Good Morning America sat down with seven young women between the ages of 12 and 16 at the Arts and College Preparatory Academy in Columbus, Ohio, to hear firsthand their thoughts about coming of age in a #MeToo era.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Stephanie Dowd was invited to comment on their conversation, and offer advice for protecting themselves in the world of dating and building healthy relationships.
“It’s important that girls are brought up to be told that it’s okay to stand up and speak up,” Dr. Dowd told ABC News. “Girls sometimes are taught to be polite. And that if they speak up, it means, they’re being mean.”
Dr. Dowd’s take on what it’s like for teen girls:
- Young women get a lot of attention for being pretty and thin. Unfortunately, our culture reinforces this and females are growing up believing that the way to get attention or to be liked or popular is based on appearance. This minimizes their self-worth, dignity, and power.
- Females are sexualized and objectified at younger ages. Clothes for young girls are provocative, revealing, and sexy. This sexualization of girls is risky. Research shows it’s linked to eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression.
- Young women are taught to be nice. This leads girls to be compliant and quiet. To be nice means you make others happy at your own expense. Girls get the message that if they speak up and voice discontent, they are being mean. If they turn a boy down, they are made to feel they have disappointed him, they have hurt his feelings, and that’s mean and bad.
- Unfortunately, for the majority of women, unwanted sexual and romantic attention is a fact of life. Often beginning around puberty, it can range from awkward to annoying to downright terrifying. Many women struggle with how to decline a romantic or sexual advance because they’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. And when the attention is aggressive or comes from someone older, it can be hard to know how to push back.