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Girlfighting: Betrayal and Rejection among Girls

Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 259
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    For some time, reality TV, talk shows, soap-operas, and sitcoms have turned their spotlights on women and girls who thrive on competition and nastiness. Few fairytales lack the evil stepmother, wicked witch, or jealous sister. Even cartoons feature mean and sassy girls who only become sweet and innocent when adults appear. And recently, popular books and magazines have turned their gaze away from ways of positively influencing girls' independence and self-esteem and towards the topic of girls' meanness to other girls. What does this say about the way our culture views girlhood? How much do these portrayals affect the way girls view themselves?In Girlfighting, psychologist and educator Lyn Mikel Brown scrutinizes the way our culture nurtures and reinforces this sort of meanness in girls. She argues that the old adage girls will be girls - gossipy, competitive, cliquish, backstabbing - and the idea that fighting is part of a developmental stage or a rite-of-passage, are not acceptable explanations. Instead, she asserts, girls are discouraged from expressing strong feelings and are pressured to fulfill unrealistic expectations, to be popular, and struggle to find their way in a society that still reinforces gender stereotypes and places greater value on boys. Under such pressure, in their frustration and anger, girls (often unconsciously) find it less risky to take out their fears and anxieties on other girls instead of challenging the ways boys treat them, the way the media represents them, or the way the culture at large supports sexist practices. Girlfighting traces the changes in girls' thoughts, actions and feelings from childhood into young adulthood, providing the developmental understanding and theoretical explanation often lacking in other conversations. Through interviews with over 400 girls of diverse racial, economic, and geographic backgrounds, Brown chronicles the labyrinthine journey girls take from direct and outspoken children who like and trust other girls, to distrusting and competitive young women. She argues that this familiar pathway can and should be interrupted and provides ways to move beyond girlfighting to build girl allies and to support coalitions among girls.By allowing the voices of girls to be heard, Brown demonstrates the complex and often contradictory realities girls face, helping us to better understand and critique the socializing forces in their lives and challenging us to rethink the messages we send them.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3911-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Bad Girls, Bad Girls, Whatcha Gonna Do?
    (pp. 1-10)

    No more sugar and spice and everything nice. Suddenly the world is filled with mean and nasty girls. Recently there have been a slew of popular books that tell us “girls just want to be mean,” and give advice about “how to tame them.”¹ How could we not have seen it before? There were so many clues, after all. There was Amy Fisher, Tonya Harding, and Linda Tripp, all competitive and jealous and ready to take out their female rivals. All ripe for taming. The media agrees; in fact, it led on the story. Long before books on the subject...

  5. 1 Reading the Culture of Girlfighting
    (pp. 11-35)

    Sara, a twenty-year-old college student, sits forward in her chair in a way that suggests earnestness. Her wavy dark hair is pulled back in a ponytail; her intense brown eyes hold my gaze whenever she comments or answers a question. She has an air of self-assurance. I think about this as I stand before this classroom full of students, mostly sophomores like Sara; a room full of adolescents here to learn about adolescence. I recall her paper; it’s somewhere in the pile I’m handing back today, still speaking to me, pulling at me. The assignment was autobiographical, to explore a...

  6. 2 Good Girls and Real Boys: Preparing the Ground in Early Childhood
    (pp. 36-66)

    When my daughter maya was about three and a half, she announced that she wanted to be a boy. “Why?” I asked, scrambling for trace memories of Freud’s Oedipal complex. (Now how does it work for girls?) “Because they’re everywhere,” she replied with the complete and utter certainty of her age. We were looking at aSesame Street Parent’s Magazine, and she began purposefully flipping through the pages, pointing out characters and advertisements. “Boy, boy, boy,” she began. “Girl, girl, girl,” I countered, although clearly she had me beat. Finally, filled with an urgent need to prove her point, she...

  7. 3 Playing It Like a Girl: Later Childhood and Preadolescence
    (pp. 67-98)

    By all visible accounts, I lived in a great neighborhood—there were tons of kids my age. We had the freedom to run and explore that so many small-town kids had before fears of kidnappers and child molesters took root in our collective imagination. Neighborhood games of freeze tag or red-rover or hide and seek went on well after dark until, in some loosely predictable fashion, our parents called us in for baths and bed.

    But the layer beneath the visible was more complicated. There were Lisa and her cousin Charlotte and then there was me, a late-arriving and unrelated...

  8. 4 Dancing through the Minefield: The Middle School Years
    (pp. 99-134)

    I was lying in my parents’ hammock reading, when my thirteenyear-old niece ran up and threw an open copy ofSeventeen Magazinein my lap. “Look!” she said, disgust in her voice. The word “slut” jumped off the page in large, hot pink letters. The picture of a girl confronted me, her head tilted to one side as she gazed directly, pensively, into the camera. Her long blonde hair brushed her shoulders, her white T-shirt branded her “X-girl.” Beside her, two girls of color, dressed in dark retro clothes and black sneakers, stood together, furtively checking her out. The article’s...

  9. 5 Patrolling the Borders: High School
    (pp. 135-174)

    I’m sitting on wood bleachers watching a women’s college basketball game. My daughter and her friend Lara, both five years old at the time, have eaten their fill of popcorn and candy and are now climbing up and down the bleachers at the far end of the gym. As I watch them laugh and chase one another, two separate conversations edge themselves into my consciousness. In front of me is a group of male students. They are loudly commenting on a player they have labeled “Big Red.” “Marry me!” one yells. I don’t hear much more than their snickering and...

  10. 6 From Girlfighting to Sisterhood
    (pp. 175-198)

    It’s four o’clock on a winter afternoon and I’m sitting in a small conference room talking about girlfighting with three women—an engineer, an activist, and a businesswoman. We have settled around a square table, one woman per side; the sunlight, weak on this frigidly cold January day, provides barely enough light for the geraniums that line the windowsills. They are blooming nonetheless; in ragtag fashion, clusters of red and pink shamelessly compete for the last long rays. Denise, the engineer—tall, slender, intense—is talking about her childhood, the pivotal moment in second grade when her girlfriends dumped her...

  11. 7 This Book Is an Action
    (pp. 199-228)

    In my hometown of Waterville, Maine, there’s a lot of concern about school-based bullying. Recently a principal invited me to talk about my work on girlfighting at an in-service day for fourth- and fifthgrade teachers. I was eager to share what I’d been hearing from girls and also to understand how this school was grappling with the issues. I arrived at the school along with the teachers at about 7:45 in the morning, and after coffee and muffins we positioned ourselves at the low round reading tables at one end of the library. I spoke about the ways girls talked...

  12. Appendix
    (pp. 229-232)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 233-242)
  14. References
    (pp. 243-254)
  15. Index
    (pp. 255-258)
  16. About the Author
    (pp. 259-259)