Interesting story from Slate:
Two recent studies suggest that [writer Mary] Pipher’s basic observation about girls’ vulnerability to peer pressure remains true, but they emphasize that peer pressure can sometimes be a good thing. The studies examined the academic achievement of high school students and found that being surrounded by underachieving classmates has a negative effect on girls and boys—both genders feel pressure to conform to the lower standards of their peers. But the studies also show that girls are more sensitive than boys to the presence of high-achieving peers. Surround a girl with diligent classmates, and her performance will improve.
Makes sense to me.
I was lucky enough, from Grades 4 through 9, to attend a demanding, competitive all-girl school. Our teachers were ferocious, with Scottish names like Miss Brodie and Miss Brough (rhymes with tough, gruff, and never good enough), and it was clear to me — at the age of eight — I’d better be smart, or else! I studied Latin as early as Grade 7, with Zora Srepel. (How can you forget a name like that?)
I loved how scary these Himalayan expectations were, even to little girls, with the very clear message that the coolest girls were those who walked off each year with the prizes for each subject, who went off to the best universities — not those with the biggest breasts or best-looking boyfriends. We competed for grades, for recognition for our intelligence and skill.
I started winning prizes early for my writing and won the respect of my peers. Since they were smart as hell, that meant something.
When I arrived at a mediocre co-ed public high school I felt like I’d gone, which I had, from breathing the pure oxygen of the best kind of peer pressure to the sludgy smog of a shrug. Girls? If we weren’t cute or docile, we didn’t register on the radar, either teachers’, other girls or boys.
By the time I went to university, it was too late. You were, as most college kids are, on your own, just one more body in a seat. Without that early jump-start, the booster-rocket of knowing I could compete against the best, I’m not sure I would have had the success I did.
I don’t have a daughter, but if I did I’d do anything I could to keep her surrounded by high-achieving women.
I had lunch yesterday with a new friend, a woman perhaps a decade younger, who has already created two successful companies (while having two small children); her products are sold in the nation’s largest stores. Like me, she’s a a former competitive athlete, has also lived in France and hoped to work as a diplomat.
I could feel my brain revving up again in the presence of a woman who’s whip-smart, fun, driven (in a good way) — yet who was able to enjoy a three-hour lunch with me. It felt like a hit of pure oxygen.
Have you felt this effect — or seen it in your own daughter(s)?