Sisterhood Blog

Rachel Simmons on the Truths of Girls' Lives

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

  • Print
  • Share Share

One of the country’s foremost experts on the lives of American girls is Rachel Simmons, a 35-year-old alumna of Vassar College and Oxford University who also attended the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School through high school. Her mother is Israeli, and, she says, she was raised in a “Conservative-Israeli” kind of household. Graduate school investigation of aggression in teenage girls led her to write “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls,” and later, to write “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence,”, and establish the Girls Leadership Institute.

Last week Simmons hosted the PBS show “A Girl’s Life”, which looks at the complicated lives of four teenagers: basketball player Annaluz, who struggles with being plump even as she’s athletic and strong; an inner-city young mother named Carla, who gets involved in vicious, scarring physical fights with other young women; Sonia, the daughter of Mexican illegal immigrants whose mother gets her into the Young Women’s Leadership School in East Harlem, which leads to college; and Libby, a popular girl whose former best friend becomes her cyber-bully, with painful results.

Simmons, who calls Park Slope home, spoke with The Sisterhood from South Africa, where she was teaching and spending time with her partner.

Sisterhood: What’s the number one challenge girls face?

Girls have to find a balance between their needs and other’s needs, and find the right mix of knowing and advocating for their own values and their desire to be connected with other people, whether it’s a friend or someone they’re dating. Many girls think that if they say what they really think, they’ll lose the relationship with that person. Many sacrifice what they think and feel to maintain relationships.

What is the most important thing for parents to understand about raising teenage girls?

That connection is the fundamental thing that girls need.

What about boys?

Boys too. Adolescence is a time perceived as a time of separation, but it’s important to remember that for girls, psychological health and wellness is directly related to how connected they are to people around them. Connection is key no matter how it comes. Even if you’re fighting, it’s still connection.

What’s the number one question parents ask?

Parents often say ‘What do I do if my kid won’t talk to me?’ Just spending time with them and even having an unsuccessful conversation, it doesn’t feel rewarding for you as a parent, but they are listening.

What from your Jewish background and education contributes to your work?

Jewish women and girls have more permission to assert themselves. There’s a tradition of supporting outspokeneness in Jewish women and girls, and that’s a lot of what I’m teaching girls, to speak their truths. In my own upbringing my mother and grandmother played powerful roles, and they’re both outspoken Jewish women. I’m not sure I’d be doing what I’m doing today if I didn’t have that tradition of truth telling behind me.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Rachel Simmons, Girls, Aggression

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.


Comments
esthermiriam Mon. Jan 4, 2010

Nice to read about the Yeshiva U. high school girls relating to Jewish settler counterparts: for another vision of girls sharing across the boundaries, listen to the "Unlikely Friends" story here http://www.rnw.nl/english/radioshow/fresh-start-old-enemy and visit http://www.creativityforpeace.com/




Find us on Facebook!
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • 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.