The normally loquacious gaggle of girls was surprisingly quiet as they donned harnesses and tight shoes, gear that was unfamiliar to all but a few. Violet, recently enraptured by climbing, had elected to have her eighth birthday party at Eagle Climbing + Fitness. With a calm and assured demeanor, Larry and Scott prepared the girls for the impending ascents.
Nervous laughter and pleading glances in mothers’ directions characterized most of the clique. Despite the initial apprehension, the party was a resounding success for two chief reasons: the professional support of the ECF crew (thanks all!) and the emotional support that the girls provided to each other.
In their other collective environments of school, camp, playgrounds, and playdates, the interpersonal interactions of these same girls are not always so sanguine. Starting in the first grade, the seeds of what could blossom into toxic female relationships were already being sown. Many tears have been shed over who is best friends with whom, whose shirt is uncool, and other barbs both innocuous and incendiary.
The girls too frequently engage in psychological warfare in which there are no victors. In lieu of bonding, there is bombardment. Rather than recognizing the many attributes that unite them, there is a focus on minute differences. It is both a microcosm of our current moment and the continuation of a long arc of history.
While there is an unfortunate tendency for these young girls to tear each other down, there are also encouraging instincts toward empowerment. These predilections were given full voice in the confines of the climbing gym. As both novices and the experienced maneuvered up the colored and graded routes, there were resounding choruses of encouragement.
Once reticent or perhaps simply terrified, within minutes the girls were pushing themselves and their friends to climb increasingly harder paths. The progression was startling to witness and would not have been possible without the positive environment that the girls created for themselves.
The foibles of the girls could have been fodder for malicious teasing. There were missed holds, slips, refusals to climb higher, and the other myriad mistakes that newbies and pros alike make. Yet, to the extent that these missteps were even addressed, it was with a constructive spin and reassurance that the next attempt would fare better.
As these girls mature and find their identities, they are subject to negative pressures and non-exemplary examples from their older siblings, peers, and the larger social and media landscape. Their destructive tendencies are often ratified by the excuse that this is the way that girls have always been, an odious conclusion that abdicates any responsibility for fomenting change.
As a bulwark against the tide of negativity, we now increasingly find arenas that foster the individual and group strength of young females. These may be athletically oriented, as with climbing or soccer teams; they could be artistic in nature, such as hip-hop classes or musical instruction; or they can be intellectually driven in the manner of many after-school enrichment programs.
The successful effects are empirically proven. One need only look to the overwhelming statistics generated by The Cycle Effect’s mountain bike teams to see that levels of academic achievement, self-confidence, and overall physical and mental health are bolstered by a mutually supportive atmosphere.
The power of communal stoke is not limited to any particular gender or demographic, but when juxtaposed against these girls’ baser behaviors, the possibilities for breaking a cycle of destruction were rendered in particularly sharp relief. In a world where the dominance of insecure males has been institutionalized for millennia, it is only by having each others’ backs that these girls will be able to carve out a future in their own image.