National Geographic : 2017 Jan
american girl 123 was embedded inside another secret: She was in a relationship with a girl. She went to college at Texas Christian Univer- sity in Fort Worth—“an environment even more difficult than Dallas,” she said. “I made it hard on myself. I wonder sometimes if I did that on pur- pose so I could prove to myself it was just a phase. In the heteronormative families I was growing up with, I didn’t see my reflection anywhere.” It wasn’t a phase. She came out after moving to Washington, D.C. She took an internship and then a job coordinating pride festivals and community events for the Human Rights Campaign, which works for full equality for LGBTQ citizens. It would be easier at Hockaday now, said Ratelle, who’s 26. Just in the past three years, she said, there’s been enormous progress. “ The way being gay was talked about when I was 15 to 16 is not the way it’s talked about today. I laugh and want to hold my 15-year-old self so tightly. ‘Sweet girl! You will get through this!’ ” When I was reporting this story, in Dallas and in Cranford, I found that expectations for girls vary widely. In New Jersey they said they felt pressure from adults and other girls to excel in science, tech- nology, engineering, and math, popularly known as STEM. “Not being interested in STEM was very hard for me,” said Grace, a Cranford girl who’s 15. Jennifer Bartkowski, chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas, which includes Dallas, believes that in much of Texas, the social expectations run in the opposite direction. “It’s a little better, but it’s still not cool to be smart after fourth or fifth grade. We haven’t moved the needle as much as we need to.” Bartkowski believes that while there’s been prog- ress for teenage girls, it’s often overshadowed by the harmful effects of media. Girls can find people who share their interests on the Internet, but they are “friends,” not friends. “So many girls are texting rather than having real conversation,” she said. Bullying is an example of how advances have been undermined by online behavior. Many schools now have effective programs to create peer pressure against bullying. But in cyberspace bullies are em- powered by anonymity—they need not face their victims or disapproving bystanders. In a way, every girl in America grows up in front of a mirror. The normal existential struggles of teens— WhoamI?AmI worthy of love and respect?—are too of- ten channeled through another question: How do I look? CLARE LARSON, 14 I don’t think about my confidence every day, but doing the exercise made me think about how I felt about myself. I wanted to be really confident in myself. Not so other people would know I was confident—but so I would know.