Girls Still Coping with Old Problems of Harassment, Body Image, and Shyness

When you were an eighth grade girl, did you have trouble speaking up in class because you were afraid boys would make fun of you? Did you hate gym class? Were you on a diet?

A new report from the Alice Paul Leadership Institute indicates not much has changed for girls in 2007. The Institute, headquartered in Mount Laurel, PA, has been collecting data from adolescent girls since 1996. The new report entitled Girls Share Their Voice is the result of surveys sent to teachers and girls ages 11 to 16 years from a variety of socio-economic groups in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The girls in the focus groups told researchers that their number one issue was resisting peer pressure to engage in risky behaviors such as having sex and using drugs. The good news was that today’s girls are more likely to express themselves in schools. However, they feel as if no one listens to them at school, home and in their communities. More than half feel most comfortable expressing their feelings in diaries or online blogs.

The suburban girls in the 2006 survey reported that they felt pressure to maintain a certain body image and appearance as a significant problem. In contrast, the girls from lower socio-economic levels identified safety and not getting pregnant as their top concerns.

Teachers identified the main problems facing girls today as poor self-esteem, peer pressure, body image, bullying, and sexual harassment.

Focus groups in 2003 told researchers that they experienced sexual harassment on a daily basis, but that the worst discrimination occurred during co-ed gym classes. They reported being afraid to speak in class because they might say something that sounded prejudiced or for fear of making a mistake.

The authors of the most recent Girls Share Their Voice report had the following recommendations for schools and organizations that work with girls:

  • Teach more women’s history so that girls have more role models.
  • Address issues of body image and personal safety.
  • Find better means to coordinate the efforts of those who work with teenaged girls.
  • Eighth grade is a critical time to train girls as leaders.

To read the entire 40-page report online, go to http://www.alicepaul.org/images/GSVreport.pdf.