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In Defense of Teen Girls,: Meet the Gamma Girls
Meadows, Susannah. (
In response to the growing media attention on “mean girls” from books like Queen Bees and Wannabes (2002) and Odd Girl Out (2002), Newsweek ran this cover story to balance the perception of the back-biting, manipulative caricature forming in the American mind. While reporter Susannah Meadows did indeed find these “alpha girls” at her old high school alma mater – blond-headed, boy- and fashion-focused, ready to do whatever it takes to get what they want – she also uncovered what have been coined as “gamma girls”. Neither “alphas” (cool girls) nor “betas” (wannabes), these girls possess a rare self-confidence and are too involved in various pursuits to care what others think.
Meadows’ model gamma girl is 15-year old Jennifer:
Jennifer Teschler is evidence that a teenage girl in 2002 can be emotionally healthy, socially secure, independent-minded and just plain nice….Thanks to a rich new array of girls sports teams and other activities, Jen is coming into her own in high school, defined by what she does, rather than by her popularity rating. A surge in ethnic minority students…..has redrawn the lunchtime map, making the once dominant cool white kids just one of many city-states on campus, and giving Jen and others like her more social options. Jen’s sense of herself is nurtured by supportive, ever-present parents. And her values are bolstered by open discussion at church and a strong faith. (46)
Where did Jennifer come from? She, and other confident gammas like her, arise in part from a new climate of choice for young women. “It’s a terrific time to be a young woman,” claims Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, author of books on children and parenting and quoted in the article. “They can choose to be what they want to be.” Moreover, the number of high school girls involved in sports has burgeoned from 300,000 in 1972 to 2.5 million in 2002. (47)
The choice to do many creative and healthy activities also coincides with the choice to say no to harmful ones. Citing recent statistics reporting an increase in young girls trying drugs, alcohol and sex, the author contrasts the gamma girls: “Blessed with confidence and self-knowledge, gammas are equipped to shrug off the social pressure to experiment. Drug use is more of a joke than a temptation.” (49)
While sociologists and the media may argue about the terms and categories, clearly a wide variety of girls exist in today’s culture who can’t be labeled by simple extremes. Hopefully, gamma girls like Jennifer are an increasing majority.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION & DISCUSSION
1. Do you think the Newsweek article gives an accurate picture of girls today?
2. Do you agree with the identification of the “gamma girl”? Why or why not?
3. How do the author’s observations of girls today compare with the girls you know and work with? How about to your own experience if you are a woman?
4. What are some ways we can encourage healthy attributes of girls like the “gamma girls”?
1. Girls are clearly a diverse group and cannot be categorized simply. Some do tend to be mean and manipulative and others incredibly insecure and vulnerable. However, as the article suggests, there are those who are increasingly self-assured and emotionally stable.
2. More programs and youth workers should focus on creating environments to promote the confidence and empowerment of healthy girls like Jennifer.
Christen B. Yates cCYS