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Supergirls Speak Out: Inside the Secret Crisis of Overachieving Girls Paperback – March 3, 2009
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
From Publishers Weekly
First-time author Funk defines the term "supergirl" as an over-achieving young woman with a compulsive need to be the best in all areas: school, extra-curricular activities, social networking and, of course, physical appearance. As she and her fellows are discovering, however, the pressure of such all-encompassing ambition can result in exhaustion, eating disorders, emotional problems and screwed up priorities. One of Funk's 100-plus interviewees bemoans that "'when you Google me, nothing comes up. I need to have Google prowess'"; for herself, Funk confesses her chagrin over publishing her first book (this one) at the age of 20 instead of 18. Though such a young writer can't possibly tackle the complex state of 21st century feminism without reading (at the least) precocious, freelance writer Funk has done her research, and her writing is lucid and intelligent. A good deal of unnecessary ranting could have been cut, and brand name fatigue sets in early (one hopes Funk is getting kickbacks from Starbucks). Still, Funk provides some fresh insights, especially for a younger audience brought up on The Devil Wears Prada and the myth of workplace gender equality, encouraging self-awareness, reasonable priorities, and a healthy outlook.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Like Sara Shandler’s Ophelia Speaks (1999), this title, written by a 19-year-old undergraduate, offers an insider’s view of what it means to be a high-achieving young woman in today’s society. In loosely organized chapters, Funk defines today’s “Supergirls,” who hold themselves to impossible standards, and she explores how typical Supergirl traits play out in young women’s lives at school, at work, in friendships, at home, and in their relationships with men. More information about how Funk researched and gathered the quotes and profiles that fill the heavily anecdotal text would have been welcome, and Funk’s youth and inexperience are clear in the somewhat disorganized, highly repetitive text. Still, the subjects’ frequently echoed frustrations powerfully underscore the book’s clear, cautionary message: young women, facing pressures to succeed at all costs from society, their families, and themselves, are pushing themselves to the breaking point. A few suggestions for change close the book, but it is the honest, urgent, intimate voices, including Funk’s own, that will stay with readers. --Gillian Engberg
Top customer reviews
The editing is sloppy, and although there are a few places where Liz Funk absolutely shines, she pisses me off too often to redeem herself. I have hesitated to publicly write anything negative about this book, because the author herself has published articles on how wrong and mean it is to criticize a writer online - but I feel like this book deals with such an important topic so poorly that I can't be silent, plus, hey, I love talking about literature. The point is for "supergirls" to speak out, isn't it?
This is the only book that has upset me enough to actually keep a reader's journal - I just needed a place to write down all my objections.
To be fair, this book was labeled "Self Help," and I am rarely impressed by this genre. Also, to be fair, despite my privilege, I am not Funk's audience - I have already graduated from college (recently though it was), and I'm not rich enough to read this book. I took out student loans and pay my own bills, my god! I can't be a supergirl!
I hope someone else writes on this topic in a form that can be labeled Gender Studies. I'll wait till then...
The book is valuable because it makes known and somewhat accessible a sweeping phenomena that isn't always recognized. For supergirls, their reputation of perfection makes it not only hard to reach out for help, but also makes no one take them seriously when they do. Her description of the girls being close to tears even when they are smiling and bubbly couldn't be more true, and yes, anxiety attacks, eating disorders, and all manner of health problems are shockingly common. This needs to become known, because these girls need help and they aren't going to get it until more people understand.
But at the same time, she doesn't adequately represent the problem. She has an n of five, with other anecdotes and a few statistics thrown in to support her story, but it's incomplete. She blames parents, blames societies, but no where does she laud the pursuit of excellence, nowhere does she give the girls credit for their great accomplishments. Her assumption is that everyone's goal is simple happiness, she doesn't leave room for a legitimate desire for excellence and perfection. Some people don't want the good job and happy life, they want the accomplishment, and society needs those people too. I can't help but imagine that the girls she observed would be offended at how she belittled their independent action and their goals.
Toward the end she judges the girls by saying they make their work load harder than it has to be. There's a lot to unpack here. Is she really criticizing a 15 year old girl for carefully going through journal articles for a project? They are hard to get through even when you're qualified enough to do so, so yeah, it's gonna take a while to understand, and it isn't wrong of her to want to build the analytical skills necessary to do so. That isn't idleness, that's bettering herself. Similarly, even if those five girls she observed tended to spend what the author claimed was excessive time on certain things, lots of girls that would be classified as supergirls don't. They just do more things. That was my high school experience, at least. And finally, there is nothing wrong with putting your all into what you do, and going the extra mile.
There is a lot of contradiction in the book. She blames parents for heaping on the pressure while discussing how the girls claim they aren't pressured by parents, (not to mention judges parents with cynical remarks while saying there's too much pressure on parents to get it right.) She claims that girls need to receive recognition from school while complaining that overachievers are recognized publicly. The list goes on.
The book describes supergirls like they are a terrible anti-feminist consequence. But this isn't a problem only for women. My high school experience was quite different, where the strata that I was competing most heavily with was predominantly male. They worried about looks, grades, colleges, and extra curriculars too. Furthermore, when describing the unnecessary actions these girls take when coordinating details, she ignores the power that comes with that. These girls are seeking attention, but they're also seeking control, (whether because they want to feel control over their lives, or because they like being in control, or both). When you are the coordinator, when you pay attention to details, then you also orchestrate how things happen. You have power to create, power to get your way, power to shape the environment. In this way, girls and young women are shifting the power balance between gender within their social circles. And I wonder how the boys who are growing up now, surrounded by competent and powerful women who were always in control, are going to be socialized differently compared to today's adult male population.
The book reads easy but is repetitive. Every chapter tried to shock and awe the reader with variations on the same story, (girl works hard, girl doesn't sleep, girl has breakdown). I felt like it could all have been condensed into an article rather than an entire book. Perhaps the stories might be more shocking to someone of another generation, but to me they seemed mundane--even unimpressive at times. That's not to say the that the girls she observed weren't marvelous students, just that some of her anecdotes weren't particularly impressive. To top it off, she used a ridiculous number of exclamation points. That doesn't add suspense or excitement, it's just distracting and comes across unprofessional. They were jarring. I found myself distracted from her deeper points because they were so lost in the repetitive examples and over-excited sentence structure.
That being said, I'd recommend flipping through this book or one like it if you're unfamiliar with the issue. It does shed a relatively good look at the pressures facing today's teens. It's a problem, and one that needs more attention. I'd just rather she focus on promoting coping mechanisms, health education, and means of promoting self confidence; rather than demonizing the pursuit of excellence.