"I Want to Read Stuff on Boys": White, Latina, and Black Girls Reading Seventeen Magazine and Encountering Adolescence

Article excerpt

Adolescence can be both a "beautiful and dangerous" (Kaplan, 1996) period of life for girls. It is a time when girls begin to mature physically and psychologically. They begin to gain a sense of independence, especially from attachments to their mothers (Chodorow, 1978). It is also a time when girls are in danger of withdrawing from family and friends (Gilligan et al., 1990). During these years, girls begin to encounter new social pressures (Fine & Zane, 1989; Gilligan et al., 1990; Kaplan, 1997), confront their sexuality, and find themselves placing value on femininity. As Thorne (1993) suggests, "It is during the transition from child to teen that girls start negotiating the forces of adult femininity, a set of structures and meanings that more fully inscribe their subordination on the basis of gender" (p. 170).

Several studies note that, in childhood, boys tend to react more negatively to stress than do girls, but this pattern reverses itself during adolescence (Rutter & Garmezy, 1983; Gilligan et al., 1990). Peterson (1993) reported that girls respond more negatively to stressful challenges during the early adolescent years. In addition, episodes of depression increase for girls in adolescence (Rutter & Garmezy, 1983); they are more despairing than boys in appraising themselves and experience more disturbance in self-image (Peterson, 1993). They tend to place heavy emphasis on body image, all too often developing eating disorders or experiencing emotional difficulties (Costello & Stone, 1994). These studies show that middle-class white adolescent girls tend to suffer from anorexia and bulimia. Other studies show that low-income black adolescent girls tend to have problems with obesity, while low-income Latino adolescents tend to score low on self-esteem and self-concept assessments and to have high rates of depress ion (Singer et aiL, 1996).

Another concern is adolescent pregnancy. Among U.S. girls under age 15, 27% have had intercourse at least once and 13% are currently sexually active (Costello & Stone, 1994). Among girls aged 15 to 19, 53% have had intercourse, 43% have had intercourse in the last three months, and 12% have been pregnant (Teen Pregnancy Facts and Stats, 2001). While teenage pregnancy rates have decreased across the United States over the past few years, many girls continue to be at risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (Teen Pregnancy Facts and Stats, 2001). The proportion of sexually active teens using contraceptives has increased in recent years, but one-third of young girls used no method of contraception the first time they had sex. Adolescents aged 15 to 19 exhibit the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases (such as gonorrhea and syphilis) as well as the highest rates of hospitalization for pelvic inflammatory disease (Centers for Disease Control, 1991).

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that although black women make up 7% of the nation's population, they "accounted for 15% of all new AIDS diagnoses in 1999, a percentage that has grown steadily since the syndrome was first identified 20 years ago" (Sack, 2001, p. A12). Sack (2001) went on to compare the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on AIDS cases by gender and race: "black males make up 35%, Latino males 14%, white males 27%, and white and Latino females were each 4%" (p. A12).

While these findings make a compelling argument that it is essential for girls to have accurate information about their sexuality and maturational development, few recent studies have explored where girls go to learn how to avoid life-altering problems such as teenage pregnancy and AIDS. Nor do we know if race/ethnicity influences their perceptions of adolescent experiences. This study will help address that gap in the literature.

The study is based on a comparison of four focus groups of teenage girls. The objectives of this study are twofold: to gain insight into what forum girls use to learn about the adolescent experience and to examine teenage girls' views of their sexuality and femininity. …