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Urban Girls Revisited

Building Strengths

Bonnie Leadbeater, Niobe Way

Publication Year: 2007

Urban Girls, published in 1996, was one of the first volumes to showcase the lives of girls growing up in contexts of urban poverty and sometimes racism and violence. It spoke directly to young women who, often for the first time, were seeing their own stories and those of their friends explained in the materials they were asked to read. The volume has helped to shape the way in which we study girls and understand their development over the past decade.

Urban Girls Revisited explores the diversity of urban adolescent girls' development and the sources of support and resilience that help them to build the foundations of strength that they need as they enter adulthood. Urban girls are frequently marginalized by poverty, ethnic discrimination, and stereotypes suggesting that they have deficits compared to their peers. In fact, urban girls do often“grow up fast,” taking on multiple adult roles and responsibilities in contexts of high levels of adversities. Yet a majority of these girls show remarkable strengths in the face of challenges, and their families and communities provide many assets to support their development. This new volume showcases these strengths.

Contributors:Amy Alberts, Natasha Alexander, Murray Anderson, Elizabeth Banister, Cecilia Benoit, Kristen Boelcke-Stennes, Ana Mari Cauce, Elise D. Christiansen, Brianna Coffino, Catherine L. Costigan, Karin Coyle, Anita Davis, Jill Denner, Sumru Erkut, Kenyaatta Etchison, Michelle Fine, Yulika Forman, Emily Genao, Mikael Jansson, Chalene Lechuga, Stacey J. Lee, Richard M. Lerner, Nancy Lopez, Ann S. Masten, Jennifer McCormick, Jennifer Pastor, Erin Phelps, Leslie Prescott, Jean E. Rhodes, Ritch C. Savin-Williams, Anne Shaffer, Renee Spencer, Pamela R. Smith, Carl S. Taylor, Jill McLean Taylor, Virgil A. Taylor, Maria Elena Torre, Allison J. Tracy, Carmen N. Veloria, Martina C. Verba, and Janie Victoria Ward.

Published by: NYU Press


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In response to an absence of girls and women in psychological research, researchers began in the early 1980s, with Carol Gilligan and her students from the School of Education at Harvard University leading the way, to investigate the development of girls and women. This research highlighted girls’ and young women’s strengths and strategies of resistance to conventions of femininity and the ways in...

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Introduction: Urban Girls: Building Strengths, Creating Momentum

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pp. 1-15

A decade has passed since our earlier volume Urban Girls: Resisting Stereotypes, Creating Identities was published by NYU Press in 1996. As one of the first books to showcase the lives of girls who were growing up in contexts of urban poverty, violence, and racism, the volume received a lot of attention. It was included in many courses over the years, and Niobe and I hoped that it helped to shape...

Part I. Resituating Positive Development for Urban Adolescent Girls

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pp. 17

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1. The Many Faces of Urban Girls: Features of Positive Development in Early Adolescence

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pp. 19-52

For much of its history, the study of individual (ontogenetic) development was framed by nomothetic models (e.g., classical stage theories) that sought to describe and explain the generic human being (Emmerich, 1968; Lerner, 2002; Overton, 2006). Within the context of these models, both individual and group differences—diversity—were of little interest, at best, or regarded as either error variance or evidence for problematic...

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2. From Urban Girls to Resilient Women: Studying Adaptation Across Development in the Context of Adversity

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pp. 53-72

The chapters in this volume draw our attention to many issues in the lives of urban girls in contemporary society, most notably to the variety and intensity of the stresses and challenges that these girls encounter in their daily lives. Yet many girls and young women continue to do well, and even thrive, under conditions regularly identified as perilous or stressful. In such cases, people are described as “resilient,” suggesting...

Part II. Safe Spaces Revisited

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pp. 74

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3. Makin’ Homes: An Urban Girl Thing

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pp. 75-96

This chapter grows out of our collective work, which crosses the boundaries typically constructed by researchers. We actively cross generations, colors, classes, and ideologies by writing this chapter with the young women listed above.1 This work is driven by the belief that we and they are the best narrators of our lives. The title draws from the fact that home is a theme that constantly surfaces in the lives of adolescent girls, and throughout this chapter...

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4. “They Are Like a Friend”: Othermothers Creating Empowering, School-Based Community Living Rooms in Latina and Latino Middle Schools

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pp. 97-120

How does school context shape the resilience of racially stigmatized youth, Latinas in particular? How can parental involvement be conceptualized to specifically support the education of Latina and Latino communities? This chapter examines the experiences of Latina middle school youth and mothers who participated in school-based, parent-run community living...

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5. To Stay or to Leave? How Do Mentoring Groups Support Healthy Dating Relationships in High-Risk Girls?

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pp. 121-141

Safe spaces where girls can explore their own hopes, values, and choices with each other and with adult women are a core feature of contexts that build resistance and resilience for urban girls (Pastor,McCormick, & Fine, this volume). In this chapter, we focus in particular on the need for places to explore and understand heterosexual romantic relationships. How do girls learn about healthy relationships? How do young...

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6. Caring Connections: Mentoring Relationships in the Lives of Urban Girls

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pp. 142-156

Adolescents who have adjusted well in spite of profound and persistent stress often attribute their success to the influence of a natural mentor, such as a special aunt, neighbor, or teacher. Anecdotal reports of mentors’ protective qualities are corroborated by a growing body of literature that has underscored the positive influence of nonparent adults in the lives of adolescents. Despite the promise of mentoring...

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7. Latina Girls: “We’re Like Sisters—Most Times!”

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pp. 157-174

Familiar and dominant narratives about Latina girls in urban settings include reports of early sexual activity and pregnancy, low academic expectations, and poor performance in high school followed by failure to graduate. Over the last 10 years, there have also been more reports of urban girls involved in conflict with other girls, giving rise to stereotypes about lack of trust, betrayal, and competition...

Part III. Culture, Parents, and Protection

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pp. 176

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8. Changes in African American Mother-Daughter Relationships During Adolescence: Conflict, Autonomy, and Warmth

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pp. 177-201

During adolescence, children strive to move from a position of dependence to one of autonomy and individuation (Smetana, 1995). They are expected to seek greater independence from their parents, and parents are expected to gradually relinquish control. To accomplish this, parent-child relationships need to be realigned so that unilateral parental authority shifts toward more mutuality...

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9. The “Good” News and the “Bad” News: The “Americanization” of Hmong Girls

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pp. 202-217

As in other immigrant and refugee communities, the landscape of gender is being transformed within Hmong families in communities across the United States. Like the speaker in the epigraph, Hmong American adolescent girls are exploring new gendered opportunities in the United States...

Part IV. Resistance: Personal and Political

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pp. 219

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10. “Don’t Die With Your Work Balled Up in Your Fists”: Contesting Social Injustice Through Participatory Research

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pp. 221-242

We open this chapter with the performers of the theater piece Echoes of Brown: Youth Documenting and Performing the Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education. Picture five strong young women taking center stage, speaking back to social injustice. In the following we have spliced together the individual poetry of Ariane Ashley Gilgeous, Iralma Osorio Sorondo, Annique Roberts, Emily Genao, and Tahani Salah to call forth in your...

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11. Uncovering Truths, Recovering Lives: Lessons of Resistance in the Socialization of Black Girls

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pp. 243-260

For more than 10 years I have collected stories from parents of Black daughters and sons. Taken together, these stories provide a rich mosaic of ingenious resistance strategies that Black folks infuse into their daily routines of child rearing. In 2000, I published The Skin We’re In: Teaching Our Children to Be Emotionally Strong, Socially Smart...

Part V. Claiming Sexuality in Relationships:Taking Stock and Gaining Control

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pp. 262

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12. “If You Let Me Play . . .”: Does High School Physical Activity Reduce Urban Young Adult Women’s Sexual Risks?

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pp. 263-280

Glen Elder (1998) points out that “individual lives are influenced by their ever-changing historical context . . . [such] that changing lives alters developmental trajectories” (p. 1). The cultural shift toward greater gender equity represents a significant historical change that has the potential to alter the course of girls’ development. One watershed event brought about by this cultural change is the 1972 federal legislation known...

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13. Condom Use Among Sexually Active Latina Girls in Alternative High Schools

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pp. 281-300

This study is guided by theoretical perspectives that situate sexual behavior within the context of personal, relational, and cultural factors. Theories that predict condom use in White and African American adolescents and adults focus primarily on individual-level factors and have not been tested specifically with sexually active Latina teens. We know a lot about what prevents girls from using condoms because most research...

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14. Girl-on-Girl Sexuality

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pp. 301-318

Girls have sex with girls. Such encounters can be meaningful, trivial, pleasurable, shaming, intentional, and accidental. They are lustful and romantic, motivated by desire, by love, by curiosity, and by acceptance. Sex is with a childhood playmate, an adolescent friend, or a young adult romantic partner. It is with one other girl, with multiple girls, or with girls and boys. Yet these assertions are more speculative than empirically verified because investigators have generally ignored the...

Part VI. When Adversity Is Overwhelming—Then What?

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pp. 320

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15. Understanding Health Disparities Among Female Street Youth

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pp. 321-337

Social science and media depictions of female youth who are found on our city streets typically focus on their health risk behaviors, including illicit drug use, unprotected sex, and involvement in prostitution. This risk-based perspective in Canada can be traced back to the release of the Badgley Report (Badgley, 1984). The report—named after Robin Badgley, the social scientist who chaired the commission responsible for it— marked the beginning of a new perspective on urban street youth. It moved away from the view that they were...

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16. Businesswomen in Urban Life

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pp. 338-359

The Urban Female Exploration Project that frames this ethnographic project set the stage for the establishment of effective, reliable, and honest communication between the researchers, the young women who participated, and other citizens and denizens of the community. As in the ethnography of cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, the principal investigator learned a great deal in this participant-observant project. The project is not the...

About the Contributors

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pp. 361-364


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pp. 365-381

E-ISBN-13: 9780814753439
E-ISBN-10: 0814753434
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814752128
Print-ISBN-10: 0814752128

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Minority teenagers -- United States.
  • Teenage girls -- United States.
  • Urban youth -- United States.
  • Poor teenagers -- United States.
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