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Women Learn to Hear The Varied Voices of Girls

Helpful listeners can make the difference for teens

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If adults took the time to really listen to adolescent girls who are labeled "at risk" - for dropping out of school, early pregnancy, and other potential obstacles to healthy development - what would they learn?

A great deal, according to Carol Gilligan, a professor at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Mass. In interviewing 26 poor and working-class girls in an urban public school setting and tracing their development through 8th, 9th, and 10th grade, Dr. Gilligan and two fellow researchers got a bird's eye view of the complex landscape these girls must navigate as they grow up. And they gleaned important new insights into how women especially can help girls voice their needs and aspirations.

The girls spoke about everything from racial differences to relationships at school and at home:

*Sandy, an Irish American, on being teased: "... it really hurts my feelings ... after a while I just ... don't talk ... 'cause when I'm upset, I don't talk to nobody."

*Lilian, a Latina, when asked to describe an "ideal mother": "She would treat us all equally, all fair, you know, not just like, treat my brothers different ...."

*Ana, a Latina: "My aunt ... she's the type that - she's crazy.... I start talking and she'll start asking me about boys and stuff like that ... and she's like, 'Yeah, in my time this and this happened,' so I feel like it's almost the same. So you know, she listens."

At an interview in Gilligan's Cambridge, Mass., home, she and her co-authors - Jill McLean Taylor, an assistant professor in the Department of Education and Human Services at Simmons College in Boston, and Amy Sullivan, a researcher and doctoral candidate at Harvard University - discussed the work that resulted in their new book, "Between Voice and Silence: Women and Girls, Race and Relationship."

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