Some of you might have seen Alye Pollack in the video she posted on YouTube about being bullied. Very sad. Bullying is a dangerous reality for too many of our kids today, and a topic that should certainly be discussed. Alye made a very poignant portrait of the tragic reality our kids deal with everyday.
I want to focus on something else about her video, though. I was stricken by her choice to be silent and convey her message through hand written signs.
Alye is in pain, and her voice can’t be heard. She is trapped.
That is true for so many adolescent girls. They lose their selves in the process of becoming a woman. They lose their voices, the core of who they are and believe in.
What happens to girls between the ages of 11 and 13? The positive energy, curiosity and confidence they had as girls of 8 or 9 disappear, and a somber cloud of uncertainty and fear envelops them until their voices quiet and they spirits die.
I believe that happens because girls get confused with the mixed messages they receive during their lives about what it means to be a woman.
Infants’ concept of self is developed very early, within the parameters of their relationship with their caregivers. Before they understand themselves as separate entities, with separate bodies, they understand themselves as part of that dynamic system. They understand themselves in relationship, and as they grow and develop, they learn to give and take empathically, with the goal of maintaining the relationship.
In childhood, boys are encouraged to distance themselves from that interconnectedness. Our still male dominated culture equates growth and development with separation and individuation. We value our concept of self as a separate and autonomous entity more than most anything, because it is intertwined so closely with our concept of freedom. So we push our boys away from interconnectedness and toward separated individuation. This is often a difficult time for boys, that may scar and confuse them in their relationships and ability for intimacy in the future. But because of Aley, I am focusing on girls today.
As we discourage interconnectedness for boys, we encourage it for girls. We are proud of our young girls when they continue to care and attend to others. Feeling related to another person, being in an active empathic interchange with another person is where a girl feels most fulfilled, is where she can develop a strong sense of self, and of worth. For a few years she is happy and confident. Until the messages she receives from society start to be confusing.
She starts to notice what boys were forced into a few years back. That our culture does not value that most fundamental part of her being, her relational self. Her ability to thrive as an individual in the context of a relationship is viewed as a weakness and undesirable trait. She starts to notice the inherent hierarchy in most relationships, particularly those between men and women, where one’s development doesn’t foster the other’s as it had been her experience thus far, but halts it. So all of a sudden, she is lost. All she knew and thrived in now makes her feel inadequate, inferior and powerless. She can’t be who she is anymore. She silences herself knowing that the spirited girl she was and loved needs to die, so she can become what our society expects her to be.
That’s what I heard in Alye’s silence.