Saturday, April 22, 2006

Social Workers, Teenaged Girls and Feminism

Okay, so here's something really exciting... I'm going to complain about a press release from my university.

Title: "Feminist Mentors Rely on "Moralistic" Standards Regarding Sex"

Researchers at my university recently examined the outcomes of a program in which social workers intended to act as feminist mentors to a group of middle-school girls.

(Remember that these are middle-school girls.)

The program was held in a small Midwestern city at a middle school where 60 percent of the 535 students are African-American. Its directors – two social workers, both white women – intended it as a forum where the participants – 22 sixth-grade girls – could "interrupt the processes of traditional gender socialization," according to the study.

(I'm not really sure where social work comes down on "interrupting socialization". I'll ask my wife.)

They report in the current issue of Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work (Vol. 21, No. 1) that despite their feminist leanings, the mentors wound up falling back on "moralistic, age-based standards of appropriate sexual interest and behavior" and "the suppression of sexuality."

(So far, so good. But, what exactly constitutes the suppression of sexuality?)

They give one example, in which a participant creating a collage on "what it means to be a girl," remarked that it means not only friendship, sports, school work but also "being pregnant." One of the mentors contradicted her, saying "Women get pregnant, not girls."

(Okay, first off, it's pretty annoying that they're arguing that feminism is supposed to be immoral. But, what exactly do they expect from these social workers? For them to tell 14 year old girls that they're mentoring that it's okay to get pregnant? That this won't limit their options as women? And how exactly is this crusty moralism??? What kind of feminism is pro-teenage pregnancy?)

Bay-Cheng doesn't fault the program directors directly, saying she and Lewis believe the program reflects a larger problem about how adults tend to socialize youth on issues of gender and sexuality.

(Huh? Again, why is this such a problem? Wouldn't anyone with a lick of sense encourage these girls to stop romanticizing teenage pregnancy? Isn't it "feminist" to encourage girls to value themselves as something other than sex objects? Who exactly says that feminists are required to oppose the "traditional" teachings that are most useful for young women? WTF?)


The Pagan Temple said...

Is it possible that they're problem wasn't so much what the mentors said to the girls as it was how they said it? Like, they didn't think they should be talking down to them, perhaps? That's the only sense I can make of it.

By suppression of sexuality I am going out on a limb here and wondering if maybe this is meant as a way of criticizing the traditional way in which young girls were taught that sexuality is something to fear, possibly even be ashamed of, as oppossed to something they should try to not just accept but approach as an aspect of reaching young adulthood, hopefully in a positive and mature manner. Something they should even view with pride in their sexuality, from a standpoint of pesonal identity.

Rufus said...

I think they were saying that the social workers needed to be more open about the girls' sexuality, which is fair, but still seems a bit much to ask.

What seems more reasonable to me would be, instead of condemning traditional ordering practices as "moralistic", to make use of the ones that help the girls reach the goals they have in mind. The mission should be to elevate these girls, not to blindly lash out against all tradition. Or, it seems like it should be.