An American Girl: Every Day is a Competition

In the midst of my book tour, I heard a song on the radio for the first time. I almost pulled the car off the road. Here's the song:

(In case you missed it, you can see the lyrics here; warning that the song is pretty catchy, which is not surprising given that Bonnie McKee has apparently penned most of Katy Perry's #1 hits.)

Can you guess which line shocked me? Here it is: "I'm an American girl... Every day is a competition." And, no, she doesn't mean the dolls.

Of course there is more to this song to unpack, like the lines, "I was raised by a television...I'm loving taking over the wold... No I don't listen to mommy." But it's the competition line that caught my attention and, frankly, shocked me. If competition in American girlhood is so accepted as to be part of a pop music hit, where do we go from here?

In August my piece on girls and competition (an excerpt from Playing to Win that ran in The Atlantic) garnered a lot of attention and comments. So clearly I am no stranger to competition in American girlhood. Still, the notion that it is sung about and seen as normal as being reared on TV is new to me-- and strangely empowering, even if it is worrisome.

It used to be we only celebrated competition for boys, so perhaps it is progress this is so mainstream for girls now. Recent articles that cite Playing to Win highlight this rise of competition, especially as it impacts girls-- like this piece in The New Republic on ballet competitions. 

In other press I have done recently, like this Podcast or this piece on letting a child quit an activity, the images accompanying them have portrayed girls-- like this:

I think it's great that girls are portrayed as often, and sometimes more so, when talking about competitive afterschool activities (not all the time, like here, but nonetheless this is a GREAT article on early specialization among kids today).

Of course it's not just gender that matters among kids today; as I write here, class and inequality matter a lot, as does our American context.

So Bonnie McKee has it right that every day is a competition among American girls. It's just unclear if this matters or not-- even though parents surely think it does (as I argue in this most recent essay in Education Next). But it is certainly an idea that has gone mainstream.

Now, I'm off to catch up on my TV... and my competition. Yes, I'm an American girl myself.