing accrual of accomplishments (Choate, 2015)."
For girls to stand up confidently under pressure, families need to raise and educate emotionally healthy daughters. And that’s exactly what child and adolescent psychotherapist Katie Hurley has set out to do in a new book, No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls.
Her book is a call to action for parents who want to learn to work with their daughters, empowering them to be kind, compassionate, confident, and resilient “while supporting one another through the ups and downs of childhood and adolescence.”
With encouragement and support, today’s girls can become change makers. They will act to eliminate gender bias in families and schools, create equal relationships with peers, and speak truth to power on myriads of social and civic issues.
In other words, girls can and must become strong, assertive leaders. No More Mean Girls provides practical advice to parents that support the development of leadership in daughters as well as the many social and emotional skills that will help her thrive in school and life.
The following insights and suggestions from No More Mean Girls provide several ways parents can instill self-confidence in girls so they can learn to speak up and be heard.
“The problem with the way we conceptualize ‘leadership,’” says Hurley, “is that it feels large and all consuming…. To help girls feel confident in their abilities to lead, we have to begin by breaking down leadership into girl-sized goals.”
Encourage your daughter to take on leadership projects at school and in after-school activities. To foster resourcefulness, ask your daughter to outline projects to see the whole picture, then break down the project into goals. What problems might she anticipate needing to solve? What resources are available to support her? Could she use a committee of peers to assist?
Girls have harsh inner critics. According to Hurley, self-criticism is a hard but important cycle to break early. The message parents often give to girls when they feel self-critical is to “suck it up” or “get over it.” Parents over correct girls too, by letting daughters know all the ways they are not doing things “right.”
It’s a parent’s job to let girls know that they already have what it takes to thrive. Hurley suggests parents talk to their girls about rational reactions to failure and constructive criticism. Encourage them to “talk back” to their inner critics. When Moms share their own inner critic stories, including their harmful and helpful effects, daughters increase their own self-awareness, an attribute of a dynamic leader.
Research shows that girls live in fear of being labeled “bossy.” This is so prevalent that Girl Scouts USA joined Lean In to spearhead a “Ban Bossy” campaign to encourage leadership in young girls. Hurley suggests that parents start by defining what it means to be assertive, and how that differs from passive or aggressive behavior.
While leadership is hard to define, its outcomes are seen in the goals people can achieve together. Encouraging girls to be leaders means developing core abilities that facilitate meaningful lives. When families teach girls to live and give voice to their values, they instill integrity—an attribute of a respected and successful leader.
“The mistake society has made,” says Hurley, “is pushing girls to compete with other girls to emerge as the clear winner. Everywhere you turn, girls are divided.”
To empower girls to become self-confident leaders, they need to see that there is room for everyone to succeed. They need to learn to build each other up, not constantly critique each other’s looks, ways of dressing, or behavior. When girls learn to work together with mutual support, leadership skills naturally emerge.
While Oprah’s message is a powerful one, we must also recognize the root causes of a woman’s silence and fear of using her voice. We are all part of the problem—and the solution.
Parents owe it to their daughters [and sons] to help build a better world for everyone. For many more practical ways to nurture leadership and help your daughter cultivate the skills to lead a meaningful life, I highly recommend you read Hurley’s informative book, No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls.
Choate, L. (2015). Swimming upstream: Parenting girls for resilience in a toxic culture, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Girls Incorporated. (2006). The supergirl dilemma: Girls grapple with the mounting pressure of expectations, Summary Findings.
Hurley, K. (2018). No more mean girls: The secret to raising strong, confident, and compassionate girls, New York: TarcherPerigee.
Kearney-Cooke, A. (2008). Real girls, real pressure: A national report on the state of self-esteem, Dove Self-Esteem Fund.
Price-Mitchell, M. (2017). Integrity: How families teach and live their values, Roots of Action.