Book Review: Alpha Girls: Understanding the New American Girl and How She is Changing the World
Sarah Decker, Northeastern University
Fraternity and sorority professionals are consistently challenged with the task of advising a variety of students at various developmental stages. Alpha Girls: Understanding the New American Girl and How She is Changing the World (Kindlon, 2006) is an excellent resource for professionals looking for more insight into the development of high achieving women. The author, Dan Kindlon, speaks informally to the reader while explaining complex issues such as women’s development theories, the history of the women’s rights movement, the forecasted education levels of women in the United States, and the relationships of high achieving and motivated women.
In the introduction of the book, Kindlon defines an alpha girl as having at least four of the following: a 3.8 grade point average or higher, a leadership position in a strong student organization, participation in extracurricular activities for at least ten hours a week, high motivation, and high self-rating for dependability (Kindlon, 2006, p. xviii). After completing a study of 113 girls, Kindlon was able to provide profound insight into their lives and development.
The book begins with a brief history and explanation of the women’s movement positing that women today have greater opportunities than ever before. The chapter, titled “Male Ways of Being,” explains that alpha girls are successful in part as a result of their ability to adopt some of the habits and behaviors that are traditionally male. “Almost without exception, [alpha girls] seemed completely unaware of the notion that girls are supposed to be fragile and fearful and that to be otherwise isn’t feminine” (Kindlon, 2006, p. 35). Alpha girls are driven women who will stop at nothing in order to be successful and believe that they are just as capable as their male counterparts.
The following chapters focus on the psychology of high achieving women as well as women’s intelligence levels as compared to men’s. Kindlon provides great information on familiar theorists such as Freud, Gilligan, Kohlberg, and Miller, but also provides further insight into some of their theories. He speaks about how alpha girls are able to both connect with their coworkers, but also keep a certain distance. The ability to embody these traditionally gender specific and opposing styles make alpha girls more successful. Kindlon also points out that women are not predisposed to be less successful than men in the areas of math and science, but rather, societal pressure often hinders women from being successful in these areas. Alpha girls are defying this pressure by pursuing degrees in science and medicine.
The final chapters of the book focus on alpha girls in the workplace and in the home. Kindlon’s (2006) research predicts that by 2050, one in two women will earn more money than her husband and American women will hold more degrees than men. While discussing the prevalence of women in the workplace and the ever increasing role of women in managerial positions, Kindlon discusses the difference between male and female leadership styles. Women are generally more team-oriented and relationship-focused, making them better transformational leaders rather than transactional leaders.
It is clear that women can be as tough as men when they need to be. The psychology of hybrid alpha girls is decisive and “rule-based” as well as empathetic and nurturing. They will have as much determination, charisma, and self-confidence as any man. (Kindlon, 2006, p. 201)
Clearly success in the workplace is important to alpha girls; however, they are also determined to be successful in the home. Most of the girls expressed a desire to work, as well as have a family, and do not feel that they have to choose one over the other. When discussing having a family, alpha girls also spoke strongly about their desire to find a partner that was interested in a true partnership. The girls did not want to become dependent on their partners at any time, but did express interest in having someone with whom to share their lives.
Alpha Girls provides the reader with a new perspective on women’s development, while also incorporating the women’s development theories covered in many higher education administration programs. The data provided, as well as the theoretical and historical knowledge, make this book an essential read for professionals that work with high achieving and highly motivated young women.
Kindlon, D. (2006). Alpha girls: Understanding the new American girl and how she is changing the world. New York, NY: Rodale.