Comparison of Ideas between Reviving Ophelia and Real Boys
Reviving Ophelia and Real Boys both try to explain why boys and girls, men and women are the way they are. There are many differences between our two genders but also a lot of similarities and connections. According to the authors of the books, males and females can lose “themselves” and usually show signs that this is happening. This “loss of self” is initiated by things such as relationships with parents and family, environment, and the biggest one to me is society’s view of how men and women should be. Some of the signs that children and adolescents use to show their struggle would be use of alcohol, drugs, sex, self abuse, emotional outbursts and many more.
To begin, parents or guardians have such an enormous impact on the emotional and mental growth of their children. From a young age children become who they are with regard to how they were nurtured and treated by their parents. Divorce or activeness of the parent in their child’s life can also affect the development of that child as they mature. William Pollack states, “The divorce itself is a wrenching disconnection for a boy. He feels disconnected from the family and home that once were that safe place” (Real Boys 167). Having a family torn apart is never easy on any child, but I believe it is even harder for boys to deal with since society tells them it’s not okay for them to express their emotions. With females, the feelings are often the same about the breaking of their family, but they can express the pain more openly. “When parents disconnect, the children have no base to move away from or return to. They aren’t ready to face the world alone. With divorce, adolescents feel abandoned, and they are outraged at that abandonment. Often they feel that their parents broke the rules and so now they can too” (Reviving Ophelia 135). This is a time, I believe when girls express their pain of abandonment in the form of substance abuse, sexual activity, and eating disorders because they need something that will take away the pain and something to turn to since they feel they have nothing at home.
How parents raise their children, I think, reflects directly on how society wants them to raise their children. Sometimes I really think our world is like the movie The Matrix. Everyone is under the control of society and very few step out and prefer to be different and fight to be themselves.
Society is the biggest factor in the development of women and men alike. Women are taught to be proper and girly or they are outcasts. Men are supposed to be tough and emotionless or they are sissies and a disgrace. Parents raise their children based on the assumptions of how society thinks they should. “The potency of connection is not just about the power adults have to create safe, nurturing “holding environments.” It is also about how these caring environments, in turn, affect the biological development of infant and toddler brains (Real Boys 57).” How many times have we heard the saying “big boys don’t cry”? My parents said that to my younger brother all the time while we were growing up. As soon as a young child hears something like this, it conditions them to act on it. Boys from a very young age are taught to be tough and show no emotion just because they are boys and society expects them to be this specific person. It’s not healthy for emotions to be held in. Emotions should be channeled into activities instead of repressed. For example, if a child wants to yell, the author suggests playing a game that allows them to yell, or give them a punching bag if they are angry and want to hit things.
Women on the other hand are taught to be emotional! It’s not wrong for them to cry and they are supposed to form a specific attachment to their moms or dads that is considered healthy. I sometimes think it is harder for parents when their daughters go through adolescence because this is the time when the girl will step away from that connection she has made with them. Boys have already become unattached at a younger age, but girls usually step away during the start of their teen years. Parents are lost and confused when this happens and wonder what happened to their curious, adventurous daughter. Girls and boys alike are adventurous and spirited at a young age. When adolescence happens, girls usually lose this uniqueness and “lose themselves” in order to fit in with the demands of society. “Vibrant, confident girls become shy, doubting young women” (Reviving Ophelia 22). This is the time when girls become aware of the physical bodies growing and changing and when society expects them to become “feminine.” “Beauty is the defining characteristic for American women. It’s the necessary and often sufficient condition for social success. It is important for women of all ages, but the pressure to be beautiful is most intense in early adolescence” (Reviving Ophelia 183). Girls have to move on from their childhood tomboy selves and conform into society’s view of what a young female should be like.
I remember when this happened to me. I used to be the biggest tomboy and my mother couldn’t get me in a dress or get me to wear my hair down. In seventh grade, I played basketball in a boys’ league and that’s when I became aware of my self as a girl and the comments the boys made to me caused me to want to be more girly. I don’t believe I ever “lost myself” because I am still very much the same adventurous, thrill seeking, right there getting dirty with the guys, hunting, athletic girl that I used to be. I would say that I became more aware of my feminine side, but my dreams and uniqueness of when I was a girl will never leave me. I actually chose at a young age to not conform to society and not to be like everyone else. I don’t mind being called weird, I consider being different a compliment. I do not channel my emotions towards things that will ease my pain; I simply deal with them upfront. I do not drink when I’m down, I do not have sex when I feel inadequate, and I have never inflicted pain on myself in order to control things in an uncontrolled environment like so many other young adults do.
How confused young individuals deal with their pain is a very broad field of experimentation. The use of alcohol and drugs is increasingly growing and the age for this use is getting younger and younger each year. Also, kids are becoming more sexually active at younger ages and it is occurring more frequently. Self abuse, mutilation, and disorders are more common than ever in young adults and children. Gone are the days when premarital intercourse, alcohol, and drugs were looked down upon. Culture has changed and so has its standards for the people that live in it. Mary Pipher hits it right on the head when she states, “Alcohol and marijuana are popular because they offer teenage girls a quick, foolproof way to feel good. Caffeine and amphetamines help girls avoid hunger and eat less. Plus, chemical use often enhances status with friends” (Reviving Ophelia 190).
Nobody likes to feel pain or be rejected by their peers, so an easy answer for that is getting involved in things that “help” in both cases such as alcohol, drugs, and parties. This is an easy way for people to forget their problems temporarily. I also believe sex is used as a release for women too. I have a couple of friends who have bad lives at home, so they feel like they are “worth” something when they have sex with guys. It helps them feel adequate and wanted and desired. I think this is so damaging and something they will regret later on in their life. I also think guys struggle with the act of sex. “Boys tend to view it (sex) at least partially, as a way of confirming their masculinity” (Real Boys 150). There is so much pressure from peers, for boys to be macho and a “pimp” trying to get as many girls as possible. Guys are ridiculed and teased if they haven’t had sex and usually when surrounded by their friends, guys feel the need to lie about their sexual encounters so they fit in and are not alienated. The standard of society is rather messed up in my opinion. A girl can have sex with ten different guys and be considered a “whore” but a guy who has sex with ten girls is considered “the man” and applauded by his peers! It’s no wonder young adults are so confused about right and wrong when society has so many double standards to what is right and wrong.
Another thing that caught my attention with the two books was the different disorders that occur in response to the loss of male and female selves. With females, the disorders that are common are anorexia and bulimia. Pipher suggests this is all about control: “The one thing in life that anorexic girls can control is their eating. No one can make them gain weight. Their thinness has become a source of pride, a badge of honor” (Reviving Ophelia 175). I think that while girls are going through adolescence, their parents are completely confused at the transformation of their daughters, so they try to control who they see, what they do, and where they go. Girls are already disconnecting from their parents at this stage, and with their parents trying to control what is going on in their lives, the girls rebel even further and often use anorexia to stabilize and control their own lives. I think the same is true for bulimia, in that it’s a form of controlling their weight but it becomes an obsession. The challenge of controlling urges and what they do with their bodies’ helps girls feel like they are in charge, even though it is inflicting pain on themselves and their families who have to witness it.
With boys, a common disorder is ADD or attention deficit disorder and depression. Pollack states, “I believe that an overwhelming number of elementary school boys diagnosed with conduct disorders or with what is often called ADD, are misbehaving not because they have a biological imbalance or deficit but because they are seeking attention to replace the void left by their mothers and fathers” (Real Boys 36). To Pollack, ADD does exist and is in fact a common disorder, but he believes that it might not be a disorder in young boys, but part of the normal reaction boys have to loosing themselves and becoming disconnected from their parents. I think this is very much a possibility because boys are screaming for attention! Society will not let them be who they need to be or allow them to expose their emotion in a healthy way, so they need attention and for someone to notice they are very much in pain in this world.
I think that society controls the outcome of who children later become as adults. For children to become better, our society needs to become better first. Society tells them what is good and bad and how they should act to fit in, and parents do not help that by following the demands of society. Children and adolescents are crying out for help in many ways that are not always obvious, but there are plenty of obvious signs that show their distress. I believe that as adults, we need to be more aware of this distress and do what we can to let these struggling individuals know that it’s okay to be who they really are and they don’t have to conform to society!
Pipher, Mary. Reviving Ophelia. First Ballantine Books Edition: March 1995
Pollack, William. Real Boys. New York: Random House, 1998