How Do We Create ‘Hardiness’ Zones for Girls?


consulWithin health psychology, the concept of “hardiness” describes the stance of an individual in relation to a stressful context and, thus, points to developmental experiences girls may need to resist the long-term harm of institutionalized racism and sexism. Considering relationships with significant adults in girls’ lives as potential “hardiness zones”-that is, spaces of real engagement and opportunities for girls to experience control, commitment, and challenge-one moves the focus from the individual girl to the network of relationships that create girls’ social worlds and environments, allowing girls access to skills, relationships, and possibilities that enable them to experience power and meaning. Through this perspective, the relational and educational contexts, in both schools and other community organizations, in which girls find themselves can be assessed in terms of their capacity to facilitate hardiness.

Mothers, women teachers, and “othermothers” hold the possibility of providing relational hardiness zones for adolescent girls. Listening and fostering meaningful participation in school and community life, as well as providing the opportunity for self-development through effective sociocultural critique, are means by which adults can support the strengths of girls. Schools and communities that engage girls in social critique and in activist experiences appear to be particularly effective, as do adults who demonstrate commitment, respect for youth, and a willingness to involve them in making change within their communities.

As we look at hardiness zones, we factor in all of the challenges that  girls are presented with in society, and we give them spaces which are both safe and brave. Safe spaces are settings and relationships free from societal constraints, and offer a sense of comfort, even in the midst of discomfort, enabling full self-expression. No judgments,  no limitations, discrimination, racism, sexism, or other conditions placed before full acceptance,-a place where one can feel supported, affirmed, encouraged, accepted, validated and loved. Spaces where girls are free to be themselves, not as know-it-alls, weak, or timid. Free to inquire, be afraid, and free to express that fear, while within that space, girls can work things out, process thoughts, struggle with concerns, being both honest with themselves and others.

Safe spaces are magical zones within which girls are temporarily sheltered from the storms, and feel embraced. The magi of these spaces, within relationships or an actual physical environment, as in school climate,  is that they an transform into brave spaces. Safe spaces, if relational, can exist within open spaces. In other words, one may be in a crowded room filled with strangers, and find safety. It depends upon the nature of the relationship. Ever wonder why we will venture into a frightening situation, like a ‘haunted’ house with another person, but we would never consider dong so alone?  Even a temporarily ‘safe’ space an give rise to and transform into a brave space, as the feeling of ‘safety’ enables us to cross new boundaries, venture outside of our comfort zone, and attempt pursuits otherwise deemed impossible, improbable or inappropriate, no constraints.

It is important that girls have access to such spaces, relationships or healthy and supportive settings. Self-esteem, self efficacy, and risk taking are optimized,and out of this, girls can be resilient and endeavor to succeed in non-traditional areas. Girls can be mavericks and discover their true selves, identify their excellence, and carve their own paths. hng The best ways that we may ensure or at the very least, promote hardiness, resilience, strength of character and conviction for girls who face structural and systemic constraints is to collectively surround girls with people and access to places where they may thrive in spite of the systemic limitations.

It does begin with one person, one space, but these influencers will have minimized impact on the overall empowerment of girls collectively. Looking beyond just one girl at a time, we can impact greater numbers. It must be cross systems engagement and a collective, collaborative alignment of purpose. Strategies may differ, but goals must align and complementary to each. When people say that ‘it takes a village’, we reinforce the point. Hardiness zones can be confined to relationships or physical spaces, but the zones set the stage for empowerment of adolescent girls. It takes girls beyond the confines of societal dictates and/or peer pressure, and strengthens inner-voices. Hardiness zones are essential group timespaces in which adults promote and cultivate opportunities for girls to experience control  No gender-limited possibilities; no peer-defined parameters of possibilities. The sky, literally becomes the limit as girls are empowered with confidence to face challenges, commit to goals and choose their own life direction.

Although the research on resilience and protective factors suggests that connection to parents, significant adults, school and, perhaps, some greater sense of purpose or perspective fosters resilience or “odds-defying” behavior, it is often precisely a dilemma of connection, a forced choice between competing loyalties, that faces girls. Girls’ struggles are rooted in systemic problems-such as poverty, racism, and sexism – that require a collective, rather than an individual, response. This suggests a need for a new concept of health and stress resistance that locates the struggle between the girl and her world, not within the individual girl, and that holds the adults in girls’ environments accountable for providing girls with experiences and opportunities for them to understand, engage with, and potentially transform what limits and harms them.

Hardiness zones are environments in which all female children, not only adolescents, should be nurtured, taught and socialized. They lay the foundation for resilience, focusing on strengths and solutions as opposed to placing emphasis on the problems, challenges and barriers to girls’ healthy psychosocial development.  Hardiness zones rest upon meaningful engagement  with caring adults, family, friends, schools who recognize the challenges of adolescence and understand  how their relationships with young girls help them to experience life from a position of power-girl power! In a world so skewed towards total male dominance, girls can successfully face systemic problems and triumph collectively. They equip girls with the tools to change policy, perspectives, programs, and procedures – They are next generation learning spaces-safe, bold and brave!


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