Leah Shaeffer is Gulfshore Playhouse’s Director of Education. She will be blogging every Thursday throughout the 2014-2015 season.
“Catty.” “Gossipy.” “Bossy.”
These are some of the words that are frequently ascribed to that much-maligned demographic: The teenage girl.
So many negative connotations come to mind when we imagine a typical young woman between the ages of 13 and 18 years old. Many of these play on the stereotype that young women are vicious towards each other, whispering nasty rumors behind each other’s backs or hurling embarrassing insults at each other across crowded school hallways. Young women in their teenage years are seen by many as beings ruled by irrational emotion rather than by reason, and this view is consistently reinforced by how teenage girls and young women are portrayed in movies, TV shows, and even literature. As an educator and a young woman myself, I am constantly worried about how my female students start to see themselves reflected in the media once they hit middle school. I do my best to dispel these negative stereotypes among my friends, acquaintances, and peers.
As it turns out, teenage girls don’t really need my help. They’re already out there, busting stereotypes every day. We just need to let them speak and listen to what they have to say—myself included. For instance, Malala Yousafzai just became the youngest-ever Nobel Prize recipient in any category, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize last week for her brave activism for female education in the face of the Taliban. And Malala, though exceptional, is not an exception when it comes to young female excellence. There are teenage girls shining brightly, and helping each other shine, right here in Collier County.
Take, for instance, Gulfshore Playhouse’s STARwrights. Our troupe of nine student playwrights—all young women—inspire me greatly. Yes, they’re all wonderful writers. Yes, they’re diligent and mature and intelligent. But what impresses me even more is their respect for one another. During our session last Saturday, Gulfshore Playhouse’s administrative offices were filled with laughter and kind words as our STARwrights began their foray into playwriting. As the young playwrights shared their work with one another, every single response began something like this:
“You are really talented, and that was brilliant, but I wonder…”
“Honestly, that was so beautiful, and I don’t mean to say anything rude, but I wanted to know…”
“Wow, that was so, so, so amazing, and this might be a silly question, but I was confused by…”
After several minutes of this, I actually had to pause our feedback session to acknowledge that, while we were all in agreement that every single STARwright is talented and smart and beautiful, we really didn’t actually have to re-state the fact every time we had a question about someone else’s writing or we would never get through the session.
What a wonderful problem to have.
And our STARwrights aren’t the only young women who have given Gulfshore Playhouse the gift of their unique voices. A 17-year old woman served on the Synergy panel for The Mountaintop last Sunday, just as poised and prepared as her fellow panelists. She shone on our stage as she represented her generation to our audience—a true representation, not candy-coated, nor painted with a villainous brush. And afterwards, she bypassed the traditional handshake to greet me with a warm hug.
I’m not saying that teenage girls are perfect. Bullying happens. Negativity happens. But don’t buy into the hype. Don’t fret about the state of the younger generation of women. As I was reminded this past weekend, so many of them are shining so brightly. These women aren’t catty—they’re courageous. They’re not gossipy—they’re gracious. And they certainly aren’t bossy—they’re the boss.