Friday night, as I watched television I evaluated commercial content in relation to the target of women and what message advertisements send to women of all ages. In one hour I saw twenty-four commercials, eleven were targeted at women and every single one had something to do with either the appearance or beauty of women or a domestic focus. These commercials touted products to enhance beauty or lose weight with the underlying message of "improved self-esteem". I have always blamed the media, or more broadly, cultural attitudes for the problems young girls and women face with low self-image and often find myself citing Barbie dolls and the overwhelmingly pink aisles at the toys-r-us as a root cause of the marginalization of women's roles. Peggy Orenstein refers to this as the "politics of the external", a term which, at first, I had a difficult time accepting. Is this not a major implication when discussing a society that promotes female self-censorship and devalued intellectual potential? After reading "Schoolgirls" I came to understand exactly what Orenstein meant and she convinced me that "the internal need not, and indeed should not, be ignored". Although it may not be well documented it is indeed established that although "women's lib" has come a very long way since we received the right to vote there are still social implications that can only confuse women's' identity and self-image. Peggy Orenstein's book has indeed caused me to look deeper into the internal issues affecting self-esteem that women face beginning with adolescence.
It would be a tremendous disservice to the youth of America as teachers if we were to simply accept the external causes to the self-esteem crisis since, on a grander scale it is truly out of our hands. To delve into the internal causes is to study the major aspects that encompass an adolescent's life. According to the survey conducted by the American Association of University Women, middle school is the beginning of the transition from girlhood to womanhood and, not coincidentally, the time of greatest self-esteem loss. Orenstein evaluates girls from two different middle schools of different social and economic backgrounds. Teachers, administration, family, and friendships comprise an adolescent's internal experience and all relate directly to issues of self-esteem in young girls and its' correlation with academic performance. In "Schoolgirls" she investigates these groups with challenging and insightful questions and holds them accountable.
"How were educators in these schools trying to combat girls flagging self-confidence, and what were they doing -- consciously or inconspicuously -- to undercut it?" (Orenstein, xxiii).
The teachers Orenstein observed and their approaches to classroom methodology varied dramatically and the performance of the students was enough assessment to show which methods helped girls and which did not. I felt the major theme in both schools was the competition for...