Failing Girls. ~ Trista Hendren

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Women’s Studies Must Start Earlier.

Imagine for a moment a picture of your greatest hero. Who is it? Why is this person your hero? How does their life relate to yours? How has she influenced you?

Our heroes are important: they guide us to where we can go (if we dare) and save us from our own limiting beliefs about ourselves. How do we guide our children to find role models who will empower them?

Every woman I know who took Women’s Studies in college talks about how their whole world sort of opened up with their first class. Why do we deprive our girls of this experience throughout most of their education? Is it possible more children would love going to school if it related back to them directly?

How can they have heroes that don’t reflect who they are?

The highlight of my son’s second grade class was a “Hero Speech”. The kids researched various heroes, picked one that they identified with most strongly, continued to research that person more thoroughly, and finally wrote and presented a speech (in costume) to the entire second grade community, including parents and grandparents.

It was a wonderful project, and I was thrilled to see my son so engaged with his research on Benjamin Franklin. When he finally took the stage, he was Ben Franklin.

However, when I went into his classroom a few months before to celebrate his birthday, I was dismayed. The kids were allowed to ask anything of me about my son’s very early years. The questions they came up with were both creative and fun to answer. I decided to ask a few questions of my own.

I was only hearing about research on male heroes.

I asked if the kids could name some female heroes.

No one could name even one.

The teacher explained that they were somewhat limited because the project required that they research books dedicated to heroes at their appropriate reading level. Apparently there just are not enough books written for second graders about women in history.

The day of the speeches was a proud one. It was heartwarming to see all the kids dressed up in their costumes, filled with pride after months of mastering their presentations. As the children’s speeches were delivered, I couldn’t help notice the numbers of girls who were dressed as male heroes, giving brilliant speeches in men’s words.

There was not a single boy, of course, who dressed as his female hero or spoke in her words. My heart ached for all the second grade girls. In fact, I felt very sad for every woman in that room.

I couldn’t help but wonder why this is still happening.

“Because men have a history, it is difficult for them to imagine what it is like to grow up without one, or the sense of personal expansion that comes from discovering that we women have a worthy heritage. Along with pride often comes rage – rage that one has been deprived of such a significant knowledge.” ~Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party

And here is where it gets extremely personal for me: I have felt that rage, full-force.

I know what it is like to find out you have been lied to, to make less money, to be marginalized as a single mother, and to feel less-than in all the ways we do at times as women.

While my feminism seemed to lie comatose in the throes of raising 2 young children, I couldn’t ignore what was happening to my daughter and how my own passivity had contributed to it. By the time she turned 5, I already saw the way the world was beginning to taint her image of herself. We had disconnected the cable several years before, but the message was still seeping in from other places: you are not enough.

It pained me to hear my little daughter say she would be prettier if I would let her dye her hair blonde.

It pained me to see her already worshiping a body-type that is completely unattainable for any woman.

As a feminist, I had worked very hard to raise my daughter as a strong girl. I did not buy Barbie dolls or allow princesses as role models, but she seemed to be getting excessive amounts of both from all directions.

It also became obvious to me that my daughter’s strength was not valued. The same behavior from my older son was acceptable, even praised. But my daughter and her girl-friends were rewarded for being passive and criticized when they had “too much” energy or were assertive.

It became clear to me that if I wanted a comprehensive education and a spiritual grounding for my daughter, I’d have to provide it myself.

The lessons we inadvertently teach girls are apparently staying with them throughout their lives. In a recent article by Leslie Bennetts in Newsweek Magazine, she states:

“Research shows that even women with stellar credentials often lack the confidence to put themselves forward, while men with far inferior qualifications show no such hesitation.”

I did not know about Women’s Studies until my sophomore year of college. Now, at 37, I am still trying to heal the damage that a male-centered education and spirituality has caused me. I hoped we would begin teaching our daughters earlier, but this has not happened.

The textbooks that our children read are still almost entirely male-dominated filled with male-accomplishments. Our spiritual communities are still mostly male-led and refer to God as “He.”

Religious thought seeps in early and is very damaging to girls. If God is a man, and “He” is everything that is good and superior, it is easy to conclude that we as women are, in fact, beneath men. Whether you practice a religion or not, this still has a profound effect on our collective thinking.

“There were no religious images in the churches or synagogues of our childhood that celebrated the birthing powers of women. According to religion’s myths, the world was brought into being by a male God, and woman was created from man. This reversal of biological process went unchallenged. Most of us didn’t even notice the absence of the mother. Although we may not have been consciously aware of her absence in bible stories and sermons, her absence was absorbed into our being. And it’s painful influence was intensified as we observed the design of our parents’ relationship and the treatment of our mothers by our fathers and brothers. Our families mirrored the hierarchical reality of the heavens. In a society that worships a male God, the father’s life is more valuable than the mother’s. The activities of a man’s life are more vital and necessary than the mother’s intimate connections with the origins of life. The father is God.” ~Patricia Lynn Reilly, Be Full of Yourself

I think as young girls, we begin to talk ourselves into a male image of God, when in reality it is completely unnatural to us. As Judy Chicago reminds us,

“In the beginning, the feminine principle was seen as the fundamental cosmic force. All ancient peoples believed that the world was created by a female Deity.”

The United Nations has declared October 11, 2012 the first “official” International Day of the Girl and we have 101 years of International Women’s Days under our belt. However, highlighting the accomplishments of women a few days a year is not enough.

I don’t understand why we wait to teach Women’s Studies to our girls until they are in college.

This is too late.

The damage has already been done.

My hope is that when we start teaching our children a broader history at home, they will begin to ask questions of their teachers that will eventually force change. In researching curriculum reform, it seems like we have a very long way to go.

The assumption seems to be that curriculum reform isn’t needed anymore. Some people even go as far as to say that boys are not doing as well in school now and that they need more attention.

My fear is that we are missing the bigger picture. Leslie Bennetts stated,

“The truth is that men continue to run most major institutions and make most of the important political, executive, policy and other decisions in the United States. And as demonstrated by the current battle over contraceptive coverage in health insurance, the dearth of women decision-makers often results in policies that fail to serve women’s needs, let alone the larger goal of equality.”

Our girls deserve better.

Women have a history that has been systematically suppressed.

Our collective spirituality has largely been tainted to fit the needs of men and those in power. This has a profound effect on the self-esteem of girls and the women they become. This influence can be seen in their life choices, partners and financial security for the rest of their lives.

It also has an effect on the way their future partners will view them – and ultimately treat them. The time to introduce feminism and woman-centered spirituality to all children is now.


Trista Hendren is a Certified Coach with Imagine a Woman International and author of The Girl God. She is fond of Kundalini Yoga, multiple orgasms and Velomobiles. Trista prefers to be sitting in the sun surrounded by several books, a picnic basket and her children. She lives between Portland, Oregon with her kids and Bergen, Norway with her soon-husband. You can read more about her project with Elisabeth Slettnes at



Editor: Carolyn Gilligan

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anonymous Nov 24, 2013 6:13pm

Another powerful post Trista. The only time I've seen early women's studies like what you describe is at all girl schools. I am working part time at an all girls charter school where each class has a notable woman from history that they are named after. They study about their notable woman, focus a lot on sisterhood and other women who are ignored by regular history classes. For those who cannot offer their girls this kind of education, it would be great to have more girls circles available. I just finished training with Katharine to offer girls circles and coming of age circles. I'm excited to start bringing this to my community! <3

anonymous Nov 18, 2012 7:27pm

[…] this article, I interviewed Trista about her experience with The Girl […]

anonymous Jun 18, 2012 12:03am

I salute you,Trista for writing this essay. As a mother of 2 boys, I feel very stongly and also work very hard to raise them to respect women; to appreciate women's role in the world; to promote equality for all in every aspect of this society. I don't have a daughter but I feel your frustration; it's an uphill battle but one worth fighting for..Thanks for this article!

anonymous Jun 17, 2012 10:00pm

Hi Trista,

I have one personal experience to share with readers. Currently I am enjoying hostess of a Brahmin family in Jaipur, India with my one and half year old daughter Pihu. Yesterday I was invited in a kirtan so I had to join them eventually my daughter was also with me. There what I saw shocked me deeply. All people (including a sage over 70 years) presented there touched my little daughter's feet respecting her as Goddess. Even every girl below the age of 10 was treated in the same manner and respect. The interesting fact is little boys were not respected in the same manner despite giving them name of Bal Krishna. One more thing I learned that from Wednesday Hindu's auspicious 9 days (Navratra) are beginning. During the whole period they worship various forms of Goddess and offer their bhava to them. In the last after doing some havan and mantra chanting they invite 9 little girls to offer Prasad (scared food) as they represent Devi (goddess) subsequently this food is consumed by the priests and family members otherwise not. So I think my daughter (one of devis) will be invited to eat first grass of food in neighbor’s homes as well as my host's home on 9th day.

But this is only one side of coin. I also read here news about female feticide regularly. Don't know what caused this wrong tradition. perhaps Muslim invaders made it as a tradition as they were infamous for raping Hindu girls and forcing them in slavery in Gulf countries during 11th century to until reaching of British rule in India.

I felt very sorry for my daughter who is too little to feel her divinity but hope I will introduce her to her feminine power rather than making her a sex symbol.

Trista can we expect this in our Christian homes in near future.

    anonymous Jun 18, 2012 11:22am

    This is such a wonderful post Vaani! Thank you for sharing. I would love to post some of this on my Girl God page as this is not a ritual I am familiar with.

    We are hoping to have the Girl God book out later this year and also provide Goddess Camps for girls around the US. There are frequent updates on our page, so please join us there!

      anonymous Jun 18, 2012 11:04pm

      Sure Trista, please let me know when it publishes, I would like to have one copy.

      With wishes,

anonymous Jun 16, 2012 11:09am

[continuing] And as the mother of a son and the co-catalyzer of the new Boys Mentorship Collaborative, I am stunned to find how little resources their are to help boys grow into healthy men, and for adolescent and adult males to figure out "What is a good man?" And the stats on boys and men show that they too are failing. Men and boys too need to discover the Divine Feminine. Men and boys too need and deserve support on a path to balance, confidence, healthy relationships, and wholeness.

And the fact is: Women and girls need boys and men to heal and evolve, so that they can help us heal and evolve. We cannot do this on our own. So while I completely applaud all the individuals, organizations, books, and websites that are supporting girls and women, I would like more of them to acknowledge that boys and men are in trouble too, and that the path to wholeness is one of mutual learning, support, and healing.

    anonymous Jun 16, 2012 2:06pm

    I agree 300% Katharine. I also have a son and work very hard to raise him to be balanced and whole.

    Let's change this!

anonymous Jun 16, 2012 11:07am

Thank you for this wonderful essay. I love what is happening on the Girl God Facebook page and recommend it.

I want to add that our collective spirituality and worldview is equally damaging to men, boys and those in power. They suffer from it in a different way. Collectively we must help each other wake up and then help one another evolve. We must see each other with fresh eyes, not as oppressor and oppressed, but as Wounded Healers who in unity can manifest the well-being, wholeness and sacredness inherent in all.

As someone who has been primarily working with girls and women over the past several years, via Journey of Young Women, I am well aware (but always learning more about) how everything from gender stereotyped media messages to our political/economic system to our collective worldview serve to undermine girls and women. Time to call that out, turn that around, and offer healthy new perspectives, such as The Girl God does.

anonymous Jun 15, 2012 11:00pm

Hi Trista, you wrote very well but discussed only one side of coin i.e. Abrahamic religions. Pagans are better than Christians or Muslims who celebrate feminism as Goddess in various form of nature. Did you hear about most ferocious Hindu Goddess Kali, the adya shakti (initiating power of universe) or Goddess Gayatri (supreme feminine divinity to control the universe). BTW you are correct in today's world scenario where we women are piece of naked flash and desires, not more than that.

    anonymous Jun 16, 2012 9:18am

    Yes, you are correct Vaani – I would love to write another article about that specifically. However, I am not prepared to write it just yet. 🙂 I do include quotes from all the religions on my Facebook page and always love to have suggestions.

anonymous Jun 15, 2012 4:24pm

Well said Trista! There really is no excuse, it is just as it always is, women's needs just keep getting bumped to the end of the line. The changes will come, and the excuses will end, as more and more women become seated into the center of their lives. Thank you for a great article.

    anonymous Jun 15, 2012 5:46pm

    Yes! Thank you for reading and comment Linnette!

anonymous Jun 15, 2012 1:22pm

O.K. so beside mom and grandma, how do we introduce this to the girls who are still in high school?

    anonymous Jun 15, 2012 2:28pm

    We are currently working on some camps and books for girls of all ages – and there is already a plethora of Facebook pages already dedicated to this. Check out The Girl God page at We have liked hundreds of pages as well that you should check out and are working on a large reference guide.

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