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Not enough attention paid to the data
on August 17, 2014
This book is obviously about "The Triple Bind", but since this is just a needless complication of the concept of a "double bind", I would like to start by talking about the latter. The "double bind" in this book refers to the observation that contemporary girls are expected to "be good at all the traditional girl stuff" and at the same time "be good at most of the traditional guy stuff." Because many of the traits in these two categories are contradictory, Hinshaw argues, girls are incapable of meeting the expectations heaped upon them, leading them to violence, depression, and suicide. He further argues that this problem is a product of the rights revolutions of the mid-twentieth century, and therefore we should expect to see incidence of violence, depression, and suicide among girls increasing in the decades since the mid-twentieth century.
This book is a fine read if you already believe that the so-called double bind is an issue, and want to know what you can do about it. However, a careful reading of the first chapter reveals that it is not so certain whether the double bind even exists. Hinshaw devotes all of three pages to an analysis of the data to show that today, girls are in a crisis. Because Hinshaw so graciously reminded us on the cover of his book that he is a Ph.D., we should expect him to know that if the conclusions he draws in these pages are invalid, his entire book is a waste of paper. But take a look at his handling of the subject:
"Girls rates of aggression and violence are on the rise, while boys' rates have shown either less of a rise or an actual decrease during the past fifteen years. Boys are more physically violent than girls throughout their lives, so it is particularly distressing to review the latest government statistics that reveal alarming rates of self-reported girls' violence. Some experts contend that rates of official violence are distorted because of a tendency to include aggression at home (fights with siblings, for example) as "assaults" for girls, whereas the same acts would be given another label if boys committed them. But there is no doubt that girls have become more aggressive than previously, and that relational and social aggression (spreading rumors, getting even by forming coalitions against a target, and the like) continue to be a major issue for our daughters."
Here Hinshaw admits that the data do not prove aggression has increased in girls, but that he is nonetheless certain it has. The citation for this paragraph does not offer any insight into the mystery of his conviction. It refers only to a study performed in 2000 that shows that aggression in girls increased disproportionately within the 1990s. Even if this study controlled for the changing ways in which girls' violence is classified (it doesn't), it fails to demonstrate any larger historical trend outside the 90's.
The second of his five points is as follows:
"Self-mutilation among teenage girls---cutting, burning, biting, and other forms of serious self-injury---appears to be on the increase. Because girls go out of their way to hide this practice, statistics are hard to come by. But almost every clinician will tell you that rates are increasing---dramatically."
Almost every scientist (but not Hinshaw) will tell you that a person's impressions and intuitions are no substitute for controlled, blind experiment. Historical myopia, even among professional historians, is a well-documented phenomenon. This paragraph is truly an act of desperation.
The final three of his points demonstrate how many girls today suffer from depression, but do not even attempt to show that there has been any increase in the incidence of depression.
Now, because Hinshaw has failed to prove that aggression, depression, and suicide among girls have increased in recent decades, the remainder of this book is a journey into the hypothetical. Shall we continue?
The thesis of The Triple Bind is that girls are failing because it is impossible for them to meet the expectations given them. But nowhere in the book does Hinshaw explain who is doing the expecting. He writes as if it is Society, which presumably is a monolithic entity with a single set of values and expectations of its members. In reality society is composed of different groups (parents, teachers, peers, the media), and each one has potentially different expectations of girls, and each one carries potentially different weight in their minds.
It may be true that a girl's parents and teachers have higher expectations of her than they used to (be good at girl stuff and be good at boy stuff), and so it is more difficult for her to meet their expectations. On the other hand, her peers only expect her to accomplish what they themselves have already accomplished. If she is less pretty than her peers, she will feel pressure to be prettier. If her peers are getting straight A's, she will feel pressure to get straight A's. Therefore if by "expectations" we mean "peers' expectations", there can be no double bind, no unattainable expectation.
While we adults like to think that we are the center of our daughters' and students' worlds, a dispassionate reality check will reveal that they care far more about the approval of their peers. If kids care so much about their parent's approval, why do they go out of their way to listen to music their parents find appalling? Why do some cliques think school is uncool, despite adults' universal agreement that academic achievement is important? Where do counter-cultural groups come from---the ones who reject the image of the "perfect girl" fed to them by the media?
All the evidence suggests that girls are plenty capable of setting goals for themselves within their respective peer groups. What is important to them is becoming the most popular girl at school, the Valedictorian, the top pick for boys. What is important to them is relative perfection, not to be, as Hinshaw puts it, "100 percent perfect, 100 percent of the time."