Are Millennial women finally turning their backs on the insidious self-destruction of Effortless Perfection?
Much has been written about the curse of Effortless Perfection. The term was coined in 2003 after a Women’s Initiative landmark study by Duke University sought to evaluate the school’s climate for women. The research included faculty and other employees, alumnae and grad students, but the most troubling finding came out of the discussions with undergraduates.
What is Effortless Perfection?
My daughter graduated from Duke in 2011. Many posts in the early years of this blog were inspired by her experiences, as well as those of her friends at a variety of other colleges. In my view, this portrayal of the pressure women feel to be amazing while appearing carefree is both accurate and widespread. It’s not just a Duke issue, is a cultural issue that pervades all aspects of life for young American women.
Femininity vs. Achievement
Many Millennial women are caught between a rock and a hard place. My generation of parents applied considerable pressure to achieve in hopes that girls could catch up and realize equal opportunity with their male peers. But their own generation continues to value traditional femininity.
I recall a visit to Duke when we met our daughter for coffee before her first class at 8 a.m. She wore a cute, casual outfit with boots. Her hair was blown out and her makeup applied perfectly. And she was no exception – all over campus, focused young women hightailed it to class on the verge of being late. But they looked fantastic doing it.
Girls strive to be attractive to both guys and other girls so that they can be socially successful during the all-important “college experience” that has become a milestone in America.
I worried. It was too much. Flannel pants and a hoodie would have been far more appropriate for the hour and task at hand.
After the Women’s Initiative was published, a senior girl wrote an anonymous letter about her experience to the student newspaper. It’s heartbreaking. You can read the whole thing HERE, but I’ll highlight what I think best describes this feeling among women students:
For a 2013 update on the state of effortless perfection medical student Amy Yao interviewed Emily, a student at Oberlin College. Not much had changed
Social media plays a large role in perpetrating the pressure. One student who is a prestigious scholar on campus had this to say in a recent article:
A sophomore at Cornell agrees, pointing out just how curated our lives are on social media, exacerbating the perception that others achieve perfection easily
Since 2003, many colleges and universities have attempted to understand this phenomenon so prevalent among American college women. Prescriptions vary, including everything from new female scholars programs to mentoring programs and structured dialogue among female students as a means of support. Still, there is little evidence the dynamic has shifted.
A Hopeful Sign of Change?
In writing this post, I’m not saying that women are worse off than men. I don’t view gender relations as a zero sum game. The truth is, women are excelling in areas traditionally populated by men, and that’s having a detrimental effect on young men, fewer and fewer of whom attend college.
But what my daughter’s generation of women is experiencing is enormous pressure to have it all and be it all. While maintaining a grin and high self-esteem. Never let them see you sweat. They’re caught between Betty Friedan and Beyonce. It’s a tall order, one that very few women can fill (and remain sane).
The researchers were so surprised they then surveyed over 500 Harvard undergraduates and found exactly the same thing. I’m encouraged by that – because it means that some of the most “effortlessly perfect” young women in the country are setting limits while still young. They’re fighting back and taking ownership of their lives.
I’m curious to know how and whether you have experienced this pressure. I can tell you that I felt it in 1978, though it’s much worse now for your generation.
When does it start? What role did your parents play in making you feel it? How do you fight back?