Girls, self-esteem and relationships: A perspective on rural and low-income girls

Demetra Maria Rabiecki (1998)

Adolescent girls face many challenges when they enter the adult world: they make choices about they express themselves and how they navigate their relationships. In addition, recent research indicates that girls between the ages of 10 and 13 begin to experience a decrease of self-esteem, a loss of voice, and a shift in their relationships (Brown & Gilligan, 1992; Gilligan, Lyons, & Hanmer, 1989; Stern, 1991). However, one criticism of this research is its narrow population base. For instance, much of the research was conducted with middle and upper-class girls from private suburban schools. Research with girls from other social and environmental backgrounds is limited. This study examined how girls from rural and low-income backgrounds talk about their experience of self, others, and relationships; the study included narrative interviews with thirteen girls, 10 to 12 years old. The interview sessions included a standardized self-esteem questionnaire, sentence completion, and open-ended questions. The interviews were designed to encourage the girls to explore and discuss their thoughts and feelings. Their responses were analyzed using qualitative methods to develop cluster categories and themes. The results provide a preliminary understanding of girls from rural and low-income backgrounds. The girls in this study seemed to be very responsive and candid when talking about their thoughts and feelings. They all spoke about the importance of their connections with others and the impact relationships have on their sense of self. For the most part the girls were confident, self-assured, and had average or above self-esteem. The themes generated in this study were consistent in many ways with those identified in the research of Brown and Gilligan (1992) and Gilligan et al. (1989). An important difference was that the 10-12 year old girls in this study responded in a way more consistent with the 8-10 year old girls in their studies.