“We are a generation of young women who were told we could do anything, and instead heard that we had to be everything.” —Courney Martin, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women.
Women in their twenties today were in grade school for the girl power-soaked 90s. Now they’re the most stressed demographic in the US overall, according to a study published last month in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
The study looked at stress levels across the nation over time, and even though stress levels among men have increased by a greater margin than women’s levels over the years, they still haven’t caught up.
Their slightly younger counterparts are faring no better, according to a report commissioned by the organization Girls, Inc.
Encouraged to seize opportunity and saddled simultaneously with a "growing emphasis on perfection," teenage girls are pressure-formed into ‘supergirls,’ the study says—the ones who have to be everything to all people, and "pretty and passive" to boot. It’s not hard to see through the warped gender lens how these are also the ones stressed in their twenties, and the ones reportedly four times less likely than men to negotiate a first salary or else be seen as "pushy" if they do.
Now that we’re waist-deep in discussion of whether or not a woman can "have it all" and where this persistent gender gap in bylines is coming from, a new center in Rhinebeck, New York wants to take a step back and look around.
The Omega Women’s Leadership Center will open this September with a mission statement ten stories tall: Through workshops and conferences, the center hopes to address not just how to make women’s names show up more often in leadership positions, but how girls and women can "actually use leadership to change how power operates in the world, to change the nature of power itself" said Carla Goldstein, the center’s director.
Of course, where the "nature of power" is concerned, flat-out codified gender discrimination is a tremendous barrier in need of active dismantling. But Omega’s new center, born out of the 35-year old destination for meditation and yoga, wants women to turn inward as well. A workshop next month geared towards twenty-something women will try to mend what Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl, calls their chronic "cutting off from their inner landscape." Coming off of their teenage years, they may have gotten great grades and won awards, but years of feeling they must "constantly perform for others" leaves them ill-equipped to pursue their own desires, much less understand what they are, she said. (There is, in fact, a very popular Tumblr blog devoted to the phenomena.)
"If you can ask your roommate to turn down the music, you’ll be able to ask for a raise five years from now," Simmons said. "But if you can’t talk to the people in your life right now about what you need, you will not suddenly develop that skill later."