Psychological aspects of Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher

The book Reviving Ophelia, which is written by Mary Pipher, deals with the topic of adolescence in girls.  The author peruses widely accepted concepts in the fields of psychology, sociology and gender studies to illuminate her thesis.  At the outset, Pipher talks about the numerous challenges imposed on adolescent girls by the society of today.  For example, she sees contemporary society as a ‘girl-poisoning’ one, which essentially forces young girls to turn into “female impersonators who fit their whole selves into small, crowded spaces”.  Instead of letting the girl find her true calling through a process of exploration and experiment, the strictures of American society narrows down the scope of their individual expression.  The author cites numerous anecdotal examples in the book, by way of which she throws light on key psychological insights on female adolescence.  Reviving Ophelia does not stop with illustrations of the state of young women in the United States.  The book goes further and suggests methods and principles through which adolescents could retrieve lost ground.  The authenticity for Pipher’s analysis comes from the fact that she is an experienced psycho-therapist, who specializes in teenage issues and problems.  Toward the end of the book, Pipher provides a list of remedial measures that are based on insights she gained during her professional practice.

The book is centered on this crucial question: “Why are American adolescent girls falling prey to depression, eating disorders, and suicide attempts at an alarming rate?”.  The answer for this serious question lies in the fact that we live in a society which places emphasis on superficial aspects of an individual such as their looks, sex appeal, etc.  Such expectations are not only shallow but are also psychologically deficient, in that, there are many more facets to a teenage girl than external appearance.  The author asserts that as long as this dismal state of culture persists, girls in our country will find it hard to find their true selves.  According to Pipher, parents have a key role to play in the revival process.  Through a process of educating themselves on concepts of psychology, parents can liberate their adolescent girls from the narrow, sexist mould.

The environment in which a young girl grows up inAmericais quite hostile to its healthy development.  For example, even in primary school classrooms one can find teachers being negatively biased towards girls as opposed to boys.  There are other subtle manifestations of gender stereotyping as well, which have a negative consequence on the psychological development of the girl.  Many instances of sexual harassment go unnoticed or unreported, as our society is harsh on the girl’s reputation than on the boy’s.  It is no surprise then that many teenage girls resort to alcohol and recreational drug use.  Some of them indulge in body art and body piercing, which are usually cases of self-mutilation disguised in the form of art.  As they struggle through their mental torment, they make themselves vulnerable for acts of indiscretion, the foremost among them being unwanted teenage pregnancy.

To the credit of the author, she avoids usage of esoteric words and explains psychological concepts with the help of everyday analogies.  For example, through out the book, the author depicts the vulnerability of teenage girls as delicate fledgling trees that are caught in the midst of a hail storm.  Here, the storm is analogous to the oppressive contemporary culture.  The strength of the support system for the girl, which is her family, is the strength of the roots of the fledgling tree.  This way, Mary Pipher demystifies complex psychological concepts and puts it across in layman’s terms.

The psychological turmoil with which adolescent girls in our society grow up is explicated vividly through usage of powerful words.  For example, in the first chapter, Mary Pipher is being provocative when she says “You all die at 15…young girls slowly bury their childhood, put away their independent and imperious selves and submissively enter adult existence….Girls stop being and start seeming…The world tells us what we are to be and shapes us by the ends it sets before us. To men it says, work. To us, it says, seem. The less a woman has in her head the lighter she is for carrying.” (Chap.1, p.19-22)

In sum, the success of Mary Pipher’s book is due mainly to its compassionate tone.  The issues of psychological development that she talks about might have grave undertones, but the earnestness with which Pipher explains its drawbacks is very impressive.  The author also does a stellar job of making clear to the readers that adolescent psychology is quite different from adult psychology and hence the remedial approaches for both of them cannot be the same.  An important argument that Pipher puts forwards is that there is a urgent need to focus on female adolescent psychology.  The failure to do so would culturally and psychologically impoverish future generations of Americans.