The Mental Health Gender Gap

At Psychology Today, psychologist Terri Apter has this opinion piece on the the mental health crisis among adolescent girls—and the long-established research highlighting their culturally ingrained reluctance to claim their voice and speak up:

“I am of course referring to the work of Carol Gilligan’s ten-year research project on ‘Strengthening Healthy Resistance and Courage in Girls’ in which she showed—long before iPhones and social media—that teen girls face a psychologically costly dilemma: They are challenged to silence themselves in order to keep peace with others, and when they resist, they are punished, warned, or excluded. [4] Young teen girls learn they can either say what they really think and be unacceptable to others, or they can cover their gut resistance to the female norms into which they are being initiated and remain acceptable to their parents, teachers, and friends.

These findings remain pertinent today. Girls are told they can do anything, and be anyone they want, but to do so they have to succeed according to social rules and educational standards. Social media comes in only as it adds more watchers to police girls’ looks, words, and actions, but the laws are the same. Girls are still taught to put others’ needs before their own, to ‘look nice’ and ‘speak nicely.’ Those who believe that teen girls don’t care about the approval and acceptance of grown-ups — parents, teachers, neighbours — should think again.”

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