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Alpha Girls: Understanding the New American Girl and How She Is Changing the World Hardcover – September 5, 2006

3.0 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bestselling coauthor of Raising Cain, a look at the emotional lives of boys, Kindlon's new subject is the "young woman who is destined to be a leader. She is talented, highly motivated, and self-confident." These alpha girls, Kindlon suggests, gain a sense of emancipation from the accomplishments of their mothers, a sense that was lacking in previous generations: as a post-feminist cohort, "they are the living, breathing embodiments of the inner revolution that women in the last generations so ardently desired and fought for." Buttressed by well-organized informational charts, Kindlon's lucid look into the social and psychological world of these young leaders is well-paced and includes substantive interviews with the alpha girls themselves. In addition to providing an inside look into the alpha girls' lives, and the feminist tradition which they inherit, Kindlon's work explores the relationships alpha girls have with the men in their lives-fathers and boyfriends, mostly-particularly in collegiate and post-collegiate life. With comprehensive chapters on alpha girls at work, in love and in the family, this study is a must-have for anyone looking to understand the upcoming generation's driven, confident and successful females.
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About the Author

DAN KINDLON, PhD, is a clinical and research psychologist specializing in the behavioral problems of children and adolescents. He teaches child psychology at Harvard; lectures widely to groups of parents, educators, and mental health professionals; and is the author of numerous scientific journal articles and three books including the New York Times bestseller Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Lives of Boys (coauthored with Michael Thompson). He lives near Boston.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Rodale Books (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594862559
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594862557
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.4 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,204,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R S Cobblestone VINE VOICE on September 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Alpha Girls: Understanding the New American Girl and How She Is Changing the World, is author Dan Kindlon's analysis of the present and future life of "alpha" girls: those girls who are excellent academic achievers, leaders in high school, shine in sports, and have high levels of self-esteem, motivation, and confidence.

Kindlon argues that, whatever the decade old AAUW study on girls reported, the new alpha girl is either immune to bias in the classroom or situated in the "new age" of education that provides opportunity and removes barriers based on sex. He reaches this conclusion after interviewing a bit over 100 "alpha girls," kids recommended to him by teachers, principals, and other students. He compares these girls to students who have completed a questionnaire in about 18 high schools concentrated in the east (6 public and the rest private).

I appreciate the analysis that Kindlon has undertaken, but I also recognize its methodological weaknesses. There is a difference in having interviews with top-performing girls (and they are going to admit that their life isn't perfect?) and looking at their school, home, and work records, and interviewing a random sample of students and looking at the characteristics of those who are performing at the top of some pre-developed scale. Also, the vast majority of kids in Kindlon's study were from private schools. This is not a random sample of Americana, and brings in biases of income, race, and social status. Thus, he states that there are these amazingly confident and motivated girls in high school as his conclusion. However, in 1999 there were 16 million kids in high school in the US. Certainly, there should have been no problem in finding about 100 of the 8 million girls to be fantastic students.
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Format: Paperback
I think the one reviewer's comments about specious statistics and lack of supporting evidence is right on. I also have to take issue with the use of the term 'born leader'. A person is born into this world with either risk factors or protective factors...the more protective factors a person has, such as 2 parents, being white, having economic privilege, are the kinds of thing to factor in when really trying to understand what determines a person's ability to 'lead', that is, to feel at home and entitled enough in the world to successfully navigate it, and access and utilize resources...when a person is experienced in these ways, they can much more easily 'lead' as the world feels essentially 'theirs'. Classism, sexism, racism, still divide those who 'could' lead, vs those who were 'born with resources to lead.' A sense of inclusion is what helps shape confidence, and if you come from a home or socio-economic background that is not representative of those who hold power in the country or even just your school or town, then a feeling of exclusion can erode a wonderfully intelligent person's confidence.

The other thing I had a problem with in the book, is the notion that being an Alpha female is 1-a good thing, and that 2-being an alpha female is indicative of feminism 'working'. The idea of an "Alpha" is a male/patriarchal construct, so a woman being able to do what a man can do and to play well on his field, isn't authentic equality, nor is it feminist if today, the only ways women can be 'great', is to 'conquer' the world, be aggressive, competitive, perpetuate colonial thinking, and do things 'just like men'...which essentially are all signs of male-identification, not 'self-identification', something that would be a truer feminist goal.
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Format: Hardcover
While there is a lot of info here, the title is misleading. Maybe half the text is about alpha girls, the rest about the increasing status of women in general. There is a whole chapter on the "descent" of boys/men. There is a recitation of common wisdom that a woman will be president and that women professionals like/need flex time. There is also lot of peripheral text (for a book on alpha girls) for instance, about women in Norway, anecdotes about the status of women in the 50's, random data and interviews about the sexuality of college females, etc.

While the many charts are documented by source, I had the feeling that the author took the data at hand, rather than the best data to illustrate his points. The bar charts with alpha girls data plotted with all girls and all boys were very illustrative, but there were a lot of charts that seemed to be of general interest or just filler. Some charts extrapolated 45 years showing female predominance in various endeavors without comment. It is spurious to assume today's data, which represents an abrupt break from history, will meaningfully project so far outward. The charts are provided without comment on the potential for a plateauing of the trend.

The author cites Simone de Beauvoir's observation that once women were more valued by their families and their culture, a new psychology would follow. This topic of the "new girl" is worthy of treatment, which this book only promises to do.
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Format: Hardcover
As a classroom teacher that first came into the profession at the height of the "Reviving Ophelia" type of research done by Mary Pipher. I have participated in classes, seminars and training sessions about how girls are being short-changed in the classroom and in our culture. It was not until I ran across some research I was doing in my Master's Degree program some 15 years later that my eyes were opened to a new possibility: the girls are, on the whole, doing just fine. The boys, on the other hand, are falling by the wayside in heart-cringing numbers. Go to any public school and you can just about guarantee that 7 or more of the top ten will be girls. Look at the special education numbers and 7 out of 10 will be boys.

Dan Kindlon's "Alpha Girls" does not address what is going on with boys, but it does look at a relatively new phenomenon - the hyper-achieving academically gifted, socially skilled, generally athletic, well-connected Alpha Girls.

What makes an Alpha Girl?

-GPA of 3.8 or higher
-Leadership role in an extracurricular activity
-Participation in that activity at least 10 or more hours per week.
-High motivation to go to college, own a home, make a lot of money, have a good reputation, study and save money for the future.
-High self-esteem based on personal dependability.

While clearly not trying to be openly critical of feminist researchers Carol Gilligan and Mary Pipher, Kindlon's findings blow giant holes in the universal apllicability of their theories, although he does admit that changes in American culture may well be what accounts for the differences.
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