Queen Bees and Wannabes – Book Review

Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence

By Rosalind Wiseman (2002)

Am I unfair to call commentators who raise concerns about adolescent girls phobic? “I’m not accusing girls of being bad people,” insists Rosalind Wiseman, who, after all, runs a program for girls called Empower, on page 16 of her popular 2002 book, Queen Bees and Wannabees.

Well, let’s look at the words Wiseman used to describe girls on the first 15 pages: “confused,” “insecure,” “lashing out,” “totally obnoxious,” “moody,” “cruel,” “sneaky,” characterized by “competition with” and “judgment of each other,” ruled by “social hierarchies” that are “painfully reinforced,” “lying,” “mean,” “exclusive,” “catty,” and “pulling a fast one” if they tell parents they “don’t drink or do drugs.” (The very few positives are described either as fleeting or as vanished qualities of the “sweet” preteen girl obliterated by adolescence.)

Imagine, now, that Wiseman had written a book about any other group in society—say, Jews—and filled the introduction with such sweeping name-calling and negatives. What would we call that?

Go a step further—how does Wiseman characterize grownups, especially parents? You find none of the disparaging terms applied to girls. “Girl world and Planet Parent” are “two fiefdoms with different languages and rules,” Wiseman declares; “girl world”=bad; “parent world”=good. Really? Adult and parent worlds have no meanness, hierarchies, competition, moodiness, cruelty, judgment, drinking, drugs, lying, or other bad qualities? Not in the unreal, rarified galaxy Wiseman and others who write books on parenting teens seem to inhabit. Nowhere does the eye-opening notion that high school is NOT a separate “fiefdom,” but an uncannily accurate training ground for the grownup fiefdom the parents occupy and reinforce, intrude.

“Everything in this book comes from what girls have told me over the last ten years I’ve been teaching,” Wiseman says. This baffles me. I worked with teens, including girls, for an equal number of years, directly in family, community, and wilderness programs. I and co-workers certainly heard many of the same complaints about school hierarchies and mean peers Wiseman reports, but I heard plenty more—about parents and parents’ partners who were suicidal, drug and alcohol abusers, violent, sexually abusive, felonious, imprisoned, verbally and emotionally sadistic, disappearing, divorced, and just plain messed up. The cruelties, hierarchy enforcements, and harassments were inflicted not just by peers, but by teachers, coaches, principals, and parents. None of these issues so crucial to many girls’ lives appear in Wiseman’s book, or in other youth-bashing works, except in occasional lists. She only blames peers and the media for girls’ problems. Parents, at worst, merely contribute to daughters’ problems by being naïve, baffled, and overly trusting, innocently unaware of teen and pop-culture evils.

But more than the negatives, I heard and saw far more positives. Girls are wonderfully diverse. It is simply a lie that girl worlds today are dominated by misery, meanness, drunkenness, moodiness, suicide, and mental illness. I heard girls in large majorities describe and display far more warm, happy friendships, school and peer experiences, exciting opportunities, enjoyable and affirming media and popular cultures—and yes, good relationships with parents.

But what I personally heard and saw and chose to remember is not what I rely on here. Unlike most teen-bashing authors, I don’t flatter myself as possessing the universal mind or observational skills necessary to claim that “what I saw” and “what girls told me” constitute the sum of all experience. If statements are to be made about girls in general, then general measures sufficient to make them must be marshaled. Massive studies and surveys of thousands of girls—in which girls are allowed to speak for themselves rather than secondhand, through the selected, filtered, always gloomy voices of the girlphobes—document the more positive lives of young women today.

What do girls themselves—when scientifically sampled, rather than the ones chosen to uphold adult prejudices—say about their lives?

 

Table 7. But don’t girls say they’re more depressed,

scared, peer-tortured, alienated, and selfish today? NO!

Percentages of high school senior females telling Monitoring the Future:
Question: 1975/76 1980 1990 2000 2005
Happiness
   I’m “very happy” 21% 18% 18% 23% 23%
   Satisfied with life as a whole 63% 66% 65% 64% 66%
   Having fun 64% 67% 68% 65% 66%
   Enjoys fast pace and changes of today’s world 45% 42% 58% 56% 50%
   Daily participation in active sports/exercising 36% 38% 34% 35% 36%
Are you satisfied with (percent agreeing)…
   Yourself? 66% 71% 69% 71% 70%
   Your friends? 85% 85% 87% 83% 86%
   Your parents? 65% 69% 65% 68% 67%
   Your material possessions? 75% 75% 71% 73% 75%
   Your personal safety? 68% 67% 66% 69% 71%
   Your education? 56% 64% 64% 64% 70%
   Your job? 56% 54% 60% 56% 60%
   Takes positive attitude toward self 81% 83% 73% 82% 75%
   Feels “I am a person of worth” 88% 88% 85% 81% 81%
   Feels “I can do things as well as most people” 89% 92% 89% 89% 87%
   Feels person “is master of own fate” 68% 68% 70% 68% 63%
Values (percent agreeing)
   Important to be a leader in my community 19% 20% 33% 40% 46%
   Important to make a contribution to society 55% 52% 62% 65% 70%
   Important to have latest music, etc. fashions 77% 78% 70% 59% 51%
   Important to have latest-style clothes 42% 47% 57% 42% 39%
   Wants to have lots of money 35% 41% 63% 57% 59%
   Wants job with status and prestige 52% 60% 69% 65% 67%
   Wants job which provides lots of money 84% 89% 86% 86% 86%
   Wants job with opportunity to help others 92% 91% 92% 88% 90%
   Women should have equal job opportunity 82% 88% 96% 97% 95%
   Wants to correct social/economic inequality 37% 35% 44% 39% 39%
   Happier to accept things than create change 37% 39% 36% 39% 35%
Depression/pessimism
   Dissatisfied with self 12% 10% 13% 10% 12%
   Sometimes thinks “I am no good at all” 28% 27% 28% 25% 24%
   I’m “not too happy” 13% 17% 12% 14% 13%
   Feels I am “not a person of worth” 5% 5% 6% 7% 8%
   Often feels “left out of things” 33% 34% 36% 34% 29%
   Feels there’s usually no one I can talk to 6% 5% 6% 6% 5%
   Feels “I can’t do anything right” 10% 11% 12% 14% 14%
   Wishes “I had more good friends” 50% 46% 50% 52% 44%
   Not having fun 19% 13% 16% 20% 17%
   Can’t get ahead because others stop me 22% 21% 26% 26% 20%
   Thinks “things change too quickly” today 54% 56% 44% 44% 46%
   Thinks “times ahead of me will be tougher” 47% 54% 45% 42% 41%
   Don’t participate in sports/exercise (<1/month) 22% 20% 25% 22% 22%
 Feels “people like me don’t have a chance” 6% 5% 5% 5% 5%
*Source: Monitoring the Future, 1975-2005.

 

Compared to girls of past decades, girls today are somewhat happier, less likely to feel no good, less likely to feel left out or in need of more friends, happier with a fast-changing society, happier with school and jobs, feeling safer, and more optimistic about the future. And, in case anyone (like Jean Twenge) feels girls are getting too full of themselves, note the heartening declines in the percentages of girls who view themselves positively and assume they are worthy (down to 80%).

Girls feeling happier, safer, more included, and less alienated must be disastrous news for the girlphobes, because they go to incredible lengths to make them seem more miserable. They also fail to mention that the generally sunnier views of girls themselves are validated by solid outcome measures showing that most of the problems we would expect to be rising and widespread if girls were deeply troubled today are, in fact, declining and rare. And where there are problems, they are often imposed by adults via conditions such as poverty, abusive families, and grownup bullying, not just by mean peers and misogynist media.

Still, Wiseman and other girl-clique authors are not the worst demonizers of girls; they sometimes present another side, however sparingly. The worst of the worst are the academic profiteers from manufacturing fear. Professors James Garbarino and Deborah Prothrow-Stith represent two troubling sides of academic girl-phobia—in this case, the baseless claim that modern girls are meaner, more violent, and more troubled in every way. See these reviews for more comprehensive, optimistic trends among girls.

Reviewed by: Mike Males, YouthFacts.org