Rush for conformity

(Some of these blogs come out of season because I am transferring from my old website)

The week before college starts in the fall, hundreds of women vie for the coveted spots in a sorority. During this week, I begin to feel like Jane Goodall. Groups of college women all dressed alike walk around campus in herds. The same dress, the same shoes, the same hair. Some are better than others at navigating the high heels, but I think I would have an easier time distinguishing a group of chimps. The craziest type of individuality any of them showed was picking a different color purse.


I must admit, I never did any of this as a college student. I went to a small school that (I think) had one sorority. But I have lots of students who are in sororities, so I understand the social value of the organization. I don’t judge the sorority. I just think this stuff i crazy. At Kentucky, the girls also dress identically for football games. Same blue, black, and white dress and same brown boots. What is difficult to understand is the extreme conformity. They all work so hard to look like the other girls. It must be exhausting. They drank some powerful Kool-Aid.

​Social psychology has taught us about the irony of individuals and groups. We desperately want to fit in, but at the same time, we desperately want to be perceived as unique. That’s a tough line to walk.

Considering how much women at this age are objectified, it is particularly disturbing to see conformity beat out individuality so strongly. It isn’t even a close match. It is clearly much better to fit an ideal image of a sorority girl than be thought of as an actual individualized person. I know this isn’t the message I want 19 year old girls to leave with. Just doing something because your friends are doing it is particularly dangerous in a college atmosphere of alcohol binge drinking and unprotected sex.

So, bring on the girls in the non-matching dress, the comfortable shoes, and the curly hair. Because I want to celebrate the girls who say, “Take me as I am or don’t take me at all!” ​

Accidental Parenting

I am writing the last two chapters of my book (that is due at the publishers May 1). Here is my favorite excerpt from today:

“The power of parenting is in the little moments, usually the moments we don’t mean to be “parenting.” In my own opinion, this is what makes parenting so hard. It would be easy if kids eagerly approached you on your best day, the days you felt rested and relaxed, saying “Mom, Dad, teach me something important so I can live a happy and productive life.” They would soak up your jewels of wisdom. Then they would ignore all the times you were overwhelmed and snapped at your husband for no reason, or the time you yelled at the driver who cut you off on the highway, or the time you were overly anxious when your boss came over, or the time you commented about feeling fat in your jeans in front of your mid-puberty daughter. It would be much easier if kids only paid attention when you wore your “parenting hat” and not when your own worse traits popped up. But, alas, they don’t. They pay attention to it all­ – the intentional and the accidental. ”

It makes me wish someone would invent a parenting hat I could wear. When I am wearing it, the kids would pay attention. When I take it off, they should ignore me. This would ensure they would pay attention when I wanted them to (which would be impressive by itself), but also they would ignore me when I wanted to steal candy from the candy jar or have a general end-of-week meltdown.

Girls choose pretty over smart…Argh!!!!

My headache-inducing fact of the day: Researchers interviewed gifted 3rd-6th grade girls. The girls talked about downplaying their intelligence because they wanted to appear pretty. They also didn’t want to look like they were bragging or being competitive by getting good grades. I hope my own gifted 3rd grader never downplays anything. I wish that intelligence and pretty weren’t seen as mutually exclusive.


New Psychology Today post

Check out my newest Psychology Today post. I have been shocked that people are shocked by the Steubenville rape trial. We sexually objectify girls so much in our culture that these situations seem inevitable to me. Don’t believe me? Check out a Hardee’s commercial. Both boys and girls buy into this mindset, one in which girls are dehumanized sexual objects for men’s and boys’ pleasure. That is the first step, rape doesn’t follow far behind. Lots of research studies have long shown this link, we just don’t seem to care enough.


The power of dad

A new study in Journal of Youth and Adolescence found that teen girls whose parents “get in their business” are more likely to delay having sex compared to teen girls whose parents “mind their own business.”  This adds to the piles of research showing that parents who monitor and nose their way into their teens’ lives end up with kids who avoid some really risky behavior (like having sex at 14 and getting drunk at 15).

But what is one of the biggest predictors of young teen girls delaying having sex? Having a dad around. This fact has been shown again and again. Dads being present really helps girls make some wiser decisions (on the flip side, a girl having sex at 14 is anything BUT a wise decision).  Maybe having a dad around helps with the whole monitoring thing. One more person present to nose into the teen’s personal life. Maybe it’s something about getting positive male attention that helps girls not seek it elsewhere. It is hard to know exactly what dads are bringing to the table, but it is something.

What I always find interesting, in these studies showing the importance of a dad being present, is that it doesn’t much matter what exactly the dad does. Maybe he is cranky when the house gets loud, or he is strict, or he is lenient, or he likes to complain about everyone leaving the lights on all the time. It doesn’t matter. Just being there, being engaged, paying attention, doing the dirty work. That’s what seems to matter.

Past research has shown that dads who do the nitty-gritty work when their kids are babies – the diapers, the baths, the 2am feedings – have children who are more securely attached to them.  They grow into teens who know they can depend on their dads when things go wrong. They also know dad is there to help them make better decisions, and to come down on them when they make bad decisions. Both actions help kids navigate the tricky waters of adolescence.    ​


The bumper sticker I saw at day care today really does sum up research on fathers. Men who change diapers change the world.  The bumper sticker was probably referring to a broader point about gender equality. But a lot of world-changing also happens one kid at a time.  ​

Girls on the golf course

It has been a big week for women in golf. After Augusta, there was a lot of talk about how women in business can be excluded from important social networks by not hanging out with bigwigs on the links.  Condoleeza Rice may be as famous now for being the first woman into Augusta National Golf Club as being the first African American female Secretary of State.  Allowing women into the elite golf club was about more than golf; it was about allowing women to play with the big boys.

photoThere is always an interesting consequence of women breaking these barriers. Future young women and girls won’t even know there was once a barrier. It means that girls can play golf without ever thinking about the possibility of being excluded. Most golfers will never play at courses like Augusta. Most play on their local, public golf course. But now, for girls, there is no end point. No place where they are automatically excluded because of their anatomy.

And, as with many sports, there are a lot of great things about golf for girls. According to a great article about “Girls, Golf, and Fitness”, playing 18 holes involves walking at least four miles, which is healthy for everyone. Plus, it provides an opportunity for girls to exercise and be active with their families. For my daughter, for whom socializing is an art form, playing a game where you can interact with others is ideal. Thanks to Title IX, there are golf teams at most high schools, and because girls have been traditionally underrepresented in golf, there are quite a few golf scholarships to go around.

So for the price of a set of junior clubs, and $8.00 course fees (for a round at my local course), my kids can get exercise, family fun, and a useful skill for their future lives as CEOS (ok, I will settle for Secretary of State). Not bad.

5 Things Sally Ride Can Teach Every Girl

Sally Ride sadly died this week. She was 61. Her legacy was that she was the first American women in space. But I think her influence went far beyond that. As I read about her life, I realize her life can teach everyone – particularly girls – several lessons, none of which involve physics.


1. Be prepared, but then take a chance. Sally Ride didn’t really grow up dreaming of being an astronaut. After all, before her, astronauts were only men and usually test pilots. But she was finishing her PhD in physics from Stanford when she read an ad in the school newspaper. NASA was hiring scientists, so she took a chance and applied. It wasn’t part of the plan. Sometimes the best things in life come from a combination of preparation, luck, and the nerve to simply try.  Life sitting on the sidelines isn’t very interesting.   ​

2. Be smart. Many times girls are afraid of being really smart. I see this in my students all of the time. Sexy and well-liked are often competing goals for girls today. As a young girl, Sally Ride played with a chemistry set and a telescope. It seems to have paid off.  Smart is cool.

3. Be a leader by being outspoken about things you know about. She didn’t just rest on the laurels of her trips to space.  After writing an influential report for NASA, she was named the first director of NASA’s Office of Exploration. She was the only person to serve on commissions investigating both the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters. If you are knowledgable about something (and if you aren’t, get knowledgable), then speak up, be heard, lead.

4. Be entrepreneurial.​ She founded her own company , Sally Ride Science, to help motivate young girls and boys to stick with their interests in science and to consider pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. She also initiated and directed several NASA-funded education programs.  Her passion was inspiring young people to pursue science. She turned her passion into action.

5. Be unique and bold. She was the first. Even now, there aren’t many women who have PhDs in physics. I am sure it was hard. Not the physics part (although I can’t imagine that was easy), but the being-first part. She didn’t have a model for how to do it, or group of women to sit around and chat about the trials and tribulations of space travel. But just because there weren’t many others, she pursued her goals anyway.  I have lots of female students who don’t want to move away from home even though their dream job/graduate program/life’s ambition is somewhere else. They settle for the easy because they are scared of the unknown. It breaks my heart, because their potential remains untapped. Be bold. Failure is not the worst case scenario; a life of what-ifs is.