Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Girls in Power: Gender, Body, and Menstruation in Adolescence

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Girls in Power: Gender, Body, and Menstruation in Adolescence

Article excerpt

Girls in Power: Gender, Body, and Menstruation in Adolescence. Laura Fingerson. Albany: State University of New York Press. 2006. 190 pp. ISBN 0-7914-6900-X. $21.95 (cloth).

Despite its ambiguous title, Girls in Power offers a compelling look at girls' and boys' collective talk about menstruation and the body. Its contribution lies in its emphasis that understandings of menstruation (and, subsequently, social power between girls and boys) are constantly negotiated and shift in various social settings and contexts. The ambiguity arises out of a promise in the title of the book that menstruation might on balance be more a source of power for girls than its opposite, a finding not borne out in Fingerson's data (individual and group interviews with 37 Midwestern girls and boys). Girls in Power better implies the location of girls in power relationships, emphasizing agency and constraint associated with the embeddedness of menstrual discourse in the social relations of gender.

Fingerson's narrative is most useful when she emphasizes the nuanced and negotiated aspect of menstruation in adolescents' lives. For indeed, although she spends a good part of the book discussing the medicalization of menstruation and the cultural contexts that construct it as an embarrassing, sexualized, and hygienic crisis, including the ways boys use menstruation to assert social power over girls, she also provides evidence for girls empowerment. She writes, "This agency can be both collective and individual and is based in a girls" sense of responsibility and management of menstruation, their knowledge of menstruation, and their positive views about menstruation. They can use menstruation as an opportunity to exert power over their social world and to resist the negative cultural definitions of women's bodies and menstruation" (p. 149).

The research base of Girls in Power is limited by its small sample size (26 girls and 11 boys) and its lack of racial and ethnic diversity. There is some socioeconomic diversity, although Fingerson does not use these class differences to explain differential responses of interview subjects. In addition, most likely because the origin of this book is her dissertation, Girls in Power suffers from some repetitiveness and some bumpy transitions between her review of the literature and introduction of interview data. …

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