Girls in the Middle: Working to Succeed in School, 1996

By Hackman, Heather W. | Multicultural Education, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Girls in the Middle: Working to Succeed in School, 1996


Hackman, Heather W., Multicultural Education


American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, Girls in the Middle working to Succeed in School, 1996. Washington, D.C.: AAUWEF. 26 minutes, color, $24.95.

Girls in the Middle: Working to Succeed in School is a film based on a research study funded by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation (AAUWEF.) It was written by Jody Cohen and Sukey Blanc in an effort to understand the coping strategies young women in middle school utilize to be successful in their lives academically and personally.

While this film has an academic tone, it is intended for teachers, administrators, parents groups, and researchers who are interested in the identity development and strategy formation processes of young women in middle school.

I appreciate the commitment of the AAUWEF and these researchers to giving voice to the experience of young women and hope that it sets the stage for further research on this difficult transition period. Adolescence in the United States continues to be a time of serious decision making for young people whatever their gender, and to focus a film on the development of young women does much to help educators, parents, and students better navigate that time. If nothing else, the findings of this film highlight the need for an even deeper examination of this population of students.

Further consideration not only of gender issues but also of how other social identities complicate the development process of young people is vital if we are to provide the most effective and supportive learning environments possible. Girls In the Middle is a step in this long research and dialogue process.

While the premise of the film is useful and necessary, there exist a few key gaps in the film that affect its utility for teachers, parents, and administrators.

The first noticeable problem is the language, specifically the repeated use of "girls." Continually referring to young women as "girls" undermines the very process of identity development and empowerment the researchers are trying to capture and support via their research.

Two decades of social movements in the 1960s and 1970s, and in particular the second wave of the "women's" movement, have taught us the power of language and the important role accurate, empowering language plays in social change. The repeated use of "girls" while discussing young women's growth and development as young adult is antithetical to the mission of the research and limits the effectiveness of the film.

The use of "girls" is also problematic as a blanket identifier for all of the young women in the film. Again we can turn to the second wave of the mainstream "women's" movement and see that just as the use of "women" as a monolithic organizer denied the experiences and issues of women of color, lesbian and bisexual women, poor and working class women, or women with disabilities, so does the persistent use of "girls" as a monolithic organizer erase the variances in the experiences of the young women in the film.

To not discuss, for example, the differences in lived experience of an urban, African American student versus a suburban, white student versus a semi-urban, Chicana/Latina student erases the realities these young women face related to racism and classism. …

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