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by Carolyn Jones
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Feb 27th 2002
This is a nicely produced book with
color and black and white photographs and short self-descriptions of
eighty-five girls talking about what they have accomplished or endured in their
lives. It aims to be an uplifting
enterprise and it is crammed full of earnest good intentions. The girls range in age from 11 to 18; they
are of various ethnicities and colors, and they chose to wear all sorts of
different clothes. Lauren, 17, is in a
tutu and ballet shoes; Tamika, 15, is in a pink top and blue jeans; Stephanie,
16, is in a riding hat and riding boots; Angel, 13, is in Native American
inspired costume; Antoinette, 14, is in her baseball gear. Erica, 16, works on her community garden;
Pam, 14, talks to her friends; Amy, 13, does ballet; Julie, 15, was adopted
from South Korea; Kim, 13, was born without her right forearm; Christine, 16,
is against racism; Jessica, 17, works at a community center for abused women
and their families.
Im sure that theres some truth to
the claims of books such as Reviving
Ophelia, that todays girls experience all sorts of stresses and
pressures, and grow up in a culture that places far too much emphasis on
physical attractiveness and unrealistic ideal of beauty; talking with women
about their experience has led me to believe that rape and harassment are major
problems in our culture. It seems a
good idea to help girls to feel more confident and to be able to assert
themselves. I imagine that some
preteens might read through this book and find it interesting and even
But when I think back to my own
adolescent self, when I was even more cynical than I am now, and imagine what I
might have thought had I been presented with a book about the positive
accomplishments of boys, I am pretty sure that I would have been extremely
unimpressed, and indeed, I expect I would have scoffed at it. If someone were to put together a book of
the accomplishments of college professors, I might well find it riveting
reading, but Im not sure that I would find it very inspirational. Im pretty sure that it would take more than
a book listing the accomplishments of others to make me feel confident about my
own abilities. So, on the assumption
that teenage girls are not significantly more credulous than myself, Im very
doubtful that a book like this can actually be helpful to anyone.
To put my point a little more
sharply, I find it hard to believe that this kind of feel-good propaganda
would make the slightest difference in self-confidence to anyone with a mental
age greater than twelve. I may be
wrong, of course, after all, its been two decades since I was a teen. But then, I dont think that young people
have become any less cynical about the way they are fed messages in the last
twenty years indeed, with all the TV they watch, they are sophisticated
interpreters of cultural imagery. Of
course, the motives behind Every Girl Tells a Story are good, but I
imagine that most of the girls who might read it will see it as irrelevant to
their lives. My doubt about books such
as this may be fueled more by an aesthetic revulsion than evidence; when I see
inspirational vignettes about peoples accomplishments on shows like Oprah,
all I see is a highly simplistic promotion of role models. I hope that young people are not so simple
that they will be easily convinced of ideas promoted only by a pretty picture
and some well-chosen words, no matter how well intentioned they are. Recommended only to readers under 12.
© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College,
Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review.
His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry.
He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can
play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster
communication between philosophers, mental health professionals,
and the general public.