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Two fourteen-year-old girls, fed up with the "Hooters" shirts worn by their male classmates, design their own rooster logo: "Cocks: Nothing to crow about." Seventeen-year-old April Schuldt, unmarried, pregnant, and cheated out of her election as homecoming queen by squeamish school administrators, disrupts a pep rally with a protest that engages the whole school.
Where are spirited girls like these in the popular accounts of teenage girlhood, that supposed wasteland of depression, low self-esteem, and passive victimhood? This book, filled with the voices of teenage girls, corrects the misperceptions that have crept into our picture of female adolescence. Based on the author's yearlong conversation with white junior-high and middle-school girls—from the working poor and the middle class—Raising Their Voices allows us to hear how girls adopt some expectations about gender but strenuously resist others, how they use traditionally feminine means to maintain their independence, and how they recognize and resist pressures to ignore their own needs and wishes.
With a psychologist's sensitivity and an anthropologist's attention to cultural variations, Lyn Brown makes provocative observations about individual differences in the girls' experiences and attitudes, and shows how their voices are shaped and constrained by class—with working-class girls more willing to be openly angry than their middle-class peers, and yet more likely to denigrate themselves and attribute their failures to personal weakness.
A compelling and timely corrective to conventional wisdom, this book attunes our hearing to the true voices of teenage girls: determined, confused, amusing, touching, feisty, and clear.
A year earlier, by a landslide vote of her classmates, seventeen-year-old April Schuldt, unmarried and five months pregnant, with shiny red hair, chipped black nail polish, and combat boots, found herself an unlikely homecoming queen at Memorial High School in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Students voted for April -- the daughter of a factory-worker mother and a steel-worker father -- because, in the words of one student, "she knows who she is...she's nice to everyone." But since April did not fit the ideal of the beauty queen, four school administrators and a teacher "arranged" for a more likely winner: a cute, bright swimming star. When she was tipped off, Schuldt said, "I wasn't sad, I was angry, like what can I do? What can I do?"
April and her friends chose an upcoming pep-rally as their stage. "It sounds easy," Schuldt said, "but it wasn't, 'cause pep-assembly's a real big deal, especially at homecoming; the whole school gathers."
"The band was playing, the football team was there, everybody was filing in and this little clump of us went out and sat in the middle of the gym floor. Now that's taboo 'cause the floor belongs to the cheerleaders and the pom-poms. We sat there and our hearts were pounding; we were expecting to be dragged out by our hair, but then something else happened. Students started coming down from the bleachers, people came out of the band, teachers came and sat down, the whole floor was covered. The pom-poms were all cramped together trying to do their thing in this little amount of space -- it was unbelievable the support I was getting."
By the time the superintendent launched an investigation and the truth came out, Homecoming Day was long past. But for April it was the principle of the thing: "I'm not someone who wants to be Miss America," she explains, "I want to be an English teacher. I'm different, but I'm real. I don't think all women and girls nowadays want to see someone totally without flaws standing up as queen -- not everyone's perfect. We have a daycare center at our school, we have a parenting program. There are pregnant people in the world. Even though I'm pregnant, I'm still me. So why are we making believe ordinary, nonperfect people don't exist or are less deserving?"
I find myself thinking of these two accounts of girls' resistance as I sit in a school classroom listening to a blonde, blue-eyed eighth-grade girl from rural Maine describe the way she stood up to her English teacher, refusing to take his persistent denigration of her and the other girls in her class. She is part of a panel of five girls participating in a day-long workshop on gender equity, and so perhaps she should not seem as alone as she does. In many ways she is familiar -- tall and slender, willowy even, her shoulders pulled forward, her voice wavering as she begins her story. But it's what she says and the compelling, focused way she speaks that pull her away from the other girls. Determined, resolute, her voice gathers momentum. She is freshly angry and hurt as she tells the room full of teachers and administrators how she pointed out the sexism to her teacher in class, and then, when he wouldn't listen to her, reported his behavior to her parents, who helped her negotiate a conversation with the principal. She is mad at the teacher, yes, but mostly she is hurt and disappointed at the response of her classmates. It was not the boys in her class who turned away, but the other girls, who she thought would hear what she heard, feel what she felt. Although she is still stunned at the girls' meanness -- the way they ostracized her and called her names -- she is no less certain that she did the right thing.
I begin with these stories -- each told by white girls living in predominantly white areas of the United States -- because they focus on girls' feelings of anger and indignation, their critique of unjust authorities and social structures that do not account for the reality of their experiences, and because they illustrate the girls' creative, organized action on their own behalf. The intense feelings and expressions of anger characteristic of such stories also resonate with the voices of the Mansfield and Acadia girls reported in this book.
Much attention of late has been given to girls' invisibility in schools, to sexual harassment in public spaces such as cafeterias, hallways, and on school playgrounds, to gender bias in classrooms, to losses in self-esteem and self-confidence, as well as to signs of psychological trouble, such as eating disorders, negative body image, and depression. We know and understand very little, however, about girls who resist these losses and retain their psychological resilience and invulnerability. Indeed, Michelle Fine and her colleague Pat Macpherson argue that the writings of feminist academics "have been persistently committed to public representations of women's victimization and structural assaults and have consequently ignored, indeed misrepresented, how well young women talk as subjects, passionate about and relishing their capacities to move between nexus of power and powerlessness. That is to say, feminist scholars have forgotten to take notice of how firmly young women resist -- alone and sometimes together." Such attention to the psychological losses many girls experience, while certainly pointing to the effects of injustice, may inadvertently contribute to the privileged capacity of whiteness to name the experiences and outline the developmental trajectories of all girls, regardless of social, racial, or material status. In addition, a focus on psychological losses, even specifically white girls' losses, may inadvertently contribute to an over-emphasis on passive indoctrination and an under-emphasis on girls' resistance that might inform strategies for encouraging and sustaining their voices.
Copyright © 1998 by Lyn Mikel Brown. Used by permission of Harvard University Press. All rights reserved.
|1||Stones in the Road||1|
|3||Mansfield: Living outside the Lines||40|
|4||Acadia: The Conventions of Imagination||71|
|5||Voice and Ventriloquation in Girls' Development||103|
|7||The Madgirl in the Classroom||155|
|8||Educating the Resistance||198|