Will #MeToo be a turning point for younger girls, too?

Curious to know if the #MeToo conversation on sexual harassment was resonating with younger girls, I contacted my nie...

Posted: Jan 18, 2018 11:58 AM
Updated: Jan 18, 2018 11:58 AM

Curious to know if the #MeToo conversation on sexual harassment was resonating with younger girls, I contacted my niece, a junior in high school in Westchester, just outside New York.

My niece, Isabel Gurwitch, jotted down some notes so she would be prepared when we talked. What she wrote gets to the heart of how powerful #MeToo could ultimately be for younger women.

Young women around the country say the #MeToo movement is positively impacting them

One hope is that #MeToo will help young women feel more confident and assertive

Isabel noted how many girls seem to lose confidence during adolescence. In her experience, it begins toward the end of middle school and continues through high school. Boys tend to talk over girls, especially in higher level classes, and girls seem to volunteer less and have a little less academic confidence, she said.

Even Isabel admits that when she was in elementary school and in the beginning of middle school, she had no trouble asserting herself. But that changed toward the end of middle school.

"It seems like that's the age when girls sort of lose some of that confidence and I don't really know where that comes from," said Isabel. "So I was thinking ... the movement might change that eventually. I don't know," she said referring to the new attention on sexual harassment in the workplace.

And that is the question I set out to explore: Could #MeToo also be a turning point for younger women and help them become more confident and assertive? Could it lead to girls who aren't reluctant to raise their hands in class and speak up, girls who might never have the need to say #MeToo?

Teaching girls to lift each other up

Allegra Dubus-Brandolini is a senior in high school in Exeter, New Hampshire. She said #MeToo has changed her relationship with girls, bringing her and her friends closer.

"Our conversations have also changed," said Allegra. "Where once we would spend our time talking about boys we like and drama that is happening to us, the conversation has opened up to discussing what is happening in the world and discussing our future and asking ... what our future will look like in this society. This has allowed us to gain a sense of trust that I don't think we had before."

She said she has also noticed a "huge difference" in relationships with boys. Girls and boys used to feel afraid and ashamed to talk about difficult topics such as rape and consent, but #MeToo has "broken that barrier and made us feel more comfortable" discussing these issues, she said.

Boys also seem to be more comfortable asking questions they might have been afraid or reluctant to ask before, Allegra said. Questions such as, what is healthy masculinity?

Girls trusting other girls and working together with them, and finding common ground with boys, can be critical steps in helping girls grow to be strong, confident and assertive, said Katie Hurley, a child and adolescent psychotherapist and author. Her newest book, "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident and Compassionate Girls," will be released later this month.

"It feels like we're right there where the tides are about to turn," said Hurley, speaking about the #MeToo movement and Oprah Winfrey's electrifying speech at the Golden Globes. "People are speaking up and people are banding together and women are coming together," which is a theme throughout her book, she said.

"Let's teach girls when they're young to lift each other up, to stand together, to have compassion and empathy for one another instead of trying to climb to the top," said Hurley, who runs empowerment groups called "Girls Can" for girls between the ages of 5 and 11. "For too many years, women have had to claw their way to the top and sometimes that means taking down other women in the process and boy, has that been damaging."

Morgan Guess was a victim of bullying at age 8 and helped lobby for a new bullying definition in the state of Kentucky. She believes there's a tremendous opportunity for dialogue among girls following #MeToo and the #TimesUp campaign, which is raising money for a legal defense fund for women who have experienced harassment, assault or abuse in the workplace.

"Girls are still finding their way and being accepted and a part of a group is so highly valued that we should be talking about how acceptance should not come at any cost. And, we should be talking about how girls and women should support one another and celebrate each other's successes," said Morgan, who is a high school freshman in Paducah, Kentucky and co-founder of the Guess Anti-Bullying Foundation.

"Even at 15, I don't share some of my achievements for fear of being excluded. How can we encourage success if we don't celebrate it? And, if we don't celebrate each other's successes, how can we go to each other with our dark secrets?"

Abbey Sutzko, a sophomore in high school in Dallas, Pennsylvania, said she has seen "some amazing girls supporting each other" and helping them through whatever they need help with since #MeToo.

She also said she knows people who have been victims of sexual harassment and assault who just recently felt comfortable enough to tell their stories and get the help they need. (A new hashtag, #MeTooK12, has been created by the nonproft Stop Sexual Assault in Schools to encourage students who have been victims of sexual assault, abuse or harassment to speak up and share their stories.)

"It also gives us confidence in knowing our stories matter, our opinions matter, and that we can make a difference in our own lives ... and speak up for what we believe," Abbey said.

'They don't want to be called bossy'

Hurley, who has two kids of her own including an 11-year-old daughter, said in today's society we often talk about raising girls to be assertive but most people don't actually know how to do that. Many girls also don't know what it means to be assertive, she said.

In one of her empowerment groups, as an exercise, she told the group of 20 girls that they needed to get better at using the word 'no' and all the girls stared at her, she said.

She told the girls it's an important word that we all need to know how to use and they told her things such as, "It's not really that nice to say 'no' and there are other things you can say instead of 'no,' " said Hurley. She had them practice screaming 'no' and only about a third of the group could do it.

"It was eye-opening in a way," said Hurley, the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World." "Here are these girls, they were probably third to sixth graders, petrified to just yell the world 'no' because they are socialized to not say 'no.' They are socialized to always be kind and polite first."

Hurley said when she asks girls what it means to be assertive, they don't want to be assertive because they've been led to believe that assertive and aggressive are one in the same.

"They get called bossy. They don't want to be called bossy so they learn to tone themselves down all the time," she said.

Mixed messages in the classroom

They are also getting mixed messages in the classroom, Hurley said.

"We have this dichotomy where girls consistently outperform boys in the classroom, but boys consistently out-talk girls in the classroom," she said.

Hurley hopes the #MeToo moment encourages girls to learn what it means to be assertive and to practice putting themselves out there -- in school, with their friends and in their everyday lives.

Parents can help their daughters learn to flex their assertive muscles by engaging with media with their daughters, and by hosting family debate nights -- every member of the family takes a side on an issue and has to make their case.

Kids today are "bombarded with information, imagery and opinions and judgments all the time so our job is really connecting with them and help to learn how to ... poke holes in the things they're seeing," said Hurley.

"It all plays into how they assert themselves and how they present themselves to the world and it's up to us to have those hard talks with them."

When young women see older women speaking up during the #MeToo movement and when they listen to influential women such as Winfrey sending messages directly to them, they can gain more confidence in themselves, suggests Ella Becker, an eighth grader in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

"Oprah's comments ... definitely make me more confident and feel safer when I need to speak up for myself because I'll know other girls do the same thing," said Becker.

"It definitely is a turning point for girls my age ... because now us girls can grow up in a safer and more equal generation where we are more confident in speaking up for ourselves."

Isabel, my niece, said she's noticed a big movement online of girls supporting each other since #MeToo, particularly in fashion and beauty communities. "There's a lot of people lifting each other up rather than being rude or disrespectful."

She's hopeful that #MeToo will also lead young women to feel more confident in the classroom, to speak up more and not cede their ground.

But she also wisely says it's not just about encouraging girls to be more assertive. We have to focus on young men, too.

"I think a lot of it is the way that we educate boys and teach them not to interrupt girls," she said.

Hurley, the author and child and adolescent psychotherapist, agrees. She said while building up our girls with self-confidence and assertiveness and encouraging them to lean together as they work their way through girlhood will help raise empowered young women, it is also essential that we take a look at how we raise our boys.

"Just as girls need to learn to stand up to behavior that silences them, boys need to learn how and when to stand down," Hurley said. "Teaching boys not only to respect their female peers, but to embrace what they have to offer, plays an integral role in shifting the current narrative that holds girls back."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 20573

Reported Deaths: 878
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin6918534
Ramsey231697
Stearns192312
Nobles14572
Anoka116455
Dakota105935
Olmsted55110
Washington50626
Kandiyohi4541
Clay36623
Rice3652
Scott3462
Wright2401
Sherburne2081
Todd1970
Benton1662
Carver1612
Mower1501
Steele1400
Martin1245
Blue Earth1121
St. Louis11113
Pine850
Freeborn840
Winona7715
Carlton730
Nicollet683
Cottonwood620
Polk582
Otter Tail550
Itasca527
Goodhue522
Watonwan500
Chisago481
Dodge430
Meeker420
Crow Wing421
Le Sueur411
Chippewa400
Jackson390
Morrison380
Murray350
Becker320
Lyon310
Douglas290
McLeod260
Isanti250
Waseca240
Rock210
Unassigned199
Fillmore171
Mille Lacs161
Wabasha160
Swift150
Sibley120
Beltrami120
Wilkin113
Norman110
Kanabec111
Cass113
Faribault110
Brown112
Pipestone100
Marshall80
Pennington70
Pope70
Aitkin60
Wadena60
Yellow Medicine50
Koochiching50
Lincoln50
Mahnomen51
Renville50
Lac qui Parle30
Red Lake30
Big Stone30
Redwood30
Traverse30
Grant20
Houston20
Clearwater20
Hubbard10
Kittson10
Lake10
Roseau10

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 17227

Reported Deaths: 456
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk3714108
Woodbury255524
Black Hawk167639
Linn92775
Marshall86611
Dallas84914
Johnson5987
Muscatine54339
Wapello5004
Crawford4772
Tama39023
Louisa3347
Scott3319
Dubuque31916
Jasper25616
Buena Vista2310
Pottawattamie2106
Sioux1990
Washington1798
Allamakee1184
Wright1170
Plymouth1080
Warren1060
Story941
Poweshiek888
Bremer676
Henry611
Clinton601
Boone540
Des Moines531
Mahaska526
Cedar451
Guthrie433
Taylor370
Benton371
Jones360
Monroe334
Iowa320
Clarke320
Osceola320
Shelby310
Buchanan310
Clayton303
Marion290
Webster271
Fayette260
Hamilton260
Madison241
Monona230
Cerro Gordo221
Lee220
Winneshiek210
Davis200
Lyon190
Grundy190
Harrison190
Floyd181
Jefferson150
Cherokee150
Butler150
Mills140
Delaware140
Humboldt130
Sac130
Greene130
Keokuk130
Hardin130
Howard120
Hancock120
Appanoose123
Audubon111
Jackson110
Cass110
Ida100
Page100
Clay100
Winnebago100
Carroll90
Van Buren80
Franklin80
Dickinson80
Adair80
Chickasaw80
Kossuth70
Emmet70
Lucas60
Montgomery60
Union60
Adams50
Ringgold40
Fremont40
Pocahontas40
Mitchell40
Palo Alto30
Worth30
Unassigned30
Calhoun20
Wayne10
Decatur00
Rochester
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 74°
Mason City
Overcast
70° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 70°
Albert Lea
Broken Clouds
73° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 73°
Austin
Scattered Clouds
75° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 75°
Charles City
Overcast
66° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 66°
Storms a brewin'
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Will Memorial Day cause a coronavirus spike?

Image

Can you catch Covid-19 from mosquitos?

Image

125 Live Restaurant partnership

Image

Taps in City Park

Image

100 Most traveled days in MN have begun

Image

Parade in the park

Image

Field of Flags

Image

Pausing the pandemic to remember the fallen

Image

Memorial Day Dinner

Image

Salvation Army Dental Care Needs PPE

Community Events