The Magazine

Girl Power! and Other Idiocy

Government propaganda for boys and girls.

Jan 14, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 17 • By CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS
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Operating outside the protocols of social science and blessed with political backers in high places--not just Secretary Shalala, but also first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton--Girl Power! proliferated and by now is totally out of control. Here is a partial list of the handsomely and expensively produced booklets, manuals, and guides that are sent on request to anyone who asks for them: "Welcome to Girl Power!," "Girl Power! Across the Country," "How to Access and Activate Girl Power! in your Community," "Five Steps to Getting the Media to Cover Girl Power!," "Girl Power! Speaker's Guide," "For Adults who Care about Girls--A Resource Guide," "Girl Power! Campaign Information Packet," "Girl Power! How to Get It: Activity Guide for 9- to 11-year-old girls," "Girl Power! Keep it Going--Activity Guide for 12- to 14-year-old girls," and "Girl Power! School Year Assignment Book." By the end of the Clinton presidency, the Girl Power! program offered posters, postcards, bookmarks, book covers, stickers, water bottles, certificates, T-shirts, pins, and caps to "anyone who cares about girls"--"free of charge."

MEANWHILE, what about the boys? Finally, six years after the inception of Girl Power! and under a new administration, CSAP is beginning to respond to criticism of its total neglect of half of American youths. But the same people who created Girl Power! are still running the agency, and there are signs of a disaster in the making. The new program is based on the same questionable gender theory that inspired Girl Power! Its designers take a dim view of the ways masculinity and femininity are "constructed" in our society, and they seek to make boys and girls as much alike as possible. Girls need to be encouraged to take power, as the Princess Petaluma did; boys need to learn to sit quietly and chat freely about their feelings. The titles of the respective CSAP programs--"Boy Talk" and "Girl Power!"--reflect this dubious philosophy.

Boys, according to materials compiled by Boy Talk planners, "are generally socialized to be self-reliant and independent, not to show emotion." This is supposedly a bad thing. If Boy Talk gets off the ground, we will soon see a spate of U.S. government-sponsored manuals, activity guides, diaries, T-shirts, coasters, and caps intended to rescue boys from their masculinity.

It is always possible, of course, that HHS secretary Tommy Thompson will make it his business to restore elementary standards of common sense to his department. He has just appointed Charles Curie to direct the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, of which CSAP is a division. Curie, who was previously deputy secretary for mental health and substance abuse services in Pennsylvania, has a solid record of implementing effective and empirically tested programs. That augurs well for changes that are badly needed.

One may hope that Thompson and Curie will recognize the worthlessness of the Boy Talk project and eliminate it before it eats up any more money and confuses more boys. Recent events make plain that the nation needs self-reliant, independent, stoical young men to protect us all. Girl Power!, too, should be terminated, even though this will call down the wrath of feminists and a frenzy of lobbying from girl-partisans everywhere.

Girl Power!--as Thompson and Curie must appreciate, should they decide to grasp this nettle--is a potent symbol for its proponents. At a press conference on women's health in 1993, Secretary Shalala remarked that "for too long, health research has been addressed from one point of view, the white male point of view." Girl Power! seems to have provided Shalala and like-minded "theorists" with a golden opportunity to redress the historic imbalance by launching a program free of what feminist epistemologists call "male ways of knowing"--ways of knowing consistent with the norms of logic, respect for facts, and rules of evidence.

Someone somewhere in the Clinton administration must have been skeptical about the Girl Power! campaign, with its anti-male subtext, its propensity to psychobabble, its spiteful "girl quotes," and its baseless belief that girls are being shortchanged and need to be empowered. But Democrats tend to run for cover whenever the "female ways of knowing" crowd shows up. It remains to be seen whether Republicans have the steel to take on this embarrassing government propaganda and stand their ground.