REVIVING OPHELIA by Mary Pipher. (Putnam: $23.95; 320 pp.) According to clinical psychologist Mary Pipher, adolescent girls are in terrible trouble. Teen-age pregnancy, drug abuse, eating disorders, self mutilation and depression are all on the rise. The cause of this, Pipher contends, is to be found in today’s society where "(Girls are) caught in myriad double binds: achieve, but not too much; be polite, but be yourself, be feminine and adult. . . . They are trained to be what the culture wants of its young women, not what they themselves want to become.”
In “Reviving Ophelia,” Pipher shines high-beam headlights on the world of teen-age girls by giving us case studies of adolescents from every possible racial and socio-economic background. The book is an articulate plea for better parenting, less violence and for all of us to " . . . work for a culture in which the incisive intellect, the willing hands and the happy heart are beloved.”
It’s difficult to fault such a profoundly well-intentioned piece of work. Not only do Pipher’s claims make sense, but her genuine kindness shows on every page. However, there are problems. Too many case studies go by too quickly, which saps much of their power. It might have been more effective to have fewer stories so that we could feel these young women as real people rather than illustrations of Pipher’s points. Another disturbing trait is occasional statements such as, “One forth of all women are raped.” Say what? Where did this statistic originate? How is rape being defined? Are these reported? How are unreported rapes calculated? “Reviving Ophelia” is an important book, which, one hopes, will find its way to the right audience.