Reviving Ophelia Summary

Dr. Mary Pipher

Reviving Ophelia

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Reviving Ophelia Summary

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Reviving Ophelia, a 1994 book by Dr. Mary Pipher, details the lives of adolescent girls and the ways that current society is failing to recognize their needs. Pipher says that while feminism has made great strides in the lives of women, we still have a long way to go concerning teenage girls.

The book is divided thematically. In the introduction, Pipher outlines her theory that the changes adolescent girls experience cause great, often negative, effects that follow them throughout their lives. She discusses three different case studies, including one of a girl she feels is well adjusted.

The first section analyzes the roles that families play in the adjustment of adolescent girls. The case studies include the search for cultural identity from an adopted girl, and a girl’s search for identity after battling leukemia. She also describes two successful girls from a disciplinarian household, and two different families believing in liberal principles. She concludes that girls who reject conformity develop their sense of identity as adults.

The next two sections deal with mothers and fathers and the roles they play in development. The case studies revolve around the different kinds of relationships fathers and mothers share with their daughters. Among them are a daughter caring for a father with a degenerative illness; a daughter and father with a distant relationship; a mother and daughter with a distant relationship; and a lesbian daughter going through adjustments with coming out to her mother.

Pipher examines divorce and the effects that blended families have on adolescent girl development. The four case studies deal with different kinds of divorce. In one, the divorce is amicable; in another, the divorce is a lengthy custody battle. In the third, the daughter resents her mother for initiating the divorce; and in the last, the stress of a blended family causes the daughter to lash out.

The onset of depression is the topic of the next section. Pipher details three different case studies with depression presenting in various forms. In one, the depression is caused by bullying at school. In another, the girl is neglected, failing to thrive mentally and emotionally. In a third, a girl tries to commit suicide after her parents refuse to buy her a car.

Pipher moves on to self-harm. Two different case studies are presented here. In one, the girl suffers from an abusive relationship and turns to cutting as a form of dealing with the trauma. In another, a girl has no healthy outlet for her anxiety over social issues and burns herself with cigarettes to cope with feeling helpless.

Eating disorders are examined. The case studies feature different types of disorders, including bulimia, anorexia, and compulsive eating. The disorders stem from a variety of causes, including trauma and grief, the pressure to perform in gymnastics, the pressure to conform to society’s version of beauty, and the need to use food as comfort.

Pipher looks at the influence of drugs and alcohol. The girls in these studies have different reasons for turning to drugs and alcohol including abuse, rebellion, and trauma. They are subject to the culture of substance abuse, and it affects their ability to function with quality of life. In some studies, the girl wishes to avoid the alcoholism of her parents but cannot.

Pipher questions the role of sex. Gender roles influence the way girls are taught to express their sexuality. In one case study, a girl’s religion dictates what she is allowed to do, but peer pressure dictates different behavior. In another, the quest for acceptance causes risky behavior. In another case, a girl is rejected by her family because of teenage pregnancy.

The last chapter deals with sexual violence. Both of the case studies deal with the trauma of a violent encounter; both victims were unable to cope at the time they were seeing Pipher. Their experiences caused a change in their behavior and the way they viewed themselves.

In the conclusion, Pipher summarizes her observations. She argues that there are many influences and pressures that affect the way adolescent girls find their identity and grow up to be either productive adults or troubled adults. She believes feminism has done a lot to improve the lives of women, but that we are still unable to engage with adolescent girls. Instead, we leave them to find their way under enormous pressure.

The book reminds us that the lives of girls are complicated; myriad factors go into the development and the health and wellbeing of young girls today. Pipher argues that it is time to do more to address and understand these factors so that adolescent girls have a better chance of growing into well-adjusted adults.