A new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revealed a serious spike in depression among teenage girls. More than half (57 percent) report feeling “persistently sad or hopeless,” and nearly 1 in 3 (30 percent) has considered committing suicide.
What’s especially troubling about this report is how it runs counter to today’s conventional wisdom. After all, our society allegedly celebrates women more than ever and offers abundant opportunities to girls. Furthermore, women are doing much better than men in some crucial areas, outnumbering them at colleges and in the workplace.
Moreover, strong female protagonists abound in popular movies and television shows. Women have more representation in politics and sports. Schools continually push girls to achieve and break glass ceilings. No longer do girls live in a world where they’re expected to find a husband, have children, and submit to lifelong domestic drudgery. They can do anything.
Of course, the fact that girls are more unhappy than ever raises some serious questions about feminists’ arguments. Would doubling down on attacks on men, ineffective diversity quotas in the boardroom, and expanded access to abortion help young girls?
To be fair, there are those who realize that feminism doesn’t solve the problem. Rather than feeling supported and encouraged as women, the incessant feminist messaging has left most of them feeling pressured and shamed into a lifestyle they don’t enjoy. Rather than wanting to imitate the girl bosses they see on the screen, many simply feel insulted by them. Rather than experiencing liberation by working outside the home, they are experiencing endless tedium and boredom.
That said, there is something else besides toxic feminism that’s making teenage girls sad. What has changed in the last decade and in the last few years that has driven young women ever further to despair? From what I’ve witnessed as a high school teacher, this would probably be the rise of social media and transgenderism.
Social media is particularly bad for adolescent girls because of its addictiveness and promotion of unattainable ideals. For hours at a time, girls will scroll through TikTok or Instagram, studying the many ways they fall short, be it their intelligence, their looks, or their charisma. They are bombarded with each new trend and fad and behave impulsively because of their fear of missing out. Due to the immediacy of these platforms, there is little time to reflect on the content they’re passively internalizing.
The featured images of happiness and material success they consume are utterly fake and frequently incompatible with the destructive ideas and habits that are inculcated through social media (like idling so many hours a day on their smartphone). Online, they are told they can have it all, but in the real world, this just isn’t so.
There’s also the narcissistic component of social media. Self-consciousness deepens into obsession when a girl has to produce a steady stream of videos, pictures, and personal beliefs for her peers and anonymous followers. As Logan Lane, a teenage girl who eventually swore off social media and started a Luddite club, attests, “I became completely consumed. … I couldn’t not post a good picture if I had one.”
Related to the problem of social media is the transgenderism movement, which argues that sex is fluid and that changing one’s sex will make someone happier. This idea has been incredibly destabilizing for female identity and has led to the wide-scale invasion of women’s spaces. Either a girl will begin to identify as a boy to win approval and sympathy from others, or she will cheer on the confused men who beat them in sports, change in their locker rooms, and boast that they are more authentically female than biological women.
As for those who reject transgenderism as an irreversible forfeiture of one’s womanhood or a shameless appropriation of it, they will be subjected to charges of bigotry and all that it entails. They are labeled as trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs, who’re actively harming trans people with their hateful views.
Thus, transgenderism becomes a catch-22 that either irreversibly damages the girls who buy into it or stigmatizes those who reject it. Until one can thread the needle between these two pitfalls, it will remain an ongoing dilemma that continues to drag down already vulnerable young women dealing with the stresses of adolescence.
Fortunately, there are potential ways out of this. On a cultural level, we could start telling stories of women with actual personalities and actual flaws. A great film that did this in recent memory was “Lady Bird,” a film that focuses on the relationship between a teenager on the brink of graduating from high school and her overbearing mother, who stresses her out and makes her feel like a failure.
Girls need more movies like this that speak to their reality and fewer escapist flicks like “Black Widow,” “Wonder Woman,” or “Captain Marvel,” which set impossible standards for girls and have no message.