Goals and Dreams of Adolescent Women
The purpose of this study was to gather information
regarding the way that young women set goals for themselves, and how
they plan on achieving these goals. I wanted to obtain a better
understanding of what shapes young women’s goals (i.e. family,
location, and friends) and how these variables contribute to the
ability that they have to set goals for themselves and follow through
on accomplishing them. After conducting seven interviews it became
clear that the variable of family has the largest influence on an
adolescent girls ability to set goals for herself and this variable can
be a very negative impact in a child’s life.
Cows, Colleges and Contentment
In order to understand the different experiences
that are discussed in this study it is necessary to explain the setting
and the context in which each of these young women was interviewed. The
experience of each young woman is drastically affected by her
community, living conditions, and family situation.
Northfield is a small town that is permeated by the
atmosphere of two colleges, St. Olaf College and Carleton College. It
is located south of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. It takes
approximately 45-60 minutes to reach the Twin Cities from Northfield.
Northfield is home to 17,147 residents, many of whom attend these two
colleges. 15,873 of the people are white, while 154 are Black or
African American, 405 are Asian, and 982 are Hispanic. Along with these
demographics, I found that 85% of the high school graduates in
Northfield attend some sort of post-secondary schooling. 469
women live in Northfield as single parents (United States Census 2000).
The colleges continue to be a very large source of employment for
residents in Northfield and both colleges have become central to the
community, in fact St. Olaf is the largest employer in Northfield.
John W. North founded Northfield in 1855. A
prominent story and historical event of this city centers on Jesse
James. In 1876, the James-Younger Gang attempted to rob the First
National Bank, in hopes that the bank held the Ames family fortune. As
the violence of the raid spilled over into the street, the lives of two
members of the James-Younger gang were lost. The remaining portion of
the gang followed what is now called the Outlaw Trail. The James
brothers escaped and rode to safety in South Dakota, while the Younger
brothers were captured during a shoot-out near Madelia, Minnesota. The
Defeat of Jesse James is celebrated each year with a magnificent
festival the weekend after Labor Day.
Along with this exciting history, Northfield is also
the home to many quaint coffee shops, like Blue Monday, and also many
bars and restaurants, The Cow and the Tavern being two of the most
prominent ones. McDonald’s is also a hot spot for young workers
along with two other small food complexes, Subway and Hogan Brothers,
which are located in the heart of downtown Northfield.
Northfield holds within it many housing developments and small
neighborhoods. Along with these neighborhoods, two trailer parks exist
and some small apartment/low income housing complexes. One of the
housing developments is called Viking Terrace and this is where a few
of the girls I interviewed live. Viking Terrace Mobile Home Park is
located right behind Dairy Queen on the main drag and is home to many
Northfield residents, along with a high population of Hispanic
Jefferson Square is the complex where the majority of the girls I
interviewed live and is located near Northfield High School and behind
McDonalds. It is a quaint place, often termed “smurf village” because
of the blue color scheme of all of the small apartments. Single parents
and/or low-income families inhabit many of them. An average
apartment has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a kitchen and living
room area. The apartments are small, but house a few people very
When examining these two specific housing communities more closely, one
can easily tell that there are many cultural barriers and problems in
this small town, problems that are hard to be seen by the naked eye,
but are more evident on closer inspection. According to the
Community Study Circles on Immigration and Diversity Issues done in
Northfield racial discrimination is the biggest issue that many
immigrants discussed. This racism is something that shows up in
schools, businesses and daily interactions. The Northfield League of
Women Voters has been taking steps to help get rid of the racism
problem through many community unity efforts, which hopefully be making
headway (McWilliams 2000).
Northfield is also home to many schools, and the majority of the girls
interviewed attend Northfield High School, while the rest attend
Northfield Middle School. There are also four elementary schools and an
Alternative Learning Center. The following excerpt is a description of
the Northfield community:
Although Northfield no longer boasts the large dairy industry it once
did, the farms that nestle around the city are still dotted with
grazing cattle. Situated just forty-five minutes south of Minneapolis
and St. Paul, Northfield blends the charm and tranquility of its rural
heritage with the sophistication of a cosmopolitan perspective. Rolling
farmland skirts the grounds of a corporation which produces advanced
technological equipment. A Victorian popcorn wagon stands beside a
contemporary fountain. The newest fashions are sold in a downtown
restored to recall the nineteenth century. This is Northfield... a
unique blend of the historic, the progressive and the creative
(Northfield Chamber of Commerce 2003).
I included this description of Northfield because it contrasts greatly
with the information many of the girls shared with me in terms of their
economic status and the opportunities available to them. Although
Northfield may seem quaint and strongly centered around community from
the outside, once on the inside it is easier to detect the negative
aspects of this community such as racism and poverty. Through examining
the location and demographics of this town, it will be easier to
understand the environment in which these girls inhabit. One's
environment is a very strong factor in influencing a person’s
experience, especially that of an adolescent.
All children think about what they want to do with
their lives at some point in their childhood. Most of these dreams
embody being a fire fighter, doctor, police officer, nurse, and perhaps
even an actor. Most of these goals seem like dim dreams to many less
privileged kids and by the time they reach the teenage years many of
their dreams have dissipated. They either cease to dream and set
goals or continue to cling to childhood hopes. For many who are
privileged those childhood dreams can come true, but for many
adolescents who grow up without encouragement to set their hopes high
end up settling for less than the best for them.
The media does an excellent job of portraying
low-income/high school dropouts as McDonalds workers and janitors,
leaving many adolescents in a position to believe that there isn’t
anything more for them. However the movie "Good Will Hunting"
portrays an “average” guy who works as a janitor but is in reality a
genius. The movie depicts the incredible dreams he is able to live out
because of his natural talent and hard work. This can be an
inspiration for many who are never motivated to work hard or even
believe in their natural gifts and talents. The question that we have
to ask ourselves is, what factors actually do influence an adolescent’s
ability to set goals?
This research set out to study that very question.
As I progressed in my interviews I found themes centering on parental
influences, peer influences, and issues centering on how each child was
socialized. All of these factors stem out of the fact that the
people I interviewed were young girls, and the very fact that they are
female automatically influences their responses and the process of
socialization that they went through. Mary Pipher sets out to
describe this very phenomenon through a framework that explains that
culture is responsible for splitting adolescent girls into true and
false selves. Because of the culture and social processes that
young women go through they are forced to take up false selves in order
to make up for their true self, and what it lacks, as society dictates
(Pipher 1994: 37). I set out to study why many of the young women
I had encountered in Northfield, who come from low-income areas, had
such low aspirations, and had in fact, taken up false selves. The
following factors embody the research that was performed and the
framework surrounding it.
The first factor to look at is that of gender.
Because this project is focused on young women it is necessary to
understand the importance of gender in social interactions. Let
us first examine what a young woman finds herself living for. The main
thing that motivates young girls is being good and pleasing others so
that she can earn love and approval (Mickelson 2001). This desire
filtrates into all other behavioral motivations that young women adhere
to. Because of this performance drive to do well and be good, it has
been found that although females have higher aspirations then males,
they are also more dramatically impacted by parental economic resources
than males (Dennehy 1992). Therefore, if parents have fewer
resources young women are more likely to allow that fact to become a
direct reflection of the ability that they possess to achieve their
goals. Along the same lines, females are also more likely to respond
negatively to stressful situations. Once a young woman has something
stressful happen to her, the parents automatically exert more control
over her and this only makes the situation worse. From this point
forward, the girl attributes negative or positive academics to her own
fault. Because of the stress that parents add by the pressure they put
on their daughter, or the intense monitoring of her behavior, her
future is impacted negatively because she becomes so discouraged and
places blame on herself (Mickelson 2001).
Gender also affects the possibilities that a young
person has access too. The Pollyanna hypothesis is a theory that states
that a young girl who graduates from high school is most likely to be
optimistic about her future. Although she may be completely aware
of the struggles that her mother's generation faced she sees society as
changed and believes that she has many opportunities that will not be
affected by her gender, as it was in her parents’ generation.
This hypothesis states that young women today believe that they have
“come a long way” and that any barriers to their careers have fallen
away (Mickelson 2001). This hypothesis is important for this research
as I examine what each girl’s optimism is about her future and find
that this theory may not be true in all cases.
Parental influences can greatly affect a young
woman’s ability to set and implement goals for herself. A father’s
attitude about his economic resources and/or a loss of income greatly
affects the daughter. This relates to the large role that the father
has in the sex role socialization process that a daughter goes through.
This is important because it pin points the large effect that a father
has on his daughter, something that I anticipated would play a large
role in the findings of this research. Mickelson found that a
young woman wants to perform well and “be good” because of the pressure
placed on her by the males in her life and the part this plays in the
socialization process (Mickelson 2001). The primary drive to
perform well can be dramatically influenced by the male parent.
Although parents are huge influences on an
adolescent as they go through the socialization process, it is also
true that neighborhood influences can be an even greater influence,
positively or negatively. A study was completed in 1994 where 800
adolescents completed interviews. It is clear from this study that when
discussing career aspirations, neighborhood influences had a greater
impact than of family or peer influences. This refutes some of the
previous studies and puts a greater emphasis on the influence of the
social neighborhood around youth (Hadly-Ives 2001). By social
neighborhood I am referring to the actual place where the child lives
and the surroundings that make up that place. For example, for the
women who live in Jefferson Square their 'neighborhood' is Jefferson
Square and then the social network of friends that evolves from living
After performing this initial research I was ready
to delve into the world of an adolescent girl and discover for myself
what affects her aspirations and hopes for the future.
In this particular study I set out to look at a
particular group of adolescents in Northfield who fit the criteria that
I was studying those criteria were that of females who live in
low-income housing, such as the trailer parks and assorted apartments
located in Northfield. I used a number of connections that I have to
the female adolescents of Northfield and explained to ten of them what
my study was about and asked them if they would willingly consent to
participation. Seven girls ended up participating in the study. Because
this study was focused on such a specific population, the information
gathered was from many young girls with whom I previously had some sort
I chose to do my research through the process of
interviews. The seven girls consented to participate in this study each
went through a forty-five minute interview. I went to each girl’s house
to pick her up and talk with her parents, sharing with them what the
study was about. Each parent signed a form that in turn allowed me to
interview his or her daughter (Appendix A). Each young woman also
signed a consent form (Appendix B). The ages of participants in
the study ranged from thirteen to sixteen. Six of the participants are
Caucasian, while one is Hispanic. The majority of my interviews were
done in the town of Northfield at either a small ice cream shop or
Therefore, all of my data was gathered through
interviews. There are a few weaknesses of the methodology used. First,
I didn’t receive a large enough sample, or broad enough sample to make
all the findings capable of generalizability. Because I thought
it was important to have previous relationships with many of the young
women it was more difficult to receive a large sample that could apply
to the feelings of adolescent women in general. However, because
all the young women interviewed came from the same background, it gives
adequate grounds to generalize about these specific areas in Northfield
and the way that their socialization in this areas has affected their
goals and dreams.
Setting the Stage
Before we begin to unravel the mysteries of female
adolescence, I will describe each young woman that was interviewed in
as much detail as possible without breaking confidentiality so as to
better understand the context of these interviews.
Lets begin with Anna: Anna is a sophomore in high
school who attends Northfield High School and lives with her parents,
who aren’t married, and her four siblings, two sisters and two
brothers. Her father is very overbearing and can be scary at
times and her mother is passive and works a lot. Both her parents
drive her to church when she needs to get there and provide for her
basic needs. Anna is not close with her family, but coexists with
them nicely in her own room. Rachel is a close friend of Anna’s
who lives a few apartments away with her two parents and her brother
who just returned from rehab. Her father is also very domineering
and her mother is a passive but very sweet woman. Rachel, who
attends Northfield Middle School and is in eighth grade, also attends
church with Anna.
Becca also lives in the same apartment complex with
her two sisters, one of whom was born just a few months ago. Becca, who
is a high school freshman, lives with her sisters and their mom, who
has had periodic live-in boyfriends over the past few years. Becca has
spent her summers and most of her childhood in another state where her
grandmother and father live and continues to spend her summers
there. She takes care of her sisters and acts as caregiver when
her mother is working. Tonya also lives in this same apartment
complex with her three younger siblings, two girls and one boy.
They live with their father since their parents got divorced when Tonya
was in middle school. They have undergone much economic turmoil,
and her father has had to find a new job since the divorce. Both Tonya
and her sister are very aware of the struggles her father endures to
make money for their family. She also attends Northfield High
School and is a sophomore. She is very outgoing and caring of
everyone who is around her. She takes care of her siblings and cleans
just as a mom would do. It is easy to tell that Tonya has a lot
of responsibility for being only sixteen and she accepts this well.
Jan lives in the trailer park with her mother,
father and her one brother. She used to live with another family and
then the number in the trailer was ten rather then four! Her mom and
dad both work and she works as well at a shop downtown. Jan is very
independent, and always has a guy on her arm, and if one isn’t there,
then one is most definitely in sight! She is a sophomore in High School
and attends the Northfield High School with many of the others girls
who participated in this study.
Lindsey lives near these girls with her three siblings and father and
is quite oblivious to the world around her. She gets teased a lot at
school and continues to reap the consequences of that negative
attention. She is only in sixth grade and is just coming into her
own person. Finally, Kara who is in eighth grade at Northfield Middle
School and lives with her two parents who have never been married. Her
older sister moved out a few years ago and she longs to be able to do
the same someday. She is a very well mannered and quiet girl, always
willing to help and excited to share about her life and ask questions.
When I was little…..
One of the first things I asked each girl to share with me was her own
definition of the word “goals” and “dreams.” Rachel responded by saying
that a goal is “something that can be reached” while a dream is
something that you have wanted to do for a long time, but at times can
seem unattainable. Anna answered similarly, responding that a
goal is something you “set your mind to do” while dreams very rarely
come true. Most of the girls responded with answers similar to
these. For example, Becca stated that dreams are things that you can
attain but it's hard to get them, and Tonya shared that dreams are
things that, in order to attain them you have to "never ever give up."
Kara responded by sharing that goals are “standards that you set for
yourself and try to achieve.”
After these responses I proceeded to try to understand what some of
their childhood dreams had been that they had given up on. Many
of their dreams seem unrealistic now and have vanished as a mere mist
of their past. Rachel said that she used to want to be a doctor
when she was little, but now, that seems to be impossible because of
all the education she would need. Tonya has also had a small
dream crushed, but her dream was a bit different from the rest. When
she was little she always dreamed of being able to fly, just like Peter
Pan. One day, she actually tried to and ended up running into the
wall! Tonya also dreamed when she was little that she could have
the perfect family, one that doesn’t yell, but communicates and has
dinner together…a dream that has yet to come true in her life. Kara
also wanted to follow in the footsteps of a hero, but her hero was her
aunt, who is a cop. She used to dream of being just like her, but
as the years have passed her desire to do this has faded. Jan has
always wanted to be a hairstylist and hopes to go to Tech school and
get her degree there. She would love to have her own hair salon and she
knows that if she keeps her grades up then the Tech school will pay for
the tuition! This is a dream that Jan has had since she was little and
continues to have now! Lindsey has always wanted to be a dancer, but
now she finds herself without any dreams at all. The last girl to be
discussed in Anna. Anna dreamed of being a writer when she was
younger and still clings to this hope. Her mom is always encouraging
and pressuring her into doing bigger things, like being a brain
surgeon, which is a hope that stems out of her moms' desire to be
supported by her children someday, a dream that perhaps Anna will have
All of these girls had dreams when they were little,
and for some reason, most have changed and downgraded to something more
“realistic.” Why is this? What causes dreams and goals to change so
quickly as one moves from childhood to adolescence? Could it be because
these young women are forced to enter adulthood at such a young age?
Now that I’m all grown up….
I set out to figure out how these girls' dreams had
changed from when they were little to this point in their life.
First understanding what specific goals changed in these girls lives
will make it easier to understand why they changed. The following
explains what their goals and dreams are now, and how those have
changed from the innocence of childhood dreams.
Rachel hopes to go to college, hopefully St. Olaf,
and keep her grades up and “make something of my life.” Her goals
have become a little more immediate as she has gotten older. When asked
about what she would like to do as the years go on, she had many
ideas. She said she wants to help others become more like Christ,
and maybe be able to become an interpreter for deaf people. She
also wants to have a family and get herself out of Minnesota. Her
dreams of being a doctor are long gone and have been taken over by more
immediate needs. Anna said her main goal is to graduate from high
school and hopefully obtain enough scholarships to go to college when
she does graduate. She has a very good sense of money and how
unrealistic it may be for her to want to go to college. She hopes to
stay in Minnesota so she can have her parents to fall back on if she
doesn’t make it through college. One of her continuing dreams is to be
able to write a children’s book, but that seems to be more of a dream
for her than a goal that she has set her mind on. Becca hopes to
do well in school, pass her classes and hopefully get into college so
she can study criminal justice. When confiding with me what her
biggest goal was she whispered, “I hope to never be like my parents.”
Tonya had no problem sharing goals with me and would have talked for
hours if we had had the time. She hopes to get her poems published
someday and hopefully be able to get a job and a car. She wants to get
into college and leave Northfield to be a forensic scientist. At some
point, she wants to get the proper schooling she needs and be able to
be self-sufficient and get her own apartment so that she can decorate
it. When sharing about how she wanted to do something with her life she
stated “I don’t want to end up like some crackhead on the
street!” Tonya shared about all the kids she has known who have
ended up like that, and as if she still considers this a possibility
for her life, prays and hopes against that. She also doesn’t
think she ever wants to have kids, but, she thinks that it might happen
anyway. For some reason she is stuck in a place where she
believes that becoming a drug user, or getting pregnant may be her only
options. It seems to be quite a contradiction that she wants to go to
college and become a forensic scientist, but at the same time, fears
becoming pregnant or addicted to drugs. Perhaps it is because as
much as she dreams to get out of her life patterns, she fears that she
will not be able too.
Kara hopes to be a hairstylist after she graduates from high school.
She feels like going to college will her cost too much money and there
are easier ways to get jobs. She doesn’t know if she is smart
enough to get a scholarship and because of this her dream of being a
dolphin trainer may never be fulfilled. Her parents and family members
are always bringing her back to reality and telling her to make sure to
think logically. Sometimes this can be a positive thing, but for Kara
it forces her to set her goals lower and aim in a direction she may not
want to take. Jan hopes to graduate from high School and have a family.
Having a family was one thing I noticed that not many of the girls
desired, but Jan was adamant about having kids and marrying! Lindsey,
the youngest of all the girls, is just hoping to get her grades up and
perhaps go to college someday, but dreams and goals aren’t things that
cross her mind very often.
With all of these young women, most of their dreams
have changed radically and become more practical with the end of
childhood, which is something that happens with all of us. However,
many of them have realized they may not have much potential and
couldn’t possibly achieve what they desire, especially with parents who
don’t support them. Parental influences are the next aspect we
will look at.
Ophelia is a character in Hamlet and she endured
life in a male dominated society where all she tried to do was please
the men around her and fulfill their expectations of her. Through her
pursuit of goodness and righteousness she ends up losing the love of
others, especially her father, and drowns by the weight of her
clothing. Many of these young girls are caught in this same
syndrome and find themselves weighed down by the weight of societal
expectations and their pursuit of love from their father and/or mother
(Shandler 1997: 7). This “Ophelia syndrome” takes root in the family,
and in the case of this study, each young woman responded and commented
on the fact that family is the most important thing in her life.
Through this discussion on family it also became evident that many of
these girls were forced to enter adulthood far too early. This sense of
responsibility affects their view of reality and their role as a
daughter and friend.
Rachel said family is important because “they
are family.” Becca said that family will always be there, and while you
can make new friends “you can’t make new families.” Tonya describes
family as always being there since the day you were brought into the
world, and a unit of people that love each other. Kara describes
her family as her number one priority and people that will always be
there, even if they aren’t close.
Each girl brought up her father when discussing her
family, and most of them discussed their fathers with an emotion of
distance or disdain. It was easy to tell that their relationships with
their fathers were not very loving, and had given each girl a bitter
edge on the world. This could be for a variety of reasons. First, a
father’s role in a young woman’s early life is very important, because
she is looking for love and acceptance from him, and if it isn’t given
during the socialization process, she will begin to look for it from
other men. The distance that is created between a girl and her father
can cause her to question herself and what she has done wrong (Pipher
1994). These are all concepts that came up when talking with each
young woman. All of the girls shared with me how their parents
encourage or don’t encourage them and what their relationships with
their family are like. Most of them have passive mothers, and
Rachel stated that her parents don’t help her as much anymore,
partly because she lives a very different life from them as the only
one in the family who goes to church. Whenever she makes mistakes
her parents call her a hypocrite and a "bad Christian." Her dad
constantly compares her to her brother and makes her feel bad about
herself, which leads to a distant relationship with her dad and a
closer one with her mom. Of the two parents her dad is definitely the
dominant one, a theme running through all of the interviews. Her father
will attempt to make her work harder in school through his negative
remarks about how stupid she is and through his constant comparisons of
her behavior to her brothers, making her feel like she never measures
up in anything that she tries to do. When conversing with her over
email she said, “I know that the pain won’t just go away and that it
takes time for the pain to go away, but it’s so hard to keep my strong
faith because my family doesn’t help me out and my dad is always
yelling at me for no reason and I feel so hurt from what he says that I
just want to sit in a corner and never move. I really sometimes want to
give up…He makes me feel like I am not worth anything.”
Anna says that her parents have actually made her
more abusive with other people because she is picked on so much at home
and has to fend for herself. Anna is one of the young women who has
been forced into adulthood far too early. Instead of being shown a
positive way to solve a problem she instead solves it in an angry,
violent manner. Anna’s parents do not encourage her to work hard in
school, but nag occasionally, and generally don’t care about how she
does. She tries to keep away from her father especially because “you do
one thing wrong and he comes after you.” Both of these girls have
fathers who control them through threats and comparisons to the other
children in the family. This constant negative attention can cause them
to focus their goals lower so as to not fail and disappoint their
Becca, on the other hand, lives only with her mom.
She said that her mom hasn’t really been around so she has lived with
her grandmother for a good part of her life. Becca never saw her
parents when she was younger, and she said she “had a really crappy
childhood.” Becca continued at this point in the interview to let some
tears of sadness roll off of her cheeks as she shared with me the time
when her father left her. She recalls seeing her dad leave her and her
sister when she was little to go after his new wife (who had left him),
and she didn’t see him for three years after that point. After this
incident during her childhood, she began seeking love from her mother,
but it finally came to a point where she realized she would never
receive her mother's love, and her father “hasn’t really been there.”
So she began searching for love in other ways, through her close
friendships and her grandmother who loved her a lot, and she also
sought love through many relationships with guys. As Becca has gotten
older her mom has become more and more encouraging of her dreams
telling her that she is smarter than she is and can go farther in life.
The memory of her father still burns Becca’s heart and she carries much
bitterness about this, a bitterness that then affects all her male
relationships, and enhances her tough exterior. She dreams big
dreams, but inside has little hope of ever achieving them. It seems as
if they are there to give her hope that she will one day get out of her
situation, but in reality, she doesn’t see potential achievement of
Tonya, much like Becca, doesn’t have a relationship
with her father even though she lives with him. Every time she tries to
talk with him he ends up getting mad at her, so instead she relies on
her friends for support. He doesn’t encourage her in her schoolwork or
goals at all. However, Tonya respects her mom now that she has gotten
her life back together but admits that she doesn’t want to be like her
mom when she grows up. However, Tonya has found herself in a fairly
large mother role at home. She is the mom of the family and cares for
her siblings because her father works so much. “I’m like their
protector,” says Tonya nonchalantly as she recounts to me her daily
duties around the house. Her family isn’t a source of encouragement;
they are instead a source of responsibility in her life.
Kara shared with me the importance of her family and
had a very positive view of them. Her parents are still living
together, although they aren’t married, and always try to help her do
her best. She said that they have allowed her to realize what is
attainable and helped her come out of her “fairyland” to realize
realistic dreams for herself. Her dream of being a dolphin trainer
isn’t realistic to her family because she wouldn’t really ever be able
to accomplish that. Finally, Lindsey, like most of these girls, longs
to make her father happy, and mentioned him as the most inspirational
person in her life because whenever she is responsible he tells her
that he is proud of her. This socialization process of "good behavior =
positive rewards" instills responsibility in Lindsey and shows her how
to fend for herself in a world that seems to eat her up.
Peer Influences—neighborhood dynamics
I expected many of the girls to share pressures that
they felt from their peers in their ability to set goals for
themselves, but instead I found the opposite. Most of the young women
expressed positive relationships with friends that helped balance their
familial relationships and encourage them to do what they wanted to
do. Most of the girls hardly had answers for
questions regarding peer pressure and shared that most of the time
their close friends are very encouraging. Becca said that her very best
friend always encourages her and tells her that she can do it. Tonya,
who has as very gifted spirit of love and encouragement shared that
when she was younger she used to want to follow people but now she is
learning how to be a leader and doesn’t want to let negative friend
influences get in the way of what she wants to do with her life.
However, despite the fact that negative peer
influences weren’t of utmost importance, neighborhood influences and
more importantly a class specific living environment has greatly
changed the way each young woman responds to the world. I hung out a
few times at Jefferson Square, the small apartment complex where many
of the girls live, and was able to observe and participate in some of
their conversations. Most of the time the conversations centered on
boys, their job at McDonalds or their desire to get a job at
McDonalds! The majority of the apartments that I went into would
have some kids in them circling the television and trying to waste away
a few more hours of the afternoon. Pots and pans and dishes were
everywhere, not to mention old food and garbage. Who would have
thought, that in our very own town of Northfield, people lived in such
hopelessness? It wasn’t the mere appearance of the apartments that gave
me this clue, it was the attitude of the parents and their lack of
socialization skills in dealing with me as a college student. Many of
them wouldn’t look me in the eye, but would see me at first, hide
behind the door until I knocked, and then speak about three words too
me before I left with their daughter in tow. For many of these
young women, it is a wonder that they are able to communicate and
interact with others in the way that they do! I was most surprised by
the trailer park. I entered the home and dog poop was on the floor,
which was a precursor to the fleet of seven dogs I would soon meet that
lived in the trailer. The house was very small and musty, and it was
clear that cleaning wasn’t a necessity for this family. Although
it definitely had everything we would call “necessities” it provided a
very dirty living environment.
These descriptions above describe that of the lower
class. Even something as superficial as a living environment can affect
the way that a young person responds to the world around them. All of
the girls interviewed live in situations where cleanliness, hospitality
and kindness are all virtues that are unimportant. This very fact
enhances their lower class socialization and reflects in the ways that
they relate with people outside of their own neighborhood environment.
We have already seen evidence that in some ways these girls feel
discouraged by their parents. Also, the situation that they have to
live in affects what they feel they are capable of doing and even what
society deems them capable of. But what are their actual feelings about
their own capabilities as young adults?
The question asked is number thirteen on the
questionnaire (Appendix C): How do you feel about your ability to
accomplish your dreams and goals for the future? Do you believe that
you can? Rachel responded by saying “I can do anything I put my
mind too.” Anna responded in much the same way but she was a little bit
less optimistic about her abilities to accomplish her goals.
Becca said she could probably accomplish most of it, but because she
gets so discouraged about school she is a little bit more wary. These
girls had such a hard time talking about their abilities because it
seemed as though they figured they would end up failing and changing
their goals anyway. Tonya said “sometimes things get in the way” that
can inhibit accomplishing goals, but most of all, she just “wants to be
me” in everything that she does. She did say that she will
accomplish the big things, but she isn’t as sure about the smaller
Lindsey was probably the most discouraged about her
ability to accomplish her goals. At first she said she would probably
be able to, but then wasn’t so sure after thinking about it. Because
she isn’t popular at school she cries a lot and feels bad that she is
one of the only people who doesn’t have a boyfriend and is afraid she
will never get one. She doesn’t have enough faith in herself to believe
that people could actually like her because she is made fun of so much.
A boy with whom she plays soccer always says to her “you suck, you
can’t do it!” Because of comments like this she is less likely to
believe in her abilities and skills and more than that, she has a hard
time recognizing any types of gifts that she has, which is evident in
her lack of goals at all. Because she is a middle child she is
neglected more and not encouraged in areas in which she is skilled.
I found that although these girls have many goals
for the future, when it comes to whether think they can accomplish them
they are too wary to answer an affirming and resounding “YES!”
Summary and Conclusions
I believe that this study is important for society
as a whole for it describes one of the players in the dramaturgical
play of life. Every player is important and by understanding one, we
can gain a better understanding of our own lives and the other
characters and people with whom are interacting with. Goffman would
argue that we all put on faces for the public to see and then take them
off in our private “backstage” world. Some of the most prevalent and
interesting sociological work is done for it reveals to us implicit
motivations of particular players and explains behavioral patterns that
are seen in the public, or the “onstage” sphere (Ritzer 2000: 71-72).
This research does just that: it studies adolescents in their own
private worlds, in order to try to unpack why they behave the way they
do and make the decisions that they make within a public context.
Many themes appeared throughout the course of this
study. First, all of the girls had similar explanations of what goals
were and most saw dreams as attainable but very difficult to
achieve. All of the girls also agreed that family and friends are
two of the most important things in this life, and the main importance
of family stems from the fact that they will always be there for you,
despite a lack of intimacy.
One of the most enlightening themes that was evident in all of the
interviews centers on the socialization within the family. Because of a
young woman’s relationship with her father her entire view of her
future can change and shift downward if that relationship is negative.
With all of the young women interviewed their fathers played crucial
roles in their self-perceptions and their perceived ability to
accomplish their goals. As Sara Shandler says in Ophelia
Speaks: “Girls need their dads (1999: 78).” This simple phrase
epitomizes the core of research done on young girls and the negative
effect family can have. All of these adolescent women discussed
painful relationships with their fathers and notions that they were
stupid or unworthy of love because of that father-daughter
relationship. Some expressed desires to be respected by their
fathers, while some expressed disdain, but all of them have been
drastically affected by the lack of paternal love in their life, which
has led them to believe that they aren’t smart enough, or good enough,
to succeed in their dreams. Instead, the girls believe they will have
to settle for lesser goals and continue to stay in the same position
and mindset of their parents. The paternal relationship that many of
the fathers have with their daughters can be explained by understanding
their class situation. All of the girls’ parents come from lower class
backgrounds and it is apparent that the lower class oppression
inflicted on their parents, in particular, the father, has infiltrated
into the way that each father treats his daughter. Perhaps class
oppression translates into the oppression of females within the family,
and becomes a coping mechanism for fathers to deal with their lower
class situation. Because of this, their daughters are oppressed within
the home and can never escape this oppressive mindset.
Oppression and domination is something that is cultivated in one’s
environment, and in this case, the environment of the lower class. A
young girl who lives with wealthy parents is more likely to believe
that she could be a doctor, while many of the young women I interviewed
would settle for trying to graduate from high school. However, let us
remember that this, in itself, is an accomplishment and should not be
looked down upon. The main point is that these girls have not
been given the mere opportunity to dream dreams for their lives,
because class limits opportunities and through this, they have been
socially and economically limited because of their circumstances.
This research is important for a variety of reasons.
First, I believe that it is important, if not necessary for schools to
be doing this kind of research because school is one of the most
prominent places where young people are socialized. Perhaps they could
be socialized at school in such a way that they were supported and
given the means to do what they desire to do. This research is
also important to mentorship programs and churches and will help them
to become aware of the necessity to challenge young people and
encourage them to be all that they can be. Further research
should be done and should include a longitudinal study of females so as
to see what happens to their goals and lives when they reach their
twenties or thirties. Research concerning socio/economic background and
the effects this has on a person’s ability to even think outside of
that specific realm would also be helpful to this research
project. Finally, research specifically targeted at the
father-daughter relationship and the way that this dramatically affects
a daughter’s ability and desire to set goals would expound greatly on
this project and add to this field of knowledge in a wonderful way.
Mary Pipher said it best in her book Reviving Ophelia when she said:
Let’s work toward a culture in which there is a place for every human
gift, in which children are safe and protected, women are respected and
men and women can love each other as whole human beings. Let’s work for
a culture in which the incisive intellect, the willing hands, and the
happy heart are beloved. Then our daughters will have a place where all
their talents will be appreciated and they can flourish like green
trees under the sun and the stars (1994: 293).
This, in essence, is the ultimate goal of this type of research and my
hope is that we will begin to understand the importance of encouraging
each other, and allow each human heart to shine, from the very core of
who we are.
Participant Information and Consent Form
You are invited to take part in a study that I am doing through St.
Olaf College. This study will examine the dreams and goals that young
women have and what shapes and changes these life long goals. I am a
student undertaking this research under the supervision of Professor
Carolyn Anderson in the Department of Sociology/Anthropology.
Approximately 10 young women will be participating in this study.
If you decide to participate you will be asked 14 questions and it will
take about an hour. The study has small risks, if any. First,
there is always the risk of getting “too personal” and the risk of
feeling discouraged about life plans. However, you can choose not to
answer any question for any reason, and you can ask to end the
interview at any time. Anything you say during the interview will be
confidential. Nobody will be identified in the final research paper by
name and your responses will not be used if it they can easily
distinguish who you are. The only people who will read my final
research paper are my professor and members of the
Sociology/Anthropology department. Please know that your
participation in this study is voluntary and you can end your
participation at any time with no penalty!
If you have any questions please feel free to contact me, Carrie
Hankerson at 507-646-2739. If you have any other questions that I
cannot answer you may also contact my instructor, Professor Carolyn
Anderson, at 507-646-3133.
Please sign below if you agree to participate in
this study. By signing this you are telling me that you have read
the information above and that your questions have been answered. You
can have a copy of this form to keep. Please know that you can
still withdraw from the study at any time even after you have signed
Date / /
Date / /
Signature of researcher________________________
Parental Consent Form
My name is Carrie Hankerson and I am doing a research study for my
Sociology class at St. Olaf College under the supervision of Professor
Carolyn Anderson. Approximately 10 young women will be
participating in this study. I would like to interview your daughter in
order to obtain a better understanding of what shapes young women’s
goals (i.e. family, location, and friends) and how these variables
contribute to the ability that they have to set goals for themselves.
The interview will take about an hour. Participation in this
study is entirely voluntary. All of the responses that your
daughter gives will be kept confidential in the final project that I
write up, meaning no names will be used and nothing that can easily
distinguish each girl will be used either. The only people who
will read my research paper are my professor and members of the
Sociology/Anthropology department. I do not anticipate any negative
effects of participation in this study. You daughter can choose not to
answer any question for any reason and she can withdraw from the study
at any time without penalty.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact me, Carrie
Hankerson at 507-646-2739. If you have any other questions that I
cannot answer you may also contact my instructor, Professor Carolyn
Anderson, at 507-646-3133.
I have read the description of the study and I agree that my daughter
may be invited to participate in this study, and I understand that if
she chooses to participate, all information she provides will be kept
confidential, that she may refuse to answer any interview question, and
may withdraw from the study at any time. I understand that neither my
daughter nor I will be penalized for not participating or for declining
to answer any question.
By signing below I am giving my permission to allow her to participate
in this study and understand that she is allowed to withdraw at any
Date / /
Goals of Adolescent Women
1.) What is one thing that really makes you excited? Why?
2.) Define, in your own words:
3.) What is one thing you want to do when you get older and how to you want to accomplish that?
4.) What are some of the most important things to you? (example, family, friends)Why?
5.) What was one dream you had when you were little? What is one dream that you have now?
6.) How has your peer group influenced your dreams? (have you ever changed your goals because of what they said, how so?)
7.) Is there one person in your life who really inspires you? If so, how does he/she inspire you?
8.) What are some of your goals for the next few years, before, or after High School?
9.) Do you live in Northfield? Where? For how long?
10.) Who do you live with?
11.) How has your family shaped who you are?
12.) Do your parents encourage you to work hard? If so, how?
13.) How do you feel about your ability to accomplish your dreams and goals for the future? Do you believe that you can?
13.) Have you ever failed at something you were trying to accomplish? If so, how did you recover?
14.) Disclaimer: this is a fun question! If you could do one thing to change the world, what would it be?!
1.) Crockett, Lisa J and Raymond Bingham
2000. Anticipating Adulthood: Expected Timing of Work
and Family Transitions among Rural Youth. Journal of Research on
Adolescence 10(2): 151-172.
2.) Dennehy, Katherine and Jeylan T. Mortimer
1992. Work and Family Orientations of Contemporary
Adolescent Boys and Girls in a Context of Social Change. American
Sociological Association (ASA).
3.) Galambos, Nancy L and Rainer K. Silbereisen
1982 Income Change, Parental Life Outlook, and
Adolescent Expectations for Job Success. Journal of Marriage and the
Family. February, 49(1): 141-149.
4.) Gonick, Marnina.
2001. What Is the 'Problem' with These Girls? Youth
and Feminist Pedagogy.” Feminism & Psychology May, 11(2):
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2001. Comparative Examination of Theories of
Neighborhood Influences upon Adolescent Outcomes. Dissertation
Abstracts International, A: The Humanities and Social Sciences. July,
6.) Hall, Larry D.
1977. Longitudinal Change in the Occupational and
Educational Ambition of Low-Income Southern Youth. Mid-South
Sociological Association (MiSSA).
7.) Kao, Grace and Marta Tienda
1993 Educational Aspirations of Minority Youth. American Sociological Association (ASA).
8.) Konopka, Gisela
1983 Young Girls: A Portrait of Adolescence. Child and Youth Services 6(3-4) fall-winter: 1-171.
9.) McWilliams, Jane
2000 CHANGING FACES, CHANGING COMMUNITIES: NORTHFIELD
COMMUNITY STUDY CIRCLES ON IMMIGRATION AND DIVERSITY ISSUES.
10.) Mickelson, Roslyn Arlin
2001 Great Divides: Readings in social inequality in the U.S. Shapiro, Thomas M., eds.
Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing: 2nd Ed.
11.) Pipher, Mary
1994 Reviving Ophelia. New York: Grosset/Putnam:
12.) Ritzer, George
2000 Modern Sociological Theory. Boston: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
13.) Shandler, Sara.
1999 Ophelia Speaks. New York: Library of Congress Cataloging.
14.) Spencer, Margaret Beale, Davido Dupree, Dena Swanson and Michael Cunningham.
1996 Parental Monitoring and Adolescents' Sense of
Responsibility for Their Own Learning: An Examination of Sex
Differences. The Journal of Negro Education 65(1) winter: 30-43
15.) United States Census Data
16.) Norfield Chamber of Commerce