When I tell people that I specialize in working with teen girls, most people are lovely. They say things like "Wow, that's really needed" or "That's great!"
Still, there's one response that tends to throw me:
What we mean when we say "Ugh."
I'm always curious when someone responds with a sound. "Ugh." "Ugh?" "Ugh!"
When I push back, a few people clarify that they are overwhelmed at the thought of working with teens. This is totally fine. Everyone has different strengths and I wouldn't fault anyone for articulating their unease with a grunt.
But a subset of this subset responds with an eye roll. A sigh. Disgust.
"I can't stand teen girls."
It always strikes me how brazen some people are in their dislike of teen girls. Yes, teen girls have feelings and thoughts; who doesn't? Yes, they can be loud and emotional; who isn't at times? There's something else going on besides these statements. Something more sinister.
Misogyny and cultural forces devalue teen girls
I was having a conversation with a friend, and she challenged whether I was just overreacting. I pointed out something that I feel throws cultural forces into stark relief:
You would never say that about children with autism.
I work with autistic kids. Ugh. I help parents figure out how best to support them. Wow, I can't stand kids with autism.
If someone reacted that way in a conversation, other people would shake their heads, look horrified, or ask "What the hell is wrong with you?"
Not for everyone to work with? Check.
Sometimes requiring a lot of attention? Check.
Parents who often aren't quite sure what to do? Check.
When someone responds with disdain about teenage girls, it's more about their own internalized biases than the difficulty of the work. Every single population has its own challenges. There is nothing special about teenage girls that makes them more worthy of scorn.
Normal aspects of being alive are stereoyped and stigmatized
If I asked you to throw out some of the worst, most untrue, and harmful stereotypes about adult women, I'm guessing it would be:
We can go back into historical archives and find arguments pointing out how incorrect and pernicious these stereotypes are.
This pamphlet, published in 1866, addresses some of the same biases that persist today.
"Women spend time on [X], so obviously know nothing about [Y]"...as if only men were capable of having more than one interest.
"All women are so dumb [and all men are so much smarter]"...as if humans weren't just all doing the best they can and making it up as they go.
These stereotypes were wrong in 1866 and are just as wrong today.
While most people know that these stereotypes about women are wrong, some people still feel comfortable applying them to teen girls.
I'm not saying that these people hold a certain enmity in their heart, a special hatred for teens. I'm saying that these cultural forces run deep. Something we think we've eradicated still lingers in our cultural threads.
Teen girls are badass
Every teen girl is surviving in this culture that thinks devaluing them is okay. Merely existing can be a struggle. Liking the things you like, being who you are, talking the way you do - these things can be a minefield of avoiding ridicule.
Just existing in this culture takes strength. Confronting these forces and pushing your way through? That's hard. That's something to be commended. Celebrated. Supported.
I will forever defend teen girls' right to be teen girls. Teen girls are champions, on the forefront of a collision with an unforgiving and stigmatizing world. I will help them learn to pick themselves up, overcome their haters, and soar.