Whatever Her Little Heart Desires: How Social Class and Race Influence Adolescent Girls' Perceptions of the Future

by Swauger, Melissa Lynne

Abstract (Summary)
While girls today have more educational and career opportunities than ever before, their gender, social class, and racial positions influence how they set and achieve academic and career goals. Using feminist qualitative research methods, I conducted focus groups and in-depth interviews with 22 poor and working class, African American, white adolescent girls and 18 of their mothers to examine how patterns in everyday life influence girls perceptions of the future. I begin by discussing who the girls are, focusing on how they see themselves in comparison to culturally constructed images of girls/girlhood, i.e., Girl Power and Mean Girl. I also show who they are by describing the organization of daily family life which includes such factors as television viewing, tight family ties and responsibilities, positive relationships with mothers, and an awareness of financial insecurity. I argue that an understanding of the cultural, familial, environmental, and material realities of the girls lives illustrates how life for poor and working class girls is flooded with contradictions that they negotiate as they decide who they are and who they want to become. Then I discuss who the girls want to become and suggest that aspirations themselves are less important than the contexts in which aspirations are shaped. I illustrate how poor and working class girls perceptions of the future are uniquely shaped in gendered, classed, and racialized practices within the media, family, peer groups, and schools. Finally, I discuss how the girls are reaching their goals. I argue that poor and working class girls current experiences and orientations and preparedness toward the future cannot be universalized. That is, the extent to which poor and working class girls find resources to help them plan and prepare for the future varies and these variations are illuminated when we examine girls individual motivation as well as the resources families and schools differentially provide.
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Cecilia Green; Sharon Nelson Legall; Kathleen Blee, PhD; Akiko Hashimoto

School:University of Pittsburgh

School Location:USA - Pennsylvania

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:01/29/2009

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