Friday, July 27, 2007

Eve of Self-destruction, pt. 3 - Here's a quick test to see if you have been paying attention.

What do the following three young women have in common?

- Britney Spears
- Lindsay Lohan
- Nicole Richie

Take all the time you need to come up with your answer.

As discussed elsewhere, these females have taken self-destructive behavior to depths rarely plumbed by people with such abundant wealth and opportunity. However the last thing that I want to do is hold a pity party for Brit, Li-Lo and Nic; they are well endowed financially, and are all too blessed with attorneys, assistants (at least those that haven't been fired yet) and other assorted sycophants who will shepherd them through their latest autogenous maelstroms. My concern is more to be reserved for those young ladies who find themselves caught in similar patterns of self-destructive behavior, albeit without the economic means of the aforementioned.

While women in industrialized societies face fewer existential threats than in centuries past,
female adolescents and young women are having something of a difficult time managing the stresses associated with modern living. And with this increasing inability to cope comes an increase in dysfunctional behavior. It has been well-documented that adolescent females are more likely to respond to environmental stress through self-destructive or suicidal behavior. As much has been documented in a 1996 book entitled Severe Stress and Mental Disturbance in Children by Cynthia R. Pfeffer, M.D.

Adolescent girls seem at greater risk than boys for turning anger against the self. Overt self-destructive behavior is increasing in prevalence during the last decade, with the reported female-to-male ratio for suicide attempts varying from between 3:1 and 9:1... Eating disorders, a group of psychiatric conditions occurring predominantly in females, appears also to be increasing dramatically among all social classes and ethnic groups in the United States.
The patterns of young females acting out manifest themselves in other ways as well. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggests that there have been concomitant rises in both the percentage of females aged 12 to 17 who took part in one or more serious fights at school or work during 2003 versus 2002 (20.0 percent versus 16.2 percent respectively), as well as the percentage of young females participating in group-on-group fights (increasing from 13.5 percent in 2002 to 16.8 percent in 2003.) The same data also indicates that there have been longer term increases in criminality more generally among female adolescents.
Between 1989 and 1998, the number of arrests for index crimes involving juvenile females nationally increased 50 percent from 284,000 to 427,000 arrests; however, there has been a slight decline since 1998. In 2002, juvenile females continued to make up a notable proportion of the arrests for index crimes nationally: approximately 22 percent of all female arrests and 20 percent of all juvenile arrests.
As might well be expected, substance abuse on the part of young women has evolved over time. Going as far back as 1986, the New York Times took note of some of the negative behaviors of economically successful women in response to work/life stressors.
...there is a growing list of stress-related behavior patterns being adopted by women. For example, Judith Ellen Turian, a psychologist with the Vista Recovery Group, a Los Angeles chemical dependency treatment group, says there has been a ''tremendous rise'' in cocaine abuse among executive women. ''They have the money to get it,'' she says, ''they don't have to do it publicly, it gives them a feeling of power and it gives it to them fast.''

Indeed, psychologists and female executives themselves often cite powerlessness and lack of time as the major factors that lead successful women to turn to drugs, cigarettes or food binges. Executive women, many of whom have husbands or young children making demands on their time, rarely can go for an after-work drink or otherwise take part in the social networks of business.

Smoking and eating disorders, in contrast, are stress relievers that need not interfere with other activities, or be kept hidden from children or bosses. ''Women we interview are more likely than men to mention stress as a reason they smoke,'' said Harry A. Lando, a smoking cessation expert at the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene. ''Among men, the higher the job status, the less they smoke.''

The news regarding the use of alcohol and drugs on the part of younger women has not gotten any less dismal over time. Research from Monitoring the Future indicates that the rates of heavy drinking (defined as 5 or more alcoholic drinks in a row) between male and female college students have narrowed since the 1980s.
The difference with respect to heavy drinking is particularly striking. This difference may have narrowed somewhat in recent years (mid-1990s compared with mid-1980s); the difference in 1999 of 16% (50% for males vs 34% for females) is lower than the largest difference, 24%, in 1986 (58% vs 34%). It is worth noting the extraordinarily high rates of this dangerous behavior among male college students: about 50% in recent years; among females, the rates have been around 33%.
Statistics compiled by the CDC indicate that among ninth- and tenth-graders surveyed in 2005, girls engaged in episodic heavy drinking at rates comparable to boys, with 36.2 percent of female and 36.3 percent of male ninth-graders, and 42.7 percent of female and 41.4 percent of male tenth-graders engaging in binge drinking. And as for drug use, the same CDC data set shows that similar rates of current marijuana use can be seen among ninth- and tenth-graders, with roughly equivalent patterns of usage across gender for each grade.

By way of some sort of explanation for all of this, a report from the National Institute on Drug Research suggests that for females, "the paths [of drug abuse]
are more complex than for males."
For females, there is typically a pattern of breakdown of individual, familial, and environmental protective factors and an increase in childhood fears, anxieties, phobias, and failed relationships; the etiology of female drug use often lies in predisposing psychiatric disorders prior to using drugs
This explanation certainly lends itself to the other dysfunctions that have been observed among young females. To be sure, one could argue that the cultural milieu in which young women must operate itself contributes to any "predisposing psychiatric disorders" that may exist. Young women are hardly affirmed for their essential selves; more often than not, they find themselves held in esteem for how they appear in strictly sexual terms rather than who they are. And as has been discussed ad infinitum, the central failing of feminism is that it did not - and does not yet - provide young women the tools by which to overcome the artificial choice between "complete engagement with – or more often than not, total submission to – the dominant culture, or complete withdrawal."

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