Who Trashed Self-Esteem?

By Malveaux, Julianne | Black Issues in Higher Education, August 25, 1994 | Go to article overview

Who Trashed Self-Esteem?


Malveaux, Julianne, Black Issues in Higher Education


Who Trashed Self-Esteem?.

by Julianne Malveaux

Several churches in California run a "lock in" program where young African Americans bring pillows and blankets on a Friday night and are locked in to 18 hours of meals, workshops and recreation, exposed to role models and immersed in rap sessions about the challenges of growing up. Pioneered at First A.M.E. Church, the lockins are designed to remind young people what it might be like to be locked up and to offer alternatives. In participating in a few of the lock ins in San Francisco, I've been struck by young people's enthusiasm, and by the commitment of adults who help to pull the program off.

At one lock-in, a male counselor took a bullhorn to the crowd of a hundred or so kids and barked out "What's the theme?" The youngsters responded, "self-esteem." Again, "What's the theme?" Again the answer, "self-esteem." Repeatedly there was call and response, loud voices and high spirits. When the youngsters settled down, though, the counselor talked to them about self-esteem and the meaning of it. Adults have studied the concept, but many adolescents have thought about what it means to have a self concept. "Learning to say no," was the way one young woman described self-esteem. "You don't have to have sex to have a boyfriend," said another who seemed so young I ached to think she had to ponder such tradeoffs. Between soda, soul-searching sessions, and a little role-play, a group of young people were reminded that tradeoffs essentially define life.

The youngsters had a booster shot of self-esteem for the weekend, but what happens the rest of the time? Some lockin programs happen quarterly, with groups that get together when there is no organized program. Tutoring, counseling and after-school jobs pick up some of the slack for young people as well. All this in the name of self-esteem? Well self-esteem, successful transition from adolescence to adulthood and all that. What's the problem? Right about now, the notion that self-esteem is important and that it can be measured is being re-examined because of a controversial book, Who Stole Feminism: How Women Have Betrayed Women written by Clark University philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers.

Sommers says that the women's movement has gone too far in dealing with issues of women's oppression. She rejects the notion that our society is a patriarchy in which (her words) "the dominant gender works to keep women covering and submissive." Does she overstate her case just a bit? Pointing out that women haven't attained equality in politics, economics or the workplace hardly means that feminists are painting women as "cowering and submissive" souls. Her smug "everything is right with the world except feminism" view ignores glaring inequalities in our society. …

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