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Home >  About Us >  From The Headmaster >  FTH 07-08 >  Alpha Girls 2-14-08 > 

Alpha Girls 2-14-08    

     A former trustee recently shared with me an article from Harvard Magazine that discussed the rise of what psychologist and writer Dan Kindlon (co-author with Michael Thompson of Raising Cain) calls “alpha girls.” Entitled “Girl Power,” the piece defined these females as those up to age 21 who “take it for granted that it is their due to get equal rights,” who “have never had to fight battles over fertility control, equal educational and athletic access, or illegal job discrimination,” who possess “emancipated confidence that is raising self-esteem, reducing depression, and altering gender roles,” and who are high achievers, competitive, and extremely competent. These are the girls who are behind the “accumulating data that show girls outperforming boys in grades, honors, high school graduation rates, and … the historic reversal in U.S. college enrollments (58% today are women).”
      Part of the genesis of Kindlon's research which led to his book Alpha Girls: Understanding the New American Girl and How She is Changing the World was his observation that “my own daughters are so different from the girls I grew up with, in terms of the things they think they can do.” In the Harvard Magazine piece, writer Harbour Fraser Hodder notes, “the alpha phenomenon also involves a paradigm shift in the way parents think about their girls' options in the world… There is a whole generation of girls whose creativity and intellect are being supported by their families. Their mothers and fathers are cheering them on, coaching them, and setting the bar high, so that their ambition can soar and take them high.”
      Kindlon asserts that “the psychological demons which used to affect girls and women in this country just don't affect today's girls in the same ways.” Hodder notes that the data from the 1980's and early 1990's, founded upon the work of researchers such as Carol Gilligan (In a Different Voice), Peggy Orenstein (Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self Esteem and the Confidence Gap), and Mary Pipher (Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls), held that “girls in their teens compromise their authenticity to fit gender roles, thereby ’losing their voice,'” that their self-confidence plunges, and that they have twice a male's risk for depression and anxiety disorders. Kindlon's recent research has found what he calls an “alpha psychology” among all girls. “There were no sex differences in depressive symptoms, no drop in self-esteem across [6th-12th] grades, and no lack of self-confidence. By tenth grade, in fact, the girls he surveyed had higher self-esteem than boys, and alphas had significantly higher self-esteem than non-alphas.”
      While Kindlon maintains that today “girls are able to play more roles,” the jury is still out on exactly how the rise of an alpha psychology will impact these women's career and personal paths. What is clear, he says, is that “girls are starting to make the psychological shift, the inner transformation, that Simone deBeauvoir predicted in 1949 when she wrote in The Second Sex that sooner or later women will arrive at complete economic and social equality, which will bring about an inner metamorphosis.”

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