School Girls: Young Women, Self-Esteem and the Confidence Gap

School Girls: Young Women, Self-Esteem and the Confidence Gap

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by Peggy Orenstein
     
 

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In 1990, the American Association of University Women conducted a ground-breaking poll that highlighted how, as young girls reach adolescence, their self-esteem plummets. The conclusion of the study (an investigation that involved over three thousand girls and boys between the ages of nine and fifteen and cut across ethnic and regional lines) was alarming: there is a… See more details below

Overview

In 1990, the American Association of University Women conducted a ground-breaking poll that highlighted how, as young girls reach adolescence, their self-esteem plummets. The conclusion of the study (an investigation that involved over three thousand girls and boys between the ages of nine and fifteen and cut across ethnic and regional lines) was alarming: there is a crisis in this country regarding the way we educate our daughters. In spite of the changes in women's roles in society - and in the lives of their own mothers - many American girls still fall into traditional patterns of low self-image and self-censorship. Girls begin first grade with the same levels of skill and ambition as boys, but, all too often, by the time they reach high school their doubts have crowded out their dreams. They emerge from adolescence with reduced expectations of life, and much less confidence in themselves and in their abilities than boys have. In SchoolGirls, journalist Peggy Orenstein presents the human side of the study's disturbing statistics, using an accessible, narrative approach to explore the influences of home, school, and society on adolescent female self-esteem and the difference between how boys and girls are raised to think about themselves. Through detailed and lively anecdotes - obtained during a year spent with eighth graders at two California schools, as well as interviews with their parents and teachers - Orenstein brings to life the AAUW's profoundly important findings. At Weston Middle School, we meet Lisa, who believes a girl's weight is more important than her intelligence; Suzy, who decides she is "too cute to be a lawyer"; and Evie, who proclaims herself to be a feminist yet tolerates sexual harassment by a popular boy. At Audubon Middle School, however, where the predominantly African-American and Latina girls struggle with pressures forced upon them by their gender, race, and low socioeconomic status, we meet LaRhonda and April, whose confidence in

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The American Association of University Women's 1990 study, Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America, created a great deal of controversy with its contention that American girls, especially in contrast to boys, experience a dramatic loss of self-confidence as they enter their teens. The American education system, according to the report, ``shortchanges'' girls both by paying them less attention and taking them less seriously than boys; as a result, many come to doubt their abilities and scale back their ambitions. Freelance journalist Orenstein, under the aegis of the AAUW, spent a year in the classrooms of two California middle schools and concluded, through a series of interviews with eighth-grade girls, that the original findings are true. Often engrossing and at times profoundly depressing, her portraits of these girls and their relationships with their families, teachers and peers explain why most of the girls have come to see ``their gender as a liability.'' First serial to the New York Times Magazine. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Troubled by the 1990 American Association of University Women report on the loss of self-esteem by American girls between the ages of nine and 15, journalist Orenstein sought the human stories behind the statistics. She worked for a year with girls from two California schools, interviewing students, their families, teachers, and the administrators of the two schools. She also observed classes, school ground behavior, and home life. Not aiming for an academic study, Orenstein places information from various studies in footnotes to the children's narratives. Her text focuses instead on situations ranging from subtle but definite discouragement of female students to a blatant devaluing of all students. Although there were other factors involved, she concentrates on the stories from school in describing the wrenching and all-too-typical conditions many girls face. Recommended for public libraries, high school libraries, and academic libraries with women's studies or education collections.-Sharon Firestone, Ross-Blakley Law Lib., Arizona State Univ., Tempe
WomanSource Catalog & Review: Tools for Connecting the Community for Women
Building on the American Association of University Women's landmark reprts, "Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America" and "Hostile Hallways: The AAUW's Survey on Sexual Harassment in America's Schools," Peggy Orenstein puts faces and personalities behind the numbers. Being a feminist and a journalist, she was both troubled and piqued by AAUW findings. This prompted her to follow the lives of three girls at Weston, a suburban middle-class, predominantly white middle school, and three girls at Audubon, an inner city, lower-class, predominantly minority middle school. Through these girls' lives, we see the problems inherent in changing the educational system; from the students' fears of each other, to parents' incomprehension and preoccupation with their own lives, to overworked teachers and counselors. This book is a must for anyone who wants a closeup look at girls within our educational system.
—Kelly Schrank

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385425759
Publisher:
The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/01/1994
Edition description:
1st ed
Pages:
335
Product dimensions:
6.69(w) x 9.45(h) x (d)

Meet the Author

Peggy Orenstein is an award-winning writer and speaker on issues affecting girls and women. She is a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and her work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Vogue, Glamour, Mirabella, Details, Elle, Mother Jones, and The New Yorker. Her new book, Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids, and Life in a Half- Changed World, will be published by Doubleday in May 2000.

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