The Transformation of Girls to Women: Finding Voice and Developing Strategies for Liberation. (Articles)

Article excerpt

The theme of silence is one of the most pervasive themes in the study of girls and women across cultures. The authors examine emotional, physical, educational, and behavioral losses that occur for adolescent girls. Results of landmark research studies and the implications for practitioners also are discussed.

El tema del silencio es uno de los temas mas penetrantes en el estudio de jovencitas y mujeres a traves de las culturas. Los autores examinan las perdidas emocionales, fisicas, educativas y de comportamiento que ocurren para las jovencitas adolescentes. Los resultados de estudios culminantes y las implicaciones para consejeros se discuten.


The theme of silence is one of the most pervasive themes in the study of girls and women (M. Harris, 1989). Through various forms of literature, women across cultures have recalled their own experiences with silence, asking in diverse ways if women are free to feel the spirit of their voice. The voices of women authors like Angelou (1969) in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Santiago (1993) in When I Was Puerto Rican, Lim-Hing (1995) in The Very Inside: An Anthology of Writing by Asian and Pacific Islander Lesbian and Bisexual Women, and Crow Dog (1990) in Lakota Woman recall diverse experiences with voice and silence in their transformation from oppressed girls to women who embrace freedom. Their voices remind everyone that the implications of silence and speaking out may vary as gender, race, sexual orientation, and social class interact. Silence first becomes an issue for many latency-age girls as they move into early adolescence. With loss of voice also comes loss of self.

It is important to consider the losses that occur for adolescent girls across cultural groups and social class and to examine the implications that these losses present for practitioners. Counselors must also have knowledge of the results of landmark research studies that are related to these populations in order to develop interventions that reduce risks and foster empowerment and liberation for teenage girls.

the theme of the crossroads

The theme of silence emerges in Brown and Gilligan's (1992) landmark research study, in which they referred to the concept of the crossroads as the threshold when a girl is initiated into adolescence. This first body of research dealt mainly with White American, middle-class girls between the ages of 9 and 18 in a private school and did not address the intersection of culture, race, and class or the privileges held by the race and social class of the girls in their study. According to Brown and Gilligan's study, between the ages of 9 and 13, these latency-age girls were "not for sale." They spoke openly and truthfully. They clearly articulated things about themselves, what they felt, thought, and desired. They had a very strong sense of personal authority and considerable trust in themselves. However, by about age 15, if they chose to speak up and be true to themselves, they ran the risk of not fitting in, of not belonging. In the Brown and Gilligan study, these 15-year-old girls simply shut down. They did not speak anymore about what they knew to be true. In their interviews, many of their responses were simply "I don't know," as if they forgot what they used to know. By later adolescence, they not only forgot what they knew, they forgot that they forgot. An implication of this study is that by late adolescence there is disassociation; girls are disconnected from themselves but do not know it anymore.

The reality, however, that all individuals are embedded in culture and that the larger societal context has a differential impact on girls and women based on their social standing, has been ignored by many researchers and practitioners (Petersen, 2000). Race, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation are factors that influence the experiences of adolescent girls, and the intersection of these factors merits closer examination so that issues of voice and silence can be understood. …