SCHOOLGIRLS by Peggy Orenstein


Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap
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 An intimate and provocative glimpse into the lives of adolescent schoolgirls at two West Coast middle schools by journalist Orenstein (formerly managing editor of Mother Jones). Orenstein was motivated by the disturbing findings of a 1990 study from the American Association of University Women. It revealed that girls' self-esteem plummets as they reach adolescence, with a concomitant drop in academic achievement- -especially in math and science. By sixth grade, both boys and girls have learned to equate masculinity with opportunity and assertiveness and femininity with reserve and restraint. In her attempt to delve more deeply into this phenomenon, Orenstein observed and interviewed dozens of young girls inside and outside their classrooms. The resulting narratives are likely to move and vex readers. The classrooms at Weston Middle School ring with the symptoms: Even girls who consider themselves feminists tend to ``recede from class proceedings'' while their male classmates vociferously respond to teachers' questions; girls who are generally outspoken remain silent in the classroom. When probed, they tell Orenstein that they are afraid of having the wrong answer and of being embarrassed. They are not willing to take the risks that boys routinely take. The girls are overly involved with their appearance, with clothes and beauty products, instead of their studies. Sexual desirability becomes the central component of their self-image, with negative feelings often translating themselves into eating disorders. At the Audubon Middle School, with its predominantly minority population, it is apparent that ``the consequences of silence and marginalization for Latinas are especially dire.'' The Latina girls we meet often become gang members and mothers, while school becomes increasingly irrelevant. A comprehensive bibliography and annotated notes enhance Orenstein's ardent and significant exploration of the adolescent roots of key women's issues. (First serial to the New York Times Magazine)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-385-42575-9
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1994


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