Sad girl, mad girl, bad girl, or “odd girl out”: How the actual lived experiences of seniors at a single -sex school relate to the wave of popular literature that has been written about girls over the past decade

Priscilla G Sands, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

Over the past 25 years, there has been significant research into the lives of girls, much of which was initiated by former Harvard University professor and psychologist, Carol Gilligan. Her research challenged the way we thought about girls---how they learned and how they related to each other and to the adults in their world. A significant amount of feminist research followed, continuing to examine the way girls lead their lives and navigate through adolescence. While some of the literature grew from authentic research, other popular books and articles were anecdotal, observational or based on therapists' clinical experience. These popular formulations became intertwined with research and a de facto canon for gender. In some pop literature, girls are described as both silent and self-destructive victims, susceptible to depression, eating disorders, cutting, and drug use, or alternatively, predators and bullies who use language and peer pressure to inflict harm on friends and perceived enemies. Girls schools have been affected by not only the feminist research but also the wave of pop literature, some of which had a moralistic, alarming, and authoritarian tone that concerned both parents and educators. I have seen girls work through social issues and end their high school years feeling confident and competent, ready to face their uncertain futures. They can articulate the different stages they have experienced as well as their strategies for coping and relating to others, often in a mature and thoughtful manner. Using my annual exit interviews with seniors, as well as focus groups, I tested what some of the popular literature posits about girls against what they told me about their experience at school, and their complicated yet exciting lives. I found that while the girls were surprisingly aware of the message of the literature, they were also able to differentiate between the sensational message and the more legitimate findings. They were aware and knowledgeable about the complications of their friendships and relationships. I was struck by their insight and clarity. With some of the distance of impending graduation, they were able to reflect on their experiences with candor, honesty, and humor.

Subject Area

Educational sociology

Recommended Citation

Sands, Priscilla G, "Sad girl, mad girl, bad girl, or “odd girl out”: How the actual lived experiences of seniors at a single -sex school relate to the wave of popular literature that has been written about girls over the past decade" (2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3209989.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI3209989

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