SchoolGirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap

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Overview

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR

The classic account of the hurdles facing adolescent girls in America--now reissued with a new Foreword, to coincide with the award-winning author's new book on women and identity.

Inspired by a study by the American Association of University Women that showed girls' self-esteem plummeting as they reach adolescence, Peggy Orenstein spent months observing, interviewing, and getting know dozens of girls ...

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Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self Esteem, and the Confidence Gap

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Overview

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR

The classic account of the hurdles facing adolescent girls in America--now reissued with a new Foreword, to coincide with the award-winning author's new book on women and identity.

Inspired by a study by the American Association of University Women that showed girls' self-esteem plummeting as they reach adolescence, Peggy Orenstein spent months observing, interviewing, and getting know dozens of girls both inside and outside the classroom at two very different schools in northern California. The result was a groundbreaking book in which she brought the disturbing statistics to life with skill and flair of an experienced journalist.

Orenstein plumbs the minds of both boys and girls who have learned to equate masculinity with opportunity and assertiveness, and femininity with reserve and restraint. She demonstrates the cost of this insidious lesson, by taking us into the lives of real young women who are struggling with eating disorders, sexual harassment, and declining academic achievement, especially in math and science. Peggy Orenstein's SchoolGirls is a classic that belongs on the shelf with the work of Carol Gilligan, Joan Jacobs Brumberg, and Mary Pipher. It continues to be read by all who care about how our schools and our society teach girls to shortchange themselves.

In 1990, the AAUW conducted a poll that highlighted how young girls lose their self-esteem as they reach adolescence. They emerge from adolescence with reduced expectations of life, and much less confidence in themselves and their abilities than boys have. Through anecdotes, Orenstein brings to life the findings of the AAUW study.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This important book should be read by  parents raising children of all ages and of both sexes."  — New York Times Book  Review.

"This book is to young girls what  Black Beauty is to horses, what Upton  Sinclair's The Jungle was to the  processing of meat. To read School  Girls is to remember — how reluctantly! — what  it means to be a girl in junior high." —  Carolyn See, Washington Post Book  World.

"Orenstein's study should be  required reading for all American teachers. And  students. And everyone else. [grade] A." —  Entertainment Weekly.

"School Girls is a fascinating book.  Hopefully it will be read by the right people —  parents and educators who could change the  experience of young girls in the future." —  Los Angeles Times Book Review.

"School Girls cautions those of us  who educate and mold young people to wake up and  see the social and intellectual consequences of  simply letting 'girls be girls' and boys be boys.'"  — New York Newsday.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Following a 1990 poll which found that girls suffer plummeting self-esteem and reduced expectations as they enter adolescence, journalist Orenstein visited two California middle schools to take a more personal look at the statistics. (Oct.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385425766
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1995
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 534,261
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Peggy Orenstein
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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Reading Group Guide

1) How do your experiences of gender biases differ from those your mother faced as a child, or that your daughter faces today? Does your daughter and/or mother deal with gender bias differently than you do? Than you did? What do you think accounts for any such changes or lack thereof?

2) Did you find that you identified with any of the girls in SchoolGirls? How do their experiences resonate with your own memories of growing up and the ways in which you were taught what it meant to be a girl?

3) Judy Logan implemented a number of innovative teaching methods in her class which were designed to heighten women's strengths and accomplishments. For instance, she encouraged students to write and act out monologues about women heroes. Who would you choose as your heroes? Why? Can you come up with any other classroom strategies to eradicate gender bias?

4) Many of the girls in SchoolGirls didn't feel that they had role models at school. How important is the existence of female role models for girls at school? Who were your role models growing up? Were they at your school? Who are the role models for the teenage girls you know? How do you think girls and teachers can go about finding role models at school?

5) Orenstein discusses conflicting messages about their bodies and their sexuality that the girls in her book experience, as they are simultaneously told to be desirable but not to feel desire themselves. How prevalent do you think this message is for girls in our society? In what ways does it manifest itself? How do you think it's possible to change this message?

6) Some of the girls Orenstein interviewed felt that their brothers were treated very differently than they were. If you have a brother, do you feel that your parents treated your brother differently than they did you? How so? Do your parents feel that they treated you differently? How did your parents' relative treatment of you and your brother affect your assessment of your own strengths and weaknesses?

7) All of Orenstein's schoolgirls experienced various forms of negative peer pressure because they were girls. What kind of peer pressure did you experience as an adolescent? How did this influence your behavior then? Now? How do you think your school experiences would have been different if you had attended a single sex school? If you had attended a coed school?

8) During adolescence girls' bodies undergo many changes. With these physical changes often comes insecurity about body image and self worth. How do you feel about your body? What would you like to change about it? How does this differ from the way you felt about it as a teenager? How do the adolescent girls that you know view their bodies? How does this differ from boys' perceptions?

9) Many of the girls in SchoolGirls felt that at one time or another they were harassed by the boys at their schools and in their classes. Did you experience any type of harassment during your teenage years? What happened? What would you advise a teenage girl to do under such circumstances?

10) Do you consider yourself a feminist? Did you as an adolescent? Has your understanding of and attitude toward feminism changed since you were an adolescent? How so? What did you learn about feminism as an adolescent? How did you learn it?

11) A group of seventh grade girls at the University of Chicago Lab School started their own discussion group as a result of reading SchoolGirls. If you were to form a discussion group how would you go about it? What issues would you address? What goals would you set for this group? Have similar groups started in the schools near you?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 17, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I found this book riveting--and heart-breaking. I think anybody

    I found this book riveting--and heart-breaking. I think anybody who teaches should read this book, as well as anyone who has a daughter. My only wish of the book is that there had been some follow-up with many of the girls Orenstein profiled. I couldn't help but wonder, Where are they now? Maybe in an afterword section, particularly because the book was written almost 20 years ago. At any rate, I loved this book and definitely recommend it!

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  • Posted January 23, 2009

    Amazing book!!

    This book was very interesting. For an assignment in class, I had to read through it and write notes on sticky notes for the parts that related to me, and this really was no challenge. This book was perfect in every aspect. I would recommend this book to any person of any age of any gender. Quite honestly, I was just going to open the book up to random pages and make the assignment up, but as I got started reading it, I couldn't put it down!<BR/><BR/>VS in Mrs. Mcintyre's E4 class

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2008

    A reviewer

    This is a very controversial book. It addresses a lot of hurtles that girls and even women have to deal with. It talks a lot about how just being a woman can have a huge effect on our self esteem. It talks about how women can give into men in search of love, and sometimes sacrifice a lot of their standards and morals just to feel accepted. Sexual harrassment also, is a huge issue. A lot of women go years without talking about sexual harrassment they have experienced. I really think that this book helps reveal to women how they need to stop listening to how a steriotype labels them and start having confidence in themselves without having to look like barbie.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2007

    A reviewer

    School Girls was a book about the drop in self esteem of girls that are in middle school and going into high school. It was interesting to see how the girls change from when they are with their friends to when they sit in class. The two schools that Peggy decided to shadow were very different, from the subrubs to the inner cities of California. You recieved a different point of view and different problems that each girl encounters because of where they live. The book is easily relatable, especially if you are a woman most of the things I was able to relate too. The book offers an insight on the dropping self esteem of today's teenage girls and offers some hope to what we can do to stop it. This book was very well written, and I would definatly read it again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2006

    Excellent book

    Schoolgirls presents an extended observation conducted at two very different schools in Northern California, whose student population is very different and yet shares some similarities. The main focus of the observation is to analyze how self-esteem and self-confidence in female students (6 to 8 grades) is affected by their environment, and what in the schools settings and/or personal lives has a greater impact on the future development of these girls. The first school¿s population is primarily comprised of upper-class white students, while the second is a poor school whose population is mostly divided between Latinos and African Americans and the while population counts for no more than 10% of the whole student body. Peggy Orenstein loosely organizes the book by engaging into the description of a handful of female students at the two schools, as opposed to offering a general analysis of her overall observation. Yet she is able to offer an understanding of the situation at hands that goes beyond the limitations of the personal case and individual peculiarity that make of each girl a different and unique case study. Different issues are observed in the two schools, therefore it is not possible to make an instant and direct comparisons between how similar `conditions¿ may affect students in different ways depending on independent variables. Yet, I am not sure the books even has that intention, and a direct and systematic analysis seems to be only a secondary reading of it, and not necessarily a valid approach to the information that Schoolgirls provides. Personally I believe the main concern with the book is to truly find out what affects self-esteem among young girls facing puberty, and the choice of two antithetic school environments is not to draw a comparison between them but to cover a larger spectrum of ethnicities and understand how different issues may affect female students belonging to different cultural backgrounds and coming from different social strata. I thoroughly enjoyed the book for its simplicity of exposition and the conversational style in which is written: which I happen to find to be quite enticing and alluring. At times I found myself unable to put the book down, driven by the desire to know how a certain episode might end, intrigued and even challenged by the narration of facts that the author was able to convey is a very direct, straightforward and yet inquisitive manner. As I have mentioned earlier, the author chooses to focus on particular students, and places them within the larger environment of the school and personal life settings, with details that are not excessively overwhelming and yet consent the read to formulate a deeper and more homogenous visual idea of who these girls are and consequently, to identify with them on a more personal and direct level. At times I truthfully felt like reading a well-written novel, yet with the constant consciousness that the people described are true persons, and not fictitious characters fabricated in the imaginative mind of some creative writer who lives in the constructed world of his own visions. I honestly believe the writing style is crucial to the success of this book, along with other choices made by the author that make of Schoolgirls an easy read, and yet provides a tremendous amount of information. The author is able to provide data from large and systematic studies without falling in the common trap of dryness and impenetrability that many books offering this kind of scientific information seem to be bound to suffer from. Not only is she able to sprinkle throughout the book important and encompassing data ¿ to support, validate or simply introduce an issue ¿ with a lightness and fluidity that is impeccable. Not only is every statement that she makes, pertaining statistical or analytical information other than her direct observation, backed by proper footnoting and bibliographic references. Far more important and just as rema

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2000

    Eye opening work on eight grade girls

    I was very impressed with the book. Reading it for a college course, women studies, I was already inclined to dislike the book, yet reading it cause me to see what happened to me throughout middle school and high school. I read knowing exactly how these girls felt. Though one feels that society does not act in such ways, this book shows that gender inequality isn't only at work but in the schools as well. It is no wonder that girls are paid less, become pregnant, and then have to support such families on that small income. Since reading, I have strived to change the double standards womens face. This is an eye opener.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2000

    My perception of the book School Girls

    School Girls by Peggy Orenstein is an overall great book that can offer help to many people in many areas. I feel all teachers in today's society should read this book because it addresses many important issues young girls face such as, the loss of self-esteem, loss of confidence and the gender gap. Most teachers are not aware that they are giving more attention to guys as opposed to girls. By having teachers read this book they can bring about more awareness and alleviate if not eliminate these gender constraints. Teachers who are more aware of girls low self-esteem and loss of confidence during adolescents can encourage girls both inside and outside the classroom. This in turn will allow boys and girls to be given an equal opportunity to learn. This book is also helpful to adolescent girls to help them deal with these issues and show them they are not going through this ordeal alone. School Girls examines how society and family can have a profound impact on how girls view themselves. It shows how almost every girl has a struggle that they must overcome whether it be confidence, anorexia, school or family problems. Most girls including myself can identify with these feelings of self-doubt. The book helps girls to show them that they can overcome these gender and confidence gaps if the issues are addressed. The book is informative and helpful to parents who are raising teenage girls. The book gives insight into many of the problems the girls face and possible solutions as to how to overcome those problems. It also address some of the common reasons as to why girls lose their self-esteem. I am glad I read this book because it has made me more aware of the gender gap and the issues that adolescent girls are facing today. This will help me to make sure when I start teaching not to make the same mistakes some of these teachers in the book made. It has also made me realize that, since I will be a female biology teacher, I need to encourage the girls who are strong in the sciences to go on to higher level science courses. I will also spend more time on issues concerning girls such as eating right, and the consequences of starving yourself and also the consequences of having unprotected sex such as HIV.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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