April 4, 2007

When everyone tries to be amazing, imagine how amazing you need to be to be amazing enough.

This NYT article about ambitious girls is a few days old, but it's hanging around at the top of the "most emailed" list, so let's look at it now.
Esther and Colby are two of the amazing girls at Newton North High School here in this affluent suburb just outside Boston. “Amazing girls” translation: Girls by the dozen who are high achieving, ambitious and confident (if not immune to the usual adolescent insecurities and meltdowns.) Girls who do everything: Varsity sports. Student government. Theater. Community service. Girls who have grown up learning they can do anything a boy can do, which is anything they want to do.

But being an amazing girl often doesn’t feel like enough these days when you’re competing with all the other amazing girls around the country who are applying to the same elite colleges that you have been encouraged to aspire to practically all your life.
Well, of course, the harder people compete, the harder it is to win. Was there some kind of idea before that you could come out on top because most other kids wouldn't try too hard?
And, for all their accomplishments and ambitions, the amazing girls, as their teachers and classmates call them, are not immune to the third message: While it is now cool to be smart, it is not enough to be smart.

You still have to be pretty, thin and, as one of Esther’s classmates, Kat Jiang, a go-to stage manager for student theater who has a perfect 2400 score on her SATs, wrote in an e-mail message, “It’s out of style to admit it, but it is more important to be hot than smart.”

“Effortlessly hot,” Kat added.
This is new?
These students are aware that because more girls apply to college than boys, amid concerns about gender balance, boys may have an edge at some small selective colleges.
Now, this is new. This affirmative action for boys. Somehow, the boys as a group have held back from the all-out competition that makes it harder for everyone, and the two groups are judged separately, otherwise the sexes will be all out of balance at college, and that will only make the quest for love all that much more difficult for girls. It's hard to think how effortlessly hot you'd need to be. But with less successful, less competitive boys admitted to supply the desired balanced, these ultra-amazing girls will have access to boyfriends, mismatched boyfriends.

Oh, the woes of the young, high-achieving woman!


katiebakes said...

I can't really express how much I disliked this article. The people profiled came across as fairly insufferable ("I'll come when God's work is done" !?) and the writing was tedious.

I didn't read anything that hasn't already been written ad naseum in New York Magazine, The Atlantic, every college newspaper in the country, and even the New York Times itself.

I interviewed two applicants for Yale and just found out that both were admitted despite a scarily low 9.6% acceptance rate. I chalk this up to the fact that both were genuinely interesting people whose interviews (and I would imagine, by extension, overall applications) were dynamic, thoughtful, and anything but pre-packaged.

Hazy Dave said...

The importance of prettiness, thinness, effortless hotness, and indeed, smartness, ambition, confidence and all the rest depends on who you're trying to impress and what you're trying to be. (I may be "preaching to the choir" here...) As an effortlessly smart person, I tend to place greater value on that than hotness, but this viewpoint hasn't exactly provided me with wealth and celebrity, so other viewpoints may be equally valid.

Al Maviva said...


I'm against affirmative action for males in college applications. The current 60:40 female:male ratio on college campuses is hiding the long term damage that has been done by over-feminizing primary and secondary ed. Dump the affirmative action, and let's see how the boys stack up. Maybe when we're down to 70:30 or 75:25 female to male ratio, somebody will start giving a damn. For now, I guess it just conflicts too much with the women-as-victims meme so essential to second generation feminist arguments.

Then again, maybe this is just the payback my son has to look forward to, and maybe this is an outcome that a fair number of second generation feminists were looking forward to inflicting. I sure as hell hope he studies hard. Then again, if doing well and following in my academic footprints means he has to be "amazing" like these "amazing" girls, I think I'd prefer it if he chose to be an honorable slacker, rather than a calculating and shallow cutthroat-in-training.

John Mosby said...

Yet more evidence for why the elite schools should switch to a straight numeric selection system based on test scores.

Take the SAT score, figure out a formula to supplement it with AP scores, rank order your applicants from highest to lowest, and start filling your class from the top of the list.

In this 21st-century world, the high scorers will contain sufficient numbers of every gender and ethnicity to make the freshman class look like America.

But maybe not sufficient numbers of every social-economic stratum, so to ensure this type of diversity, schools could hold about a fifth of the seats for wildcards, who would be selected with the bizarre whole-person method currently used for the entire class.

Going back to predictable standards would eliminate pain and suffering on all sides of this process.

Bruce Hayden said...

There really is a problem here. The girls in HS (and worse, before in MS) are advanced over the boys, esp. in terms of the effort and organization they put into school. And, yes, because of that, a girl does seem to need better credentials than a boy to get into the same elite college.

I think that the only thing that has really changed since I was in HS some 40 years ago is that fewer girls are aimed at marriage upon graduation, and thus more on college. But I went to a liberal arts college back then where almost all the girls had graduated at or near the top of their HS classes, and most of us boys were in the top 10% or so. (Ok, they were still admitting more boys than girls back then, and that helped skew things).

Changing tact a bit, one of the big things that seems to distinguish the best public schools from prep schools is the mandatory athletics. If Esther were atttending a private prep school, she would be in a sport, and might even find one that she could do well. Prep schools tend to run enough teams that everyone can, and is mostly expected to, particcipate. Of course, there are plenty who never make varsity, while others make varsity in some sport as sophomores, and even freshmen (and I know more than one girl who by her junior year is on varsity on three sports).

What is a bit hard though is that many of the guys in HS are still shallow enough to be attracted to those effortlessly hot girls. BUT, they really have to decide between school and having an active social life. They just can't put up the credentials we are talking about and date seriously. There isn't enough time, and it is too distracting.

Final thought here. Of course these girls have some insecurities still - they are only a couple years out of middle school where they were full of them. Maturing is partially a matter of time. I was talking this last week with some HS girls about this very subject. They were all "amazing girls" as defined here, yet each had her insecurities, whether they be lack of athletic prowess, looks, academics, etc.

Richard Dolan said...

Ann highlights the feminist and gender-specific aspects of this story. But it also shines a sharp light on two other phenomena: the remarkable (and vast) expansion of the prospersous "middle" in American society since WW2, coupled with far greater equality across social lines that characterizes American society today. In the 50s, a college education for one's child was still a rarity, a luxury good really, for most American families. Even more so for most girls in American families. How things have changed in such a short time.

That so many girls today can focus on the "need to be amazing enough" so that they can stand out from all the other "girls who do everything" is a testament to the hard work of those who created both the affluence and the democratization of American society over those years, so that these "amazing girls" can develop their talents and interests to the fullest. That the competition has become fierce reflects the smallness of the differences between the contestants -- it's really hard to tell them apart. In many ways that is the reason why the system of allocating the ostensible rewards and benefits among these "amazing" but essentially indistinguisable contestants are almost arbitrary. Fortunately, despite the emotional energy invested in all of that at the high school level, there isn't much real difference anymore between those rewards and benefits, at least in terms of college admissions -- the quality of the college education available today seems to me to be very high, whether one attends Yale or Ypsilanti State. The fact is that the options that all of these "amazing girls" enjoy today are far more open than they have ever been. The competition will exact its emotional cost nonetheless, particularly for the kids who are inevitably rejected. But the real costs suffered by their mothers and forebears 50 years ago from the narrowness of the options open to them then were far more significant, and those women seemed to have done just fine.

Ann asks: "Was there some kind of idea before that you could come out on top because most other kids wouldn't try too hard?" I don't remember any such thing (and I doubt that Ann does either). But when she and I were in the same position as these girls 40+ years ago, there were fewer competitors; of those who did compete, a smaller percentage were seeking admission to elite institutions; and the admission standards were weighted in different ways. My two daughters are likely to have a harder time on that score than I (and Ann) did, but mostly because prosperity and democratization have opened up all of these institutions in ways that no one imagined would happen back then. And I'm not too worried that my girls will be stuck with "less successful, less competitive boys" when they go looking for boyfriends. That stuff gets far more hype than its worth. It's not that the boys are "less competitive" but only that they compete differently, try to be "amazing" and differentiate themselves according to different scales, and often develop at a different pace than the girls. All of that evens out pretty quickly, I suspect: even the boys whose pants today are hanging (barely) at their knees will eventually grow up.

Ron said...

I'm exhausted just reading about these girls...can't there be a couple that just want to hang around...have some fun, instead of going all McGuyver on me? With the hotness, of course!

Bruce Hayden said...

Looking back to HS as a guy, the problem I faced was that I knew what I needed to do, just wouldn't do it. My mother was one of these "amazing girls" at the end of the 1930s, and couldn't figure out why three or four of her five sons just refused to buckle down in HS like she had. She did get straight A's from a top HS, and only one of my brother managed that. Then, she transferred to the U. Ill. her junior year in college and was the top student in three schools there when she graduated two years later.

But it alost seemed like the harder she pushed, the more we rebelled. For me, it was better to get A's and B's without taking a book home, than straight A's. It really wasn't until my junior year in college that I started to buckle down. Maybe it was just being that far away from the parental pressure that I was rebelling against.

Zach said...

Looking back at all the madness, I wonder if the college prep mania isn't secretly the fulfillment of some teenage desire. To compete about who's the prettiest, the smartest, the most "amazing" -- that's pretty natural. But to have an actual letter from Smith College, certifying your amazingness, that's a whole new level.

It's kind of like the old fantasy that you're secretly the child of royalty, and eventually your real parents will discover you and take you away from all the common people you've been forced to live with up until then.

Of course, I can say that now. When I was in high school, I bought into the madness pretty hard myself.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

John Mosby said...

"Take the SAT score, figure out a formula to supplement it with AP scores, rank order your applicants from highest to lowest, and start filling your class from the top of the list.

In this 21st-century world, the high scorers will contain sufficient numbers of every gender and ethnicity to make the freshman class look like America."

If America was overwhelmingly Asian and Jewish...

Unknown said...

Oh, the woes of the young, high-achieving woman!

Shorter Blithering Misogynist Idiot: how I hate them!

Peter Hoh said...

I wonder if the boys they're interested in have to be "effortlessly hot," too.

Bruce Hayden said...

Yes, well, there is a Jewish problem here when it comes to college admissions based on test scores. Also, maybe an (esp. in my experience, Vietnamese) Asian problem.

The infamous Charles Murray caused a big stir in his infamous "Bell Curve" when he pointed out that the Blacks in this country scored significantly lower than most everyone else on IQ tests. But almost unremarked was his observation that Jews, on average, scored significantly higher.

He recently expanded this in a Commentary article titled: Jewish Genius, where "co-author, the late Richard Herrnstein, gently resisted the paragraphs on Jewish IQ that [he] insisted on putting in The Bell Curve (1994)".

John Mosby said...

Jeff: "if America was overwhelmingly Asian and Jewish...."

A lot of people used to think that. The current Ivy admissions process began as a way to ensure that high-scoring Jews stayed out.

But I just don't buy that no Anglos, Latinos, or blacks get 2400s and multiple 5s. Plus, not all Asian-Americans are fortunate enough to go to high schools with rigorous curricula.

I am concerned that the high-scorers, regardless of ethnic heritage, would tend to come from high-income families.

Hence my retention of a 20% wildcard buffer which could be used for, among other things, picking up the inner-city valedictorians, Appalachian mechanical visionaries, and others whose circumstances have not prepared them to score well on standardized tests.

Also BTW, relying more on test scores would help restore gender balance, as the slacker boys could just purchase/borrow/steal a Barron's book a few weeks before the test and make up for all the homework assignments, group projects, etc., they blew off.


The Drill SGT said...

On the Jewish and Asian topic.

Both those cultures are very supportive of the value of education and strong families to enforce that value system.

It works and produces good students. It's not their fault :)

The rest of society can learn something while going to junior college :)

calling in a reference to another recent thread: Nothing amazes me and pleases me more than to see the grandchildren or children of literally stone aged Hmong tribesmen going to top 10 schools on their merit, not AA.

other segments of the society ought to take that to heart.

Joe said...

"Amazing girls"? I always called them "overachievers" and they drove me crazy as a teenager and still drive me crazy. I see too many of these overachieving moms now driving their kids batty by scheduling their lives to the minute.

(I'll never forget one of the Queen Bee Overachievers bawling after Calculus class in the twelfth grade because she got a B on a test--I seriously think it was the first non-A she ever got in her life.)

John Mosby said...

Drill Sergeant, that's just the point: NO ONE gets into top 10 schools on their "merit," if you define "merit" as academic achievement alone. And as soon as you take factors other than academic achievement into account, you are making judgment calls that are more like Affirmative Action than any recognizable merit system.

The Montagnard kids you describe no doubt had high grades and scores, but their "grandpa used to ambush the NVA in a loincloth and crossbow" essays definitely were a factor. They had to hold their breath and play the thick/thin envelope game just as much as the young ladies in the article, or the captain of the Groton nine.

And the envelope game is a zero-sum game. There's probably some Hmong Westinghouse winner who was rejected by Dartmouth in favor of one of these Newton North women, or vice versa. Why?

I'm just saying that a return to numerical methods (with a small cushion to allow for common sense) would make the system more rational, predictable, and respected.


John Stodder said...

The new American economy, and the education system in support of this new economy, is far more suited to the innate skills and emotional intelligence of girls/women than boys/men.

It makes perfect sense to me that what we're watching is the beginning of a complete role reversal between females and males, in which females will become the driving economic leaders, and men will become the accessories, valued primarily for their appearance, companionability, sexual prowess and their interesting/practical hobbies (playing the guitar, computer graphics, rugby, home improvement). Men won't feel the same pressure to compete academically, because they'll come to expect that they will be supported at least in part by the women in their lives, either in marriage or serially. However, they will have to take care to develop traits that are attractive to these "amazing women," who will be ruthless in judging them and disposing of them as it becomes necessary. So lots of time in the gym, keep the substance abuse under control, don't be out with the boys every Saturday night, and make sure your "coolness" factor doesn't drop.

This is the future we are creating. It's an evolution, so it might not apply to your children in this generation, but on the other hand there are lots of adult women and men living this way now.

Jeff said...

They're all slackers! The Adventures of Wonder Girl is a relative of my wife. Started a reading program in middle school, science whiz, beauty pageant contestant, sports star, published author and cancer researcher (when her dad got cancer). Pretty damn amazing and she's nice too.

JohnAnnArbor said...

I agree that males should get no advantage in applying to college. If there are more women than men, so be it.

Of course, these numbers are for liberal-arts colleges. I wonder if throwing in the engineering schools evens things out.

Hey said...

There's an ongoing putsch to try to even out gender ratios at science and engineering colleges. Ask Larry Summers whether the Feminazis are satisfied by dominating liberal arts or if they're mature enough to handle scientific inquiry. By "the vapours" they've shown that women have no place anywhere near free inquiry!

These amazing girls just aren't amazing. Bog standard upper middle class kids, but with pretentious left wing twits for parents. The girl blows off SAT prep for some socialist mission: typical NYT fodder, but utter BS. Real parents would have force marched her to prep, especially since she obviously isn't all that smart (2000 unassisted is really stupid, especially for a so called "amazing girl").

Then there's dropping AP Physics and having no sports... beyond ridiculous. 1550/2300+ level, several varsity sports, few academic teams, run a few chairty clubs, do outside sports and clubs, keep a 4.0, win a number of course awards... that's your standard student from my major and a pretty standard IVY leaguer.

This was nothing but a badly written version of the NYT's typical story, showing the goodness and leftishness of the youth. Nauseating and wrong, but it's the NYT so I repeat myself.

Bruce Hayden said...

Admitting kids to colleges based on SAT scores would tend to even up the sex ratios. But there is just one slight problem with that approach - the other affects would not be politically correct. Indeed, it appears that colleges used to put more weight on SATs and less on everything else, but moved away from that to get a more PC correct mixture.

Imagine what you would probably get with admissions based purely on SATs, possibly: 40% white non-Hispanic, non-Jewish; 35% Jewish; 20% east Asian; and 5% for everyone else, including: Blacks; Hispanics; Native Americans; Pacific Islanders; etc.

Indeed, it was precisely the attempt to "correct" this imbalance that brought us to where we are now with those overstressed "Amazing Girls".

John Mosby said...


To simplify the arithmetic, let's assume there are 10 elite colleges, each with 1000 seats in the entering class, so 10,000 total seats.

Blacks are 15% of the general population, so their proportion of these seats would be 1,500.

Are there 1500 black kids in the country with SATs near 2400 and multiple AP 5's? Of course there are.

Repeat the thought experiment for any other group: are Pacific Islanders even one percent of the gen pop? We just have to find 100 with very high scores. A couple of Honolulu magnet schools should be able to meet the 'quota.'

My point is that things have changed a lot in the last generation, and the upper middle class that now supplies most of the high-scoring students has people of every ethnic variety. If all you want is a rainbow of colors, you can find it by counting down from the top of the test results.

If you want true social diversity - white trailer-park kids alongside black trust-fundies alongside reformed Tuvaluan gangbangers - then you will have to work a bit harder.

Although I agree with the Drill Sergeant that showing people the results are attainable, and waiting for them to do the work, probably gets you to this goal faster than any social engineering.

All the more reason for the process to be as quantifiable and transparent as possible.


Radish said...

I want to know what these women's lives are like in 20 years.

Bruce Hayden said...

Blacks are 15% of the general population, so their proportion of these seats would be 1,500.

Are there 1500 black kids in the country with SATs near 2400 and multiple AP 5's? Of course there are.

Are there? Personally, I doubt it. But even so, what about the next level below that? And the level below that? I seriously doubt that 15% of those with combined SAT score above, say, 2300 are Black. 5% if you are lucky. Likely lower than even that. So, even if you could skim the cream for those top 10 schools, the next ten, or the next ten below that are going to be getting Blacks with much lower SAT scores than the rest of their student bodies - or are going to have much lower than 15% of their student bodies be Black. Oh, and then they are the wrong type of Black in the first place, Black like Obama and Colin Powell, and not Black like the descendants of former slaves, which is where the problem is.

Bruce Hayden said...

Let me add that it gets worse when you start talking AP courses. What sort of schools actually teach that many AP classes? Enough to really be competitive? Sure, the really elite public schools and a lot of private ones have a full complement of them: a couple of history courses, a couple of English courses, physics, chemistry, biology, math, and foreign languages. This probably means at least ten distinct AP classes. Many high schools, and esp. those most likely to have large populations of Blacks and Hispanics are unlikely to have the resources for that.

And they have to be taught well, which again cuts against a lot of those schools having good AP programs. One of the nice things about AP classes is that it takes some of the guesswork out of grades - college admissions officers know that grading is bogus when A students are getting 2s on their AP tests.

chuckR said...

If colleges want to even out enrollment in math and hard sciences, fine by me. But don't do it by dumbing down either the SAT/APs or the college sciences curriculum. In fact, the math/science part of the exams should be made more difficult - too many getting 2300+ already. Make it more difficult and uncompress the end of the curve. It might be helpful if some of these amazing girls (oh, and their male counterparts), faced up to the fact that they can't be amazing in every way.
Definitely reserve a percentage of offers to be filled based on gut sense of the admissions team. Not recruiting enough disadvantaged or minority kids? Its about time for some of the uberrich universities to start up their own 'farm clubs' - university run schools from K to 12. If the pool isn't big enough, then make it bigger.

John Mosby said...

Chuckr: I like that idea. It wouldn't even have to be a K-12 school, just a PG year or two for high-school grads who show potential.

The service academies have run prep schools for many years for just this purpose. They fill in the gaps of otherwise-highly-qualified candidates' preparation so that they can handle the challenging engineering-based curriculum they will face as plebes.

Currently, an Ivy that admits a high-potential student from a disadvantaged background basically throws her to the wolves or subjects her to remedial-but-we're-not-calling-it-remedial courses that set her behind her classmates and dilute the "brand value" of the degree.

A university-sponsored prep year, as opposed to a full K-12 school, also would not get filled with the privileged kids who already have good schools. I'm not sure how, say, a Columbia Lab School could legally or morally keep out children of the Manhattan elite...


Ernie Fazio said...

My 20 year old, high achieving daughter, once said to me, "Dad, am I glad I am not a boy. Boys can't care about anything. They can't care about school or academics because that wouldn't be cool. Only the best athletes can show that they care about their sports, but, if they do care, then they are branded as jocks." It appears to still ring true in college (UC Berkeley), with the bulk of the young men either passive agressive or just passively going through the motions. I don't know if there is a problem, but I know that her generation of women has a lot less respect for the men of her generation out of observation alone rather than actually experiencing the normal, run of the mill, commitment-phobic, dance-away male in action.

mrsizer said...

the young men either passive agressive or just passively going through the motions

That's what happens when you take away male/masculine role models. Sports is all that's left. Where did the Astronaut, the Fireman, the (good) Policeman, the Soldier, the Fighter Pilot, or even Tom Swift go? It's not just Joe Dimaggio who's missing.

On a more positive note: At least they're not dealing drugs and shooting people.

hdhouse said...

Effortlessly hot is in the eyes of the beholder. No?

1. It is well past time when self-aware females have not had to nor should they consider their sex prior to asserting themselves.

2. How much better would we be as a nation with a nation of effortlessly hot females sharing the load - just straight up competency - how much better our performance would be or, at worst, how much broader our perspective would be.

3. the day we can ditch the "hot chick slept her way to the top" for "effortlessly hot competent and talent chick arrives at the top" the better we will be.

I just spoke with a department that was 18 females 4 males. The males were good people and competent. the 18 females were, to a woman, fairly amazing. Not kidding. A couple were as verbal, bright, sparklingly smart as to make the meeting memorable on a lot of levels. A few were "effortlessly hot"...but as females claim the most interesting things about a male (don't scoff) is his brains and humor...the most interesting things about females are their brains and humor.

KCFleming said...

Re: "I just spoke with a department that was 18 females 4 males. "

The inverse was in the recent past considered cause for crisis. Somehow, the curent ratio in the feminist's favor is satisfactory.

As it is in college. But delete men and they don't merely go away, they do something else. Reducing the prospects for advancement and marriage for young men has undesirable results. Look at the predominant hip-hop culture. It's a picture of how destructive the systematic exclusion of males can be. Crime, misogyny, barbarism.

Thanks, gals!

TMink said...

I know smart, really smart people I would not let take care of my dog.

I know effortlessly hot people who would perpetrate your children if given half a chance.

Give me kind people. Humble, hard working, kind people. That is what my wife and I focus on in our house, raising polite, kind adults.


KCFleming said...

Is there a bimodal distribution for "effortlessly hot" for females, by age?

It seems to occur in youth, and again at menopause. But the definition changes a bit.

TMink said...

Pogo, may I have your email address so that I can send you a bill for fixing the monitor I fried due to reading your last post with a mouthful of tea?


KCFleming said...

Sure, it's

hdhouse said...

ahh twin assholes. you guys must the hit of your parties.

how is it to go through a full day not getting anything right, not saying anything well, not thinking without sucking your toes...

Ann, would you mind considering getting rid of these jerks?

KCFleming said...

Re: "Ann, would you mind considering getting rid of these jerks?"

I love you, man. Criminey, bait taken in record time.

Heh. Double heh.

P.S. What's wrong with toe sucking?