By Nishanthini Edited by: Jesie Randhawa
“It’s true that girls have never been more successful, but they have also never struggled more.”
The data says it all. Rates of anxiety and depression among young women have skyrocketed in recent years. In adolescence, girls are twice as likely as boys to suffer from depression. Too many women go from being confident teenagers to anxious and overwhelmed adults.
In comes Enough As She Is by Rachel Simmons. In a play on the title, this book is a way of saying enough is enough, when it comes to the impossible standards set for today’s girls. Using statistics and their individual, lived experiences, Simmons explores the toxic messages that society feeds women, as well as the impact of these messages on their mental health and relationships. As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, puts it, we live “in a world that too often tells our girls to be quiet, not assertive; deferential, not opinionated; meek, not bold; and insecure, not confident”. The list goes on. There’s no question that this chronic battering fuels harsh self-criticism, impostor syndrome and unhealthy competition among girls.
Originally written to offer practical advice to parents and educators of young women, Enough As She Is holds value for all women and our allies. For me personally, this book was a tonic for a lifetime of living in a patriarchal society.
As an ethnic minority woman, raised by a single mother (and until I was 16, an abusive father), I was ceaselessly bullied and harassed throughout my life. In addition to being hurt, underestimated, alienated and marginalised, I was held to impossible standards of behaviour and achievement; standards that would seem ludicrous if applied to men in the same situation. Of course, I carried debilitating shame and guilt for years.
This book has been a big part of my own healing experience. It’s helped me rediscover and love the outspoken, opinionated and confident woman that I am. In writing this book review, it’s my intention to extend this experience to as many women as possible, because so many of us deserve healing for just being ourselves.
I must be honest; this isn’t a text that has intersectionality at its core. Race is addressed at some points. For instance, Simmons highlights the difficulties faced by Black girls in predominantly White environments. “African American girls are often coded as too loud or volatile by educators and peers.” (89) This sentence bears unfortunate relevance to ethnic minority women in Singapore, who bear the same burden of being either hypervisible or invisible in majority-race environments. However, this is just one of few instances where race is discussed. On the whole, Enough As She Is explores the struggles of girls as an entire group, making it difficult to appreciate the complications of navigating female identity and other social categorizations. Simmons has made the effort to interview a cross-section of American women for this book, with one-third of interviewees identifying as people of colour, but it lacks focus on the other identity markers that define a young woman’s experience.
As a youth mentor and tutor, I’ve had the privilege of interacting with youth on a deep level. I can appreciate how Enough As She Is profoundly captures the minds, thought patterns and lived experiences of the women featured in the book. The conversations in it recall open discussions that I’ve had with my own female students.
It’s both a privilege and a burden to set a good example, as well as offer advice and counsel. However, we must embrace the emotional labour of doing better; of educating ourselves so that we stop, knowingly or unknowingly, perpetuating the toxicity that we’ve endured; of helping the young women in our lives build their arsenals of self-knowledge and self-compassion. With all the resources at our disposal, Enough As She Is included, it’s the easiest time in history to do just that.