Books by Amy M. Sullivan

Released: Feb. 1, 1996

An admirable foray into underexplored aspects of teenage girls' relationships, by the Harvard educator whose groundbreaking study In a Different Voice (1982) broached the issue of girls' moral development. Gilligan's last study of adolescent girls (Making Connections, not reviewed) was based on a wealthy, white sample—students at the elite Emma Willard School. Many critics felt that such a project could say little about the lives of less privileged girls. This new work seems to take a cue from such criticisms, grappling wholeheartedly with the impact of race and class on girls' ongoing struggles to find their voices. Researchers Taylor (Education/Simmons College) and Sullivan, a doctoral candidate at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, along with Gilligan herself, interviewed an ethnically diverse, mostly low-income group of 26 teenage girls at risk for dropping out of school and early motherhood. They found that these girls are all too often caught in an intolerable bind. Expressing themselves is dangerous: more than half, asked what got them into trouble the most, answer ``My big mouth.'' Yet those who remain silent do not fare much better; they are isolated and unable to work out their problems. Taylor et al. are admirably engaged, not only with the girls' voices, but with the question ``Who is listening?'' They examine relationships between women and girls: mothers, teachers, aunts, family friends, and neighbors, and are thoughtful about their own struggles, as interviewers, to listen accurately and helpfully. Elegant prose and literary references—both too rare in social-science texts—help to make this study a pleasure to read, as do the girls' own stories. However, the book is stretched a bit thin. Its themes—women and girls, girls and race, girls and class—are vast and do not always fit together easily. Still, anyone who lives and works intimately with teenage girls should find these insights a helpful beginning. Read full book review >