Bravo to the New York Times for covering (finally!) a story about young women breaking away from the over-hyped ambition and passive aggressive communication so typical of mainstream adolescent girl culture. In “Girls, Uninterrupted,” Jan Hoffman writes about Rachel Simmons’ Girls Leadership Institute, a place where girls come to learn about conflict, and have a silly, unselfconscious good frickin’ time. An excerpt:
That buoyant tone is set deliberately by Ms. Simmons, who believes that middle-school girls need to relearn how to have fun, to remember the creative giddiness they enjoyed only a few years earlier. In her office in Northampton, Mass., hangs a framed note from an eighth grader: “Dear Rachel: You are the most immature adult I’ve ever met and I love you!”
The program is not a camp in the conventional sense, but, at $2,650 a session, it is camplike. The girls play afternoon sports and luxuriate in a spa night, and have activities like creative writing, moviemaking, nature photography, ropes courses and (tampon) relay races.
Sign me up, right?
Full disclosure: I am good friends with Rachel. But I don’t think my love of her, personally, is clouding my judgment on the significance of the work she’s doing, politically. It’s simply radical and visionary to create a world, as she and awesome co-conspirator Simone Marean have done, where direct communication, authenticity, and play are the norm among a bunch of awesome teenage girls.
Many of us create these microcosms in our friendship groups as we grow older. My girls know not to hate on their own bodies in front of me, for example; my guy friends know I won’t put up with hearing them call a girl a slut. But for some reason it proves really difficult to alter the way in which our peer dynamic plays out when we are in our early teens (or at least that was my experience.) It sometimes feels like gossip, self-hate, and avoidance of conflict are these contagious diseases that you can’t avoid no matter how much you try. Rachel and Simone’s work is a way to teach girls how to be the standard-setters in their communities back home. The Girls Leadership Institute is like an epidemiological approach to protecting adolescent girls from the ravages of low self-esteem and compromised communication.
Now we just got to scale this shit up…