Sisterhood Blog

How To Combat Teenage Girls' Angst: Educate Teenage Boys

By Rebecca Honig Friedman

  • Print
  • Share Share

Most Sundays I do laundry, or have brunch, or see a movie. But I spent this past Sunday immersed in various forms of female teenage angst, and what I came away with was that more boys and men should have been there with me.

The day began at a conference on Food, Body Image and Eating Disorders in the Orthodox community. Co-presented by the Orthodox Union and The Renfrew Center, which recently launched a treatment program specifically for observant Jewish women, the conference on eating disorders was meant to raise awareness about the prevalence of eating disorders in the Orthodox community and to educate therapists about the particular issues that those who are Orthodox and have eating disorders face. For me, the conference provided unpleasant reminders of all the women I know who have struggled, or are struggling, with eating disorders, and, as renowned therapist Dr. Esther Altmann who gave the introductory address noted, how difficult it is to be a woman and not have a complicated, if not outright dysfunctional relationship with food.

On a somewhat lighter note, my day concluded at the premiere performance of the debut production from the Girls Theater Project, “Becoming,” which explored the issues Jewish girls age 10 to 17 face, in their own words, and I was thankful to writer/director Joyce Klein for leaving all mention of binging and purging out of her production.

The play hit on some heavy issues but with a light, humorous touch. In my favorite scene, a girl comes to terms with the pains and frustrations of menstruation by conversing with a cartoon version of her uterus, whose name is She-la. As girl and uterus come to an understanding about the changes occurring in her body, the scene culminates in a shared dance between them. Yes, it sounds bizarre, and it was, but it was also surprisingly beautiful. (Catch one of the two remaining “preview” performances this week on Wednesday night or Sunday night at the 14th St Y.)

As I sat through both conference and play, I kept thinking wouldn’t it be great – wouldn’t it help girls and women – if there were more boys and men in the audience? While mothers might need reminders of what being a teenager was like and of what their daughters are going through in a world that, at least from a technology standpoint, is pretty different from the world in which they grew up, fathers are more in need of an education on this subject. And while girls need a safe space in which to explore freely the things that are bothering them and in which to talk about the ways boys affect them, boys need to be made aware of girls’ concerns, and, maybe most importantly, of the effect they have on girls.

One of the presenters at the conference, eating disorder survivor Aliza Starshefsky, who speaks frequently to school groups about her experiences (Aliza speaks so frequently she has become famous in some circles, with a group of girls at the Salute To Israel Parade exclaiming excitedly upon spotting her, “Look, it’s the anorexic girl!”) mentioned she recently addressed an audience of teenage boys for the first time. She didn’t hold back with them, she said, explaining to the young men “that their words matter,” that the things they say can make a huge impact on a young woman. The boys’ reaction? Shock. “Why would they listen to what I say?” they asked. (Why, indeed?) Aliza said the boys walked around stunned for the rest of the day, grappling with what they had learned.

Clearly, boys and men, and the desire for their approval, are not the only causes of eating disorders or the varied host of issues facing teenage girls. But giving males some understanding of the role they do play in causing females pain might make them more sensitive to their female counterparts’ needs. Educating fathers, teachers, and other males in guidance roles can only make them better nurturers of their female charges.

And, from the other side, we women could benefit from knowing more about what boys and men go through.

Surely a world in which there is no mystery between the sexes would be less dramatic and more boring, but we needn’t worry much about that. Complete understanding between individuals as complicated, emotional, and unpredictable as we all are, is impossible.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: eating disorder, Renfrew Center, Girls Theater Project, men

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

MTeMedia Fri. Jul 3, 2009

hey there man

great post i love it... check my website you might like it ;)

Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.