Academic journal article RMLE Online

Reading Girls: Living Literate and Powerful Lives

Academic journal article RMLE Online

Reading Girls: Living Literate and Powerful Lives

Article excerpt

Introduction

Girls. Reading. Reading girls. Girl power. Instead of posing these ideas as having defined boundaries and unique ideas linked to them, we think they warrant a consolidated consideration. Therefore, we conducted a qualitative study that merges these two bodies of previously separated scholarship:

(1) a socio-cultural understanding of adolescent girls in light of the shifting meaning of ideal girlhood, (2) the participation and success of adolescent girls in school-based literacy activities.

Often the first body of literature remains theoretically focused (Inness, 1998; Walkerdine, 1990), and when it is empirically applied, the focus is often on popular culture (e.g., Inness, 1999), extracurricular activities (Adams & Bettis, 2003), or a more general understanding of female identity in school (Brown & Gilligan, 1992; Orenstein, 1994). Specific academic practices are rarely considered.

Recently, best-selling author and Harvard psychologist, Dan Kindlon, considered the current status of girls in Alpha girls: Understanding the new American girl and how she is changing the world (2006), and argued that a new psychology of girls (i.e., a psychology of emancipation) has produced a girl very different from the girl in crisis who dominated the media in the early 1990s. This alpha girl is poised to change the world, economically, politically, and socially. Kindlon viewed this new girl as a hybrid, one who embodies the best traits of masculinity and femininity. Thus, she is confident, assertive, competitive, autonomous, future oriented, risk taking, as well as collaborative, relationship oriented, and not obsessed with boyfriends or her physical appearance.

Recently, best-selling author and Harvard psychologist, Dan Kindlon, considered the current status of girls in Alpha girls: Understanding the new American girl and how she is changing the world (2006), and argued that a new psychology of girls (i.e., a psychology of emancipation) has produced a girl very different from the girl in crisis who dominated the media in the early 1990s. This alpha girl is poised to change the world, economically, politically, and socially. Kindlon viewed this new girl as a hybrid, one who embodies the best traits of masculinity and femininity. Thus, she is confident, assertive, competitive, autonomous, future oriented, risk taking, as well as collaborative, relationship oriented, and not obsessed with boyfriends or her physical appearance.

Those scholars who consider adolescent girls' literacy activities often neglect the discursive practices of ideal girlhood and investigate girls' literacy practices as if they exist in a gender-blind vacuum. When literacy scholars do consider gender, the lines of inquiry take several turns. Some note the gendered predispositions held by boys and girls toward reading (Appleman, 2006). For example, Smith and Wilhelm (2002) unveiled the practical way that many young men look at things they do. For these boys, and as the title of this work suggests, "reading don't fix no Chevys" and therefore reading holds less value in their lives. Girls lean toward "real stuff." For them, this includes attention to their emotional and lived experiences (Smith, 2000). Other scholars consider in and out of school reading (e.g., Hull & Schultz, 2002). Some scholars explore gendered discursive practices (Alvermann, Commeyras, Young, Randall, & Hinson, 1997), while others consider whether a classroom culture might influence patterns of gendered behaviors (e.g., Hinchman, Payne-Bourcy, Thomas, & Olcott, 2002). Though the influence of class (i.e., a student's economic position in the wider community) often finds inclusion in a broader and cultural consideration of literacy practices (e.g., Jones, 2006), directly considering the influence of girls' concepts of themselves on their accomplishments as readers in public middle schools forges new ground.

As many scholars of girlhood have documented (Adams 1999; Bettis & Adams, 2005; Budgeon, 1998; Harris, 2004a, 2004b; Hunter, 2002; Inness, 1998; McRobbie, 1993; Mitchell, 1995; Nelson & Vallone, 1994; Walkerdine, 1993), ideal girlhood is constantly being rewritten. …

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