Smart Girls Get Even Smarter With Female Competition

Japanese school uniform, Yohohama, Japan
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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)?

Eighty Afghan Schoolgirls Poisoned — Taliban Suspected

Emblem of Afghanistan
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It’s hard to imagine behavior so misogynist and vicious, but last year several girls in Kandahar had acid thrown in their faces for daring to…attend school.

In the past three weeks, in its ongoing efforts to deter young women from getting an education, the Taliban have allegedly poisoned more than 80 schoolchildren with noxious gas, sending them to the hospital, reports msnbc:.

The Taliban and other conservative extremist groups in Afghanistan who oppose female education have been known to target schoolgirls. Girls were not allowed to attend school when the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan until they were ousted in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

Last year, dozens of schoolgirls were hospitalized in Kapisa province, just northeast of Kabul, after collapsing with headaches and nausea. An unusual smell filled the schoolyard before the students fell ill…

Teachers stricken as well
Anesa, a 9-year-old girl who was among those hospitalized Sunday, said she noticed a strange odor and then saw two of her teachers fall unconscious.

“I came out from the main hall, and I saw lots of other girls scattered everywhere. They were not feeling good,” said Anesa, who gave only her first name. “Then suddenly I felt that I was losing my balance and falling.”

Azizullah Safar, head of the Kunduz hospital, said many of the girls were still suffering from pain, dizziness and vomiting.

“I was in class when a smell like a flower reached my nose,” said Sumaila, 12, one of the girls hospitalized. “I saw my classmates and my teacher collapse and when I opened my eyes I was in hospital.”

Reports The Independent:

But the militants denied responsibility. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said: “We strongly condemn such an act that targeted innocent schoolgirls by poisonous gas.”Some rights advocates suspect that opposition to female education is no longer the exclusive preserve of the Taliban. Instead, they claim that Islamists unaligned with the insurgency may sometimes be responsible.

A million girls attend school in Afghanistan – an unprecedented number but a sixth of the number of boys.