HELPING GIRLS BUILD OPTIMISM AND RESILIENCE - THE I CAN GIRL
Girls and women have made great strides in education. Girls often surpass boys in grades, select advanced math and science classes, and are admitted to high-status colleges. They make up approximately half of the enrollment at medical and law schools. While all that would lead us to believe that women should, by now, have equal representation in prestigious careers, there actually appears to be a “very leaky pipeline.” In most career areas, the higher the status, the less representation there is of women.
The Leaky Pipeline. Only 5% of the CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies are women. While the numbers of women who earn Ph.D’s have increased in almost all fields, at colleges and universities they are underrepresented among tenured faculty and department chairpersons and instead are more frequently found among non-tenured and part-time faculty. Despite the large number who successfully graduate law school, they comprise only 17% of law firm partners. Although women increasingly run for government office, they make up only 16% of Congress. At each higher level of the academic pipeline in physics and engineering there are fewer women. Women make up only 10% of college faculties in physics. There are increasing numbers of women in medical practice, but more choose lower paying specialties like pediatrics and psychiatry, and there are very few women department chairpersons or deans at medical schools.
Symphony orchestras have made great strides in attracting women, and percentages of women have increased from 10% in the 1970’s to approximately 35% now. Much of that gain has been attributed to blind auditions so that selections are based on musical sound only, and not the gender of the musician. Ironically, even in education, a career field dominated by women, only 13% of the superintendents of school positions are held by women. To add insult to injury, overall salaries for college educated women after college graduation are 20% behind that of men, and that differential grows to 30% ten years after graduation.
ABOUT SEE JANE WIN FOR GIRLS
Girls who set high expectations for their careers and would like to work to their potential will need to persevere with optimism and resiliency to surmount the many hurdles that are ahead. Women will continue to require a pioneering spirit. See Jane Win™ for Girls was written for girls to help them build optimism and resilience.
See Jane Win™ for Girls grew out of a study I did with over 1,000 successful women. I asked the women to describe how they felt and what they did when they were children and how those experiences helped them to become successful women. Using what we learned from this study, my daughters and I wrote two books for adults, See Jane Win™ and How Jane Won. Today those books are helping many people raise their daughters to be the best they can be.
In my book See Jane Win™ for Girls, I bring some of these stories, lessons, and memories to girls directly. I’ve included some excerpts from See Jane Win™ for Girls, which you may want to share with your daughters or students. The book is intended for tween and young teen girls from about age nine.1
DARE TO DREAM
You can have a bright future, and daring to dream is part of creating it. But dreaming isn’t enough. For dreams to come true, you have to take action too. That means becoming an I CAN girl.
I grew up very poor in a rural town in Puerto Rico. My father worked in the sugarcane fields. Neither of my parents was formally educated, but they instilled in me the value of learning. Every morning my father reminded us that education was the only way out of the cycle of poverty. Poverty challenged me to excel, to go to college, to become a professional, and to be able to provide for my family.
Many of the women you’ll read about in See Jane Win™ for Girls were I CAN girls when they were growing up. That means that they loved to take on new challenges and become actively involved in things that interested them. They brought a positive attitude to much of what they did.
In your grandmother’s day, girls were often laughed at if they dreamed of becoming anything other than a mother, nurse, or teacher. Luckily, those days are gone. Today, you can do the kinds of things that women have traditionally done, or you can do things that have traditionally been done by men. You may want to do something ordinary or extraordinary. Either way, you can begin thinking and preparing now.
EXERCISING YOUR SELF-ESTEEM MUSCLES
Odd as it may sound, your self-esteem—how you feel about yourself—can help shape your future. When you respect yourself and your values, feel good about what you’ve achieved, and have confidence in your abilities, your self-esteem is healthy.
Remember: You can feel smart without having to be the smartest. You can have friends without having to be most popular. And you can be athletic, musical, or artistic without having to be the best. If you’d like, tape a note to your mirror that says, “I don’t have to be perfect or be liked by everyone to feel good about myself. I am an I CAN girl.”
WHEN YOUR SELF-ESTEEM DEPENDS ON BOYFRIENDS
In general, girls mature earlier than boys do. That means their bodies and emotions may tell them to become interested in romance before boys’ bodies and emotions send out a similar signal to them. So if your self-esteem is dependent on how many boys like you, you could have a problem. Some of the nicest guys you know may not even have noticed that girls exist. Some won’t be interested in having a girlfriend until high school or college. And some may never be interested in girls as girlfriends, just as some girls may never be interested in boys as boyfriends. Other boys may only like girls who they think aren’t as smart as they are. Others may only like girls who are very thin, or have a certain color hair, or are a certain height. Boys who judge you by superficial traits like these can hurt you and your self-esteem if you let them. That’s because they’re only focusing on a small part of who you are.
I remember girls in fifth grade being boy-crazy, chasing guys and going to their houses. I didn’t understand why they were crazed. I felt different because I was painfully skinny, tiny, and under-developed. I never could eat enough and was trying to gain weight. I was almost a full year behind everyone else. They were in bras and using deodorant, and I was flat as a board and wore an undershirt. My dad even took me to the doctor and had my bones x-rayed because he was so worried. I didn’t grow until the end of high school.
Lesley Seymour, former Editor-in-Chief Redbook Magazine
If you do feel ready (or almost ready) for boyfriends, look for someone who shares your interests and who truly wants to get to know you.
If it seems that in order to attract someone you have to…
Appear less smart or talented than you are
Lose weight and wear makeup or sexy clothes
Try cigarettes, marijuana, or drink alcohol
Let someone kiss or touch you when this doesn’t feel right to you
. . . then it’s not the right relationship.
Boyfriends can be exciting, which makes it hard to act sensibly. But play it smart and be an I CAN girl: put your self-respect, confidence, and interests first. If you want others to value you, first and foremost you have to value yourself!
Another thing you can do when you’re critical of yourself is take a reality check. Are you comparing yourself with others? If you are, remind yourself that you’re not the only one with flaws. Everyone has them. Instead of feeling bad about what you don’t have or can’t do, focus on your strengths. What can you do that other people value? What can you do that you value?
A BETTER YOU = A BETTER WORLD
Here’s one other thing you can do to stay positive about yourself, and it may surprise you: Spend some time helping somebody else! Many successful See Jane Win women say that they feel most fulfilled and happiest with themselves when they’re helping others or doing something to make the world a better place. Public radio host Kathleen Dunn, for example, is proud that, as a former VISTA volunteer, she spent two years helping low-income families. And Congresswoman Shelley Berkley is such a strong believer in the importance of volunteering that she sponsored legislation aimed at encouraging people to do it even more. Kids are capable of making a big difference in the world. There are many good causes in the world for you to get involved in if you’d like. They help you to become an I CAN girl.
I believe one person can make a difference, and public service gives me the opportunity to give back something to this country that has given my family so much. That is the very essence and core of what I do and why I do it. I’m extraordinarily patriotic because I know what this country has done for my family, and I know we are just one of millions of families who would agree.
Shelley Berkley, U.S. Congresswoman from Nevada
FEEL SMART BY RELEASING YOUR BRAINPOWER
It’s one thing to be smart. It’s another to use your intelligence. One of the most important parts of being smart has to do with I CAN attitudes like enthusiasm, optimism, and a willingness to learn. The successful women in See Jane Win discovered they could use their brainpower to keep getting smarter.
If you believe in your teachers, there’s a good chance that they’ll believe in you. All you have to do is respect them and show them how much you want to learn. Most teachers want very much to inspire their students.
My seventh-grade teacher was Mrs. Hardy. Her expectations were very high. Everyone was terrified of her, but I always wanted to please her. She introduced me to poetry, to speaking grammatically, and to striving to do more. She was hard but fair, and it meant so much to me to do well in her class. She was responsible for my yearning to want to be the best.
Deborah Roberts, Correspondent ABC’s 20/20, Newsmagazine
And you have the power to help them do that. If you need help, ask for it. If you have special interests or needs, let them know that, too.A teacher’s encouragement can have a huge influence in helping you to be your best.
Using your creativity and doing well on tests are only two ways to show your intelligence. Traits like kindness, sensitivity, good social skills, independence, strong leadership abilities, and showing what a trusted friend you can be may not show up on your report card. But they have led to success in life for many I CAN girls.
WHY KIDS CAN BE MEAN
It’s sad, but some people feel important when they pick on others. Although kids shouldn’t treat other kids this way, it helps to understand why it h
appens, and to know what you can do about it. If a mean person becomes a leader, that person may use the nasty things she or he says to control others. Kids who aren’t in that group may feel pressure to be cruel so that they’ll feel included, too. Or, they may be afraid that, if they don’t join in, the leader will soon start picking on them.
If you ever find yourself accepted by kids who treat others badly, you may be tempted to act this way too—even to kids who once were your friends. But do you really want to hang out with mean and disrespectful people—even if, at your school, they are considered the “in” crowd? After all, true friends would never push you to be mean to anyone else just so you could stay friends with them. So “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Never treat anyone like an outcast!
Remember how important it is to be independent. If the kids in a particular group won’t accept you, try to ignore their meanness. Once they realize that they’re not getting you down, they’re likely to lose interest in being mean to you. That’s what happened to flutist Martha Aarons when she was in middle school. She was teased for being an excellent student and liking classical music. For a while she tried to learn more about popular music, but she still wasn’t accepted. It wasn’t until she attended a music camp the summer she was in eighth grade that she found a place where people had similar interests and she could be accepted for who she was. The name-calling stopped after that, or at least it didn’t bother her as much anymore.
Rather than worry about the people who don’t accept you, look for new friends who will. Get busy with things that interest you, like music, sports, or volunteer work. If you feel sad because you don’t have friends, talk to a school counselor about it. Maybe she can organize a friendship session to help the kids talk out their differences. You can also turn to an adult you feel close to—someone whose understanding can help get you through these difficult times.
HOW KIND IS TOO KIND?
Kindness can be a wonderful quality. It suggests that you’re sensitive, understanding, empathetic, and good to others. People who are kind as children often grow into adults who continue to do good things. But it’s also possible to be too kind. For example, say a friend of yours is struggling in school and asks you to give her answers to a homework assignment. The kind part of you may be tempted—especially if you see that she doesn’t learn things as easily as you do. But if you give her your answers, she won’t learn, and her schoolwork will suffer. This would hurt her confidence and self-esteem. Besides, the teacher could accuse you of cheating—which, of course, you are. The truly kind thing to do is to tell your friend, “No, I can’t give you the answers. But if you’d like, I’d be happy to help you figure it out.”
Be prepared—your friend may get so annoyed, she may even want to stop being friends with you. But do you really want to hang onto a friend who not only wants you to cheat but who cuts you out of her life if you won’t? Sometimes you have to say no to be true to yourself. Stay strong. Be clear about your values, and make sure you take care of yourself.
AND LASTLY...GO FOR THE GOAL!
Many people (including psychologists) used to believe that all women should do in life is get married and have children. They believed that women didn’t need careers outside the home or beliefs of their own. But that was then. This is now. Today, girls are expected to set goals for themselves and move out into the world. They’re expected to decide for themselves who they want to be and what they want to do. This is a wonderful thing—but it isn’t easy. Having goals can raise your self-esteem.
Throughout your life, you’ll find that setting goals can be exciting and fulfilling, and that sharing them with other people can be incredibly rewarding. Together or alone, you’re always a winner when you set out to achieve your dreams.
Although you won’t be able to control everything in your future (no one can), an I CAN girl is more likely to have a fulfilled, happy, and successful life.
For more informaiton on raising resilient and optimistic girls, consult See Jane Win: The Rimm Report on How 1,000 Girls became Successful Women (Crown Publishing, 1999),Girls became Successful Women (Crown Publishing, 1999), and How Jane Won: 55 Successful Women Share How They Grew from Ordinary Girls to Extraordinary Women (Crown Publishing, 2001) and for your daughters, See Jane Win for Girls: A Smart Girl's Guide to Success (Free Spirit Publishing, 2003)
For more strategies on raising happy, achieving children, consult How to Parent So Children Will Learn, Third Addition (Great Protential Press, 2007)
For practical parenting advice from a survey of more than 5,400 kids, read Growing Up Too Fast: The Rimm Report on the Secret World of America's Middle Schoolers (Rodale, 2005).
1Excerpts from See Jane Win™ for Girls: A Smart Girl's Guide to Success (Free Spirit Publishing, 2003)
©2010 by Sylvia B. Rimm. All rights reserved. This publication, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author.