Katie Manyin, BMC, ‘23

Gender Socialization and Gender Specific Education

Semester: Fall 2023

Faculty Advisor: Elise Herrala

Field Site: Girls Inc.

Field Supervisor: Brionna Pendelton

Praxis Poster: 

Praxis Independent Study Poster Final


Further Context:

In addition to my work in the classroom facilitating Girls Inc. curriculum, one of my goals for this independent study was to analyze how Girls Inc. ‘s gender-specific educational programming affected girls’ understanding of their gender identity. I was able to do this analysis through recording field notes after my classes, and then coding the field notes for patterns
relating to the girls’ gender expressions and behaviors. At the end of the semester, I wrote a memo summarizing my findings throughout all of my classes. Here is an excerpt from that memo:

The two major themes that stood out to me after looking through my Girls Inc. field notes were the girls’ fixation on beauty and physical appearance and their lack of self-confidence. While these patterns aren’t surprising to me, I was surprised by the contradiction I observed between the girls’ astute awareness of societal inequities and the pressures put on women, and their occasional inability to identify these issues in class. For example, the 7th grade students in my media literacy class consistently demonstrated that they are aware of the harmful beauty standards that our society pushes on women, yet they are clearly still affected by this all-encompassing messaging, and sometimes even perpetuate harmful beauty standards
themselves. The contradictions that my students in Girls Inc. have demonstrated with regard to beauty standards highlight the very human experience of being able to identify when something is harmful and wrong, yet struggling to completely divorce oneself from societal pressures.

The girls in my classes have consistently demonstrated both a keen awareness of the pressure put on women to look, dress, and act a certain way, while also making comments in class that are hypercritical of their own and even other people’s appearances. One key example of this contradiction happened during my second week at The Community Academy of Philadelphia. During this session, we had the girls look at and analyze different advertisements. One of the “advertisements” I gave a group of girls to look at was really just a cover of Seventeen magazine. This cover featured a picture of Camilla Cabello, and one of the most
prominent headlines on the cover said “Get OMG Hair While You Sleep! (Seriously).” Right away, the girls in the group called out how ridiculous the idea of “OMG” hair is, as one girl mockingly asked, “What does OMG hair even mean?” Her tone told me that she understood that the idea of “OMG Hair” is so abstract and subjective, and that by using this phrase, Seventeen is implying that our hair has to look a certain way to be considered beautiful and worthy of praise.

Yet, just a few moments after the girls started making fun of the idea of “OMG Hair,”, the conversation turned to a critique of Camilla Cabello’s hair and outfit on the cover of the magazine. The girls declared that she did not have “OMG hair,” and then went on to talk about how horrible her outfit was. Therefore, even just after recognizing that it is unnecessary to put
pressure on women to look a certain way, and in this case have “OMG hair,” the girls started pulling apart a woman’s appearance. While the girls demonstrated the ability to recognize and call out misogyny in the media, they also still participated in the culture of critiquing women’s appearances themselves. This illustrates how incredibly hard it is for the girls to break out of the sexist fixation that our society has on women’s appearances, even when they recognize the harm that this fixation can cause.

Throughout my fieldwork at Girls Inc., I have also seen many girls fixate on their own physical appearance, even when we were not discussing any related topic. For example, when we did an assignment called “What’s Special About Me” with the fifth graders in which they had to write something they liked about themselves, many of the girls wrote about an aspect of their physical appearance that they liked. While it is beautiful and powerful for girls to voice what they like about their physical appearance, the fact that they went straight to that part of their identity instead of aspects of their personality speaks volumes about what young girls are taught to value about themselves. In addition to many girls struggling to write things that they liked about themselves in the “What’s Special About Me” activity, girls in all three of my placements communicated to me, in various ways, that they believe that they are ugly. Because these girls
are constantly receiving the message from the world that they should put incredibly high value on the way they look, they start to be highly critical of their physical appearance, which can contribute to lowering their self esteem.

The observations I made of the girls’ behavior in my Girls Inc. classes only reinforced for me how important it is to talk to girls about sexism and societal pressures from a young age. In my opinion, we can’t reach girls soon enough.