Simmons Studies “Girl World”

In the popular teen comedy “Mean Girls,” Regina George compliments the new girl, Cady Heron, on her looks. When Cady thanks her, Regina is surprised. “So you agree? You think you’re really pretty?” says Regina. According to Rachel Simmons, Cady broke a rule in the girl world: don’t brag.

Simmons, author of the “New York Times” bestseller “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls” and “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence,” used this scene to kick off her presentation last Friday in Kemper Auditorium as part of the Coed@40 Weekend.

From early on in their lives, girls develop friendships that forbid them from celebrating their accomplishments and skills, according to Simmons.

“It’s not only that girls learn not to brag about themselves, but they also learn how to habitually diminish themselves. What begins as a social phenomenon among girls, among friends, migrates into how girls act and think in public spaces as leaders,” she continued.

This inability to self-promote leads to larger consequences in the workplace, where being able to promote one’s skills leads to higher pay. Based on results from a recent survey cited in her presentation, Simmons said that men with new PhDs were eight times more likely than their equally qualified female counterparts to negotiate with their bosses for more money. When women ask for raises consistently throughout their careers, they earn at least one million dollars more than those who do not ask, according to Simmons.

Simmons described the curse of the “good girl.” According to Simmons, the “good girl” is one who is smart, hardworking, polite and popular: she tries to please everybody but ignores her own personal pressure to be flawless and to make others happy.

“I think the ‘curse’ is sending girls two very toxic messages. The first is that being likeable matters more than being confident, and the second is you’re going to be liked when you put others’ feelings and needs before your own,” said Simmons.

“What is going to push a girl’s hand into the air to express an opinion without disclaiming it first? What is going to volunteer a girl to run for student government and promote herself to get the job? The answer has less to do with what girls need to do to change themselves and far more to do with the culture in which girls come of age,” said Simmons.

Simmons is the Co-Founder of the Girls Leadership Institute, a national non-profit offering camps and workshops to empower girls and help them develop the tools to express themselves. Simmons graduated from Vassar College, where she majored in Women’s Studies, and she won a Rhodes Scholarship from New York. She lives in Northampton, Mass., with her daughter.