In The Triple Bind (Ballantine Books, 2009), psychologist Stephen Hinshaw explores society's expectations of girls and young women. According to Hinshaw, girls are pressured to excel at both traditional "female" roles (of being caring, tolerant, cute, sexy) and traditional "male" roles (of being competitive, assertive, strong, successful), while being 100% perfect all of the time. If they can't manage to stay on top of these often conflicting demands, they see themselves as unworthy. This leaves girls facing impossible dilemmas, such as having to choose between comforting a sad friend or studying for an important math exam, or between following a career path or staying home to care for an ailing parent. Whatever they chose, they lose.
Though at first glance these problems may seem ordinary and innocuous, Hinshaw (who serves on the executive committee of the Greater Good Science Center) convinces us otherwise. Citing alarming statistics about the increased rates of suicide, violence, eating disorders, and depression—and recounting stories of individual patients in his psychotherapy practice—Hinshaw paints a vivid portrait of girls on the brink of self-destruction. "The Triple Bind and its impossible expectations conspire to make [girls] feel not full but empty, not waving but drowning in a sea of contradictory demands," writes Hinshaw.
Yet there are ways to help young women thrive despite these cultural pressures. Hinshaw suggests that high-quality connections with adults, being part of a community with a shared purpose, and involvement in service to others can all help give girls a greater sense of self. He also promotes a renewal of the feminist movement, so teens can connect with a larger community of women who can help them see their issues from a broader social perspective. As Hinshaw concludes, "It's up to us, the adults, to undo the bind and work with our youth to create a new culture."
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About The Author
Jill Suttie, Psy.D., is Greater Good’s book review editor and a frequent contributor to the magazine.