Strong, Smart, & Bold: Empowering Girls for Life (Foreword by Jane Fonda)

Strong, Smart, & Bold: Empowering Girls for Life (Foreword by Jane Fonda)

by Carla Fine


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The pressures a girl experiences growing up today are more intense than ever before. There are gender stereotypes to buck. Narrow expectations to contend with. Conflicting messages to make sense of. A girl is told that it's important to excel in school and pursue a career but that she should also keep her voice down, watch her weight, and make sure that everyone else around her is happy.

Strong, Smart, and Bold shows parents and caregivers how to raise a confident, courageous, and self-sufficient girl. Based on the successful approach of Girls Inc., the nation's leading empowerment organization for girls — which improves the lives of girls through its programs, research, and advocacy — the book offers proven techniques and compelling success stories to bring out a girl's spirit as early as possible and to give her the self-assurance she needs to thrive in an increasingly complex and pressured world. Strong, Smart, and Bold presents interactive activities that will help equip a girl with the important knowledge, key life skills, and confidence to accomplish her goals.

  • A recent Girls Inc. survey found that girls experience stereotypes that limit:
  • Their right to be themselves and resist gender stereotypes (60 percent)
  • Their right to accept and appreciate their bodies (62 percent)
  • Their right to express themselves with originality and enthusiasm (52 percent)
  • Their right to take risks, strive freely, and take pride in success (50 percent)
  • Their right to have confidence in themselves and to be safe in the world (54 percent)

The Girls Inc. Girls' Bill of Rights, which is the foundation of this book, helps a girl understand that she is entitled to be valued and respected at home, at school, and in her community.

A dynamic approach to raising a healthy and assured woman, Strong, Smart, and Bold empowers a girl to be her own best advocate and inspires her to discover, hold on to, and be proud of who she is.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060197711
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/06/2001
Edition description: 1ST
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.87(d)

About the Author

Carla Fine is the author of five books, including No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving the Suicide of a Loved One and Married to Medicine: An Intimate Portrait of Doctors' Wives. She lives in New York City with her husband, Allen Oster, and their two Labrador retrievers, Sancho and Rosie.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Resisting Gender Stereotypes

"Just be proud of your gender. There is no shame in being yourself.

-- Tiffany, Age Sixteen

"I want a bike for my birthday, Mom." A simple enough request, or soJanet thought. Her daughter was turning six and was ready for a two-wheeler. Together, they drove to the toy store at the mall to find one suitable for herphysically active daughter. Janet could still remember her own beloved first bicycle -- jet black with shiny silver handlebars.

The salesperson led them to the bicycle section. "The girls' bikes are in the pink aisle, the boys' are in the blue," she explained.

Janet looked at pink bicycles decorated with bunnies and purple bikes covered with baby lambs. She saw bright yellow pom-poms hanging from handlebars painted cottony white. Curious, she checked out the boys' section. The bikes there were plain and solid: they looked clearly designed to hold up under strenuous use and hard play.

"What about one of these?" Janet asked her daughter.

"No way, Mom," she answered. "I want a pretty bike, like the one Nancy has."

Gender stereotypes are not just about toys and games. From the moment of birth, society treats boys and girls as if they were separate species. A girl is encouraged to be helpful, considerate, and caring; a boy to be tough, competitive, and strong. Sweating and physical exertion, considered unattractive for a girl but manly for a boy, affect the types of games they "should" play -- or the bikes they buy. Gender-based discrirmination not only shapes opportunities and experiences for boys and girls but also affects the way they seethemselves, each other, and their world.

"Leveling the playing field is not just opening more doors for girls and giving equal treatment to girls and boys," says Jan Roberta, senior adviser for institutional advancement for Girls Inc. "It's transforming the way we look at gender as it relates to girls' and boys' development. Barriers and discrimination based on gender directly affect a girl's ability to participate more fully in our society."

The messages that most of us receive and too many of us pass on to girls is that boys and girls think differently, like to do different things, and have different abilities. Girls are nurturing; boys are aggressive. Boys need the lion's share of resources to grow healthy and strong and to develop into good providers and productive members of society; girls need less because they get into less trouble (except for teen pregnancy). Even if a girl pursues a career, it will be secondary to that of her husband and to her role as a mother and wife.

"A girl who learns that football is a boy's game won't sign up for a coed team, especially if she never had the opportunity to practice and develop skills in the sport," says Ms. Roberta. "A girl who is used to seeing adults pay more attention to boys will usually wait for things to quiet down or a boy to finish before speaking up herself. On the other hand, a boy who thinks cooking is for girls most likely won't venture into a class on nutrition, although he would probably love to take a survival class on campfire cooking."

Growing up in a male-dominated culture, many girls face tremendous pressures to conform to damaging notions of femininity that promote passivity and self-sacrifice. A girl learns early on to judge her self-worth according to narrow standards of physical attractiveness and to put the needs of others before her own. As a result, a recent Commonwealth Fund study found that girls are twice as likely as boys to suffer from depression.

"Adolescence is when girls experience social pressure to put aside their authentic selves and to display only a small portion of their gifts," writes Mary Pipher in Reviving Ophelia. "This pressure disorients and depresses most girls because they sense the pressure to be someone they are not."

A girl needs to know her rights, not her role. To that end, a girl needs to know herself. In addition, she must live in an environment that doesn't restrict her because she is female, but respects her for who she is and values her for what she can contribute to society.

Sixty percent of girls in the Girls' Rights Survey said they experience gender stereotypes that limit their right to be themselves. An empowered girl can challenge these limitations and reverse these stereotypes by understanding and exercising her rights, and advocating for the rights of others.

Getting to Know You

The following activities are a good starting point for exploring some of the feelings you experienced when you were growing up: to recall how you felt about the "right" to be yourself, not just who others wanted or expected you to be. By remembering your dreams and aspirations, you can encourage a girl to dream her own dreams and live out her own aspirations.

As you go along, you may find it helpful to jot down some of your thoughts and memories to read over at a later date or share with your daughter or the girl you care about at an appropriate time.


  • What is the best advice you ever got from your mother or another important adult in your life when you were growing up?
  • What is the worst advice you ever got?
  • What is the best advice you can give to a girl?


Complete the following sentence fragments based on what you learned when you were a girl:

  • Girls are supposed to ...
  • Girls are not supposed to ...
  • Boys are supposed to ...
  • Boys are not supposed to ...

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