‘He’s got the maturity of an 8-year-old boy with the insecurity of a teenage girl,’ the former Secretary of State told Bill Maher of President Trump.
Not his most diplomatic moment.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry prompted backlash this weekend after likening President Trump to a teenage girl during a “Real Time with Bill Maher” appearance. “He really is the rare combination of an 8-year-old boy — I mean, he’s got the maturity of an 8-year-old boy with the insecurity of a teenage girl,” Kerry told Maher while responding to an inflammatory Trump tweet from a day earlier. “It’s just who he is.”
His remark drew fierce criticism on social media. Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern, for example, called out Kerry’s “misogynistic bulls—.” “The world uses teenage girls as a punching bag. We deride their interests and mock their emotions because it makes us feel smart and mature. F–k that,” he tweeted. “They deserve better than relentless condescension. We’re failing them.”
“I’m disappointed John Kerry said Trump has the insecurity of a teenage girl. Trump is insecure, yes. But teenage girls, if they are insecure, has (sic) a culture of toxic masculinity to blame,” added author Martha Brockenbrough. “Teen girls are killing it in school. Many are working on books that will be published in a few years. Many are activists. Athletes. Volunteers. … They do this while they experience heart-attack level pain from menstruation at times. Despite being harassed in streets and schools.”
Developmental psychologist Andrea Bastiani Archibald, the chief girl and family engagement officer at Girl Scouts of the USA, also called it “disappointing” that someone of Kerry’s stature would trot out such an “outdated and untrue” stereotype. “Girls are getting subtle signals and signs from the world every day, from direct comments like Mr. Kerry’s but also from things like the posters in their classrooms that only depict male scientists,” she told Moneyish.
“We’ve created this stereotypical archetype of what a teenage girl is: that they don’t treat other humans very well; that they overreact to things; that they become entirely body-conscious, popularity-conscious,” added Kim Churches, CEO of the nonprofit American Association of University Women. “Like with any stereotype, it is just that — a stereotype does not represent the tremendous growth and amazing accomplishments girls and women are making and continue to make.”
Teen girls often get stereotyped as moody, “dramatic,” irritable, and focused on or insecure about their relationships, Rebecca Berry, a child and adolescent psychologist at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone, told Moneyish. That stereotype exists, she suggested, due to “longstanding expectations” that teen girls play a certain part in society, “such as holding it all together, being smart, having friendships, etc.” Meanwhile, Berry added, girls are grappling with the onset of puberty, dramatic changes to their bodies and brains, and social relationship demands.
“There’s just a lot of pressure happening to this individual that many of them have a hard time dealing with,” she said. “The hard time dealing with (that) manifests as those reputational aspects.”
The stereotype of girls being weaker and more vulnerable persists far beyond the U.S., according to Kristin Mmari, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who pointed to “consistent forms of patriarchy” across the globe. A 2017 paper co-authored by Mmari that analyzed the Global Early Adolescent Study dataset found that in all but one site, “both young people and their parents perceived that girls face greater risks related to their sexual and reproductive health, and because of their sexual development, were perceived to require more protection.”
“When girls should be getting more positive messages about development and feeling proud of these changes, instead what’s happening is they’re getting messages about how they are more vulnerable and their bodies are now being sexualized and they’re now being seen as weaker — and boys are now not to be trusted,” Mmari told Moneyish. “That all forms this insecurity in girls at this stage, because they’re not getting enough (positive) messages.”
And the stereotype — coming from girls’ parents, schools, communities and the broader media landscape — can be so deeply entrenched that they start to believe it. “We have to break it at all these different levels,” Mmari said.
A more productive way to talk about teen girls, Archibald said, would be to focus on “the powerful role models they are for all of us today.” “They’re taking action and changing the world in incredibly positive ways, and in ways that even adults don’t know how because they see the world differently,” she said.
She pointed to enterprising Girl Scouts like Cassie Levesque, who helped write bills to end the practice of child marriage in New Hampshire, and a troop of Colorado Girl Scouts who helped push through a vehicle smoking ban. To name a few others, there’s also:
- Parkland school shooting survivors like Emma Gonzalez and Sarah Chadwick, who have become national figureheads in the youth-led crusade for gun-safety legislation
- Teen author Marley Dias, who launched a #1000BlackGirlBooks initiative to collect books with black girls as main characters and put out an activism field guide for kids earlier this year
- Social media-savvy Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim, who took home the gold in the women’s halfpipe event this year
- Fresno teen Ananya Vinay, who won the Scripps National Spelling Bee last year with the word “marocain”
- “Blackish” actress Yara Shahidi, who launched an “Eighteen x ’18” partnership with the media company NowThis to help register her fellow first-time voters ahead of the 2018 midterms
- Visalia, Calif. teen Ciera Sesock, who raised thousands of dollars and ran hundreds of miles with the American Cancer Society’s DetermiNation team to honor her late aunt
- Hannah Lucas, a Georgia teen whose own struggle with depression led her to create NotOK, an app that works like a digital panic button to alert family and friends to your exact location
Berry urged people to “focus on the things (teenage girls) are doing well” and “how strong they are” as they face the trials of adolescence. “They’re doing a lot of things well — they’re resilient and strong and taking on a lot of flak from being socialized to act a certain way, to look a certain way,” she said. “That’s a lot of pressure.”
“We should be focused on allowing them to pursue their dreams, allowing them to ask the ‘What if?’ and ‘How come?’ and ‘Why don’t I try?’” Churches added. “Working on building them up rather than tearing them down; giving them role models like Malala (Yousafzai) and others that they can see themselves in, or see their own potential in.”
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