Older Women, Personal Narratives, and the Power of Sharing with Adolescent Girls

By Bartlett, Jan R. | Adultspan Journal, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Older Women, Personal Narratives, and the Power of Sharing with Adolescent Girls


Bartlett, Jan R., Adultspan Journal


The meaning derived from an intergenerational retreat between older adult women and adolescent girls was the focus of the researcher. Personal narratives provided an avenue for sharing and listening. For the women, the reported meaning included pride in female progress, instillation of hope, increase in risk taking, and a sense of rejuvenation.

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The mother--daughter relationship has been discussed by numerous authors, theorists, and researchers (e.g., Brown & Gilligan, 1992; Cook, 1993; Jordan, Kaplan, Miller, Stiver, & Surrey; 1991; Taylor, Gilligan, & Sullivan, 1995), but much less attention has been paid to other female relationships, such as those in the community, with teachers or neighbors, and among extended family members. Such relationships have provided opportunities for the voices of girls and women to collaborate in meaningful dialogue and to expand their relationships. Communicating with other women can empower girls to "speak up," "speakout," "not be silenced," "say what you mean, and listen to be heard," in essence, to give girls and women their voice (Belenky; Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1997; Goldberger, Tarule, Clinchy, & Belenky, 1996). This study provided a setting in which women and girls could exercise their voice.

As I began this endeavor, I thought of Harry Wolcott's (1995) words regarding fieldwork and its various approaches: The researcher may choose to "shape and mold something that has never been, or to uncover and thus reveal what was there all along" (p. 28). In this retreat, both aspects were addressed. The structure and format were created, but the personal connections and the meaning derived from the experience, although somewhat elusive, touched on a constant potential for connections. In less hurried times, people across generations lived together in communities and interacted much more than they do in today's society. Because of the rushed pace of people's lives today, many families only rarely engage in meaningful conversation and personal sharing.

In the United States, people and families are constantly hurrying from one place to another--rushing to a meeting, soccer practice, or basketball practice or they are late for an appointment, class, or church. When the tendency to hurry everywhere is compounded by the fragmentation of families through divorce, employment demands, or the strains of single parenthood, children and young people increasingly become separated from intergenerational contact with extended family members. The young are "frightened and unruly, numb from hurry and overstimulation"; parents "feel isolated and overwhelmed," and older adults may actually "go days without talking to anyone" (Pipher, 1999, p. 306). Girls spend less time with mothers, grandmothers, and aunts and more time with their friends. Often relatives do not live close enough for frequent or even occasional visits. Society and individuals benefit greatly from intergenerational relationships; the Lakota Sioux believe "that if the old do not stay connected to the young, the culture will disintegrate" (Pipher, 1999). Relationships serve a powerful role in lifelong development, and many women and girls are deprived of these opportunities.

BACKGROUND

Deprivation of relational needs among women and girls refers to the tendencies of many women and girls to stifle their capacity to engage in relationships in away that encourages the full expression of themselves, choosing instead to sacrifice significant aspects of themselves in order to please others (Knudson-Martin, 1995; Miller & Stiver, 1997). Both the impact of the U.S. cultural climate and the absence of relationships that encourage female development in all capacities may contribute to a series of problems that block the attainment of personal potential for girls and women. In Surrey's (Jordan et al., 1991. p. 38) efforts to develop a relational theory of development, she stated five key components for relationship-differentiation:

1. …

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