watch it: “A Girl’s Life” a PBS special by Rachel Simmons

Meet Rachel Simmons, an author and educator who has worked with girls for over 10 years (image courtesy of shapingyouth.org)

A while back I was randomly flipping through the channels when I stumbled on the PBS special “A Girl’s Life.” The program addressed some of the 21st century concerns and issues young adolescents females face in American society.

The hour-long special is narrated by Rachel Simmons who also interviews several girls over the course of the program. Simmons is an author and educator who has studied girls and girlhood for over ten years. She rose to prominence with the publication of her book, Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. In the book Simmons addresses girls’ relational aggression. bullying, and the power struggles within girl groups and cliques. Published in 2003, Odd Girl Out was released right around the time that news media outlets began reporting on girl fights at school (see this nyt article and this time magazine article for examples), the issue of girls joining gangs or forming their own, and the representation of mean girl behavior hit a high point in film and television (think of the film Mean Girls as one example). Simmons recently published another girl-related book in 2009, titled The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. (**I’ve yet to read either of these books but they are on my list of future book reviews on this blog**)

In “A Girl’s Life” Simmons focuses on some of the topics she’s analyzed in her books, including girls’ relational aggression and involvement in gangs, but she also broadens the scope of the PBS special to discuss body issues, portrayals of females in the media, and the ways girls persevere and strive to achieve their dreams. The program focuses on four particular girls and provides space for these girls to share their stories on what it’s like to grow up female in the US.

I won’t recount the special frame by frame for you – especially since you can watch the entire special here on PBS. But I will give you a quick synopsis of the four girls and their stories.

Analuz is a fifteen-year-old Latina who is on the high school basketball team. Her segment primarily deals with body issues and we see the difficulties Analuz has in finding a dress for her quinceañera, as she is considered too tall and curvy to fit into a dress in the junior department and must shop in the adult women’s section instead. The best part about this segment is Analuz’s mother who is beyond supportive of her daughter and reminds her everyday of how beautiful she truly is.

Libby is a white fourteen-year-old girl and is part of a popular group at school. However, one day Libby’s friends turn on her and resort to cyberbullying, harassing the teen with menacing text messages and comments left on social networking sites like myspace and facebook. The cyberbullying leads to the rest of Libby’s friends ostracizing her at school. By the end of the segment Libby abandons the popular group at school and finds a new group of girls to hang out with who are less popular but who make Libby feel welcomed.

Carla is an African-American sixteen-year-old girl living in a working-class neighborhood in Boston. Carla is part of a “crew,” which she notes is not the same as a gang though there are certain rules or characteristics a girl must have if she wants to join in. Carla’s been involved in several physical fights with other girls, one of which was recorded and posted on youtube. She even talks about having scars – including a bite mark – on her chest. The segment discusses Carla’s current struggle to avoid violent confrontations and focus instead on her education as a means to escape her current living conditions. I felt that this segment lacked some context. We never really learn about Carla’s home life – or see any parents or guardians around. As a result I have a foggy understanding as to why Carla forms a crew, what that crew means to her, and why she uses violence as a way to hold onto some form of power. Basically there could be a whole special on Carla in which issues of race and class are explored in greater depth.

Sonia is the oldest girl to be interviewed in the segment. At age eighteen she’s close to graduating from high school and ready to apply for college. Sonia is originally from Mexico and came to the US at a young age. Her segment highlights her enrollment in The Young Women’s Leadership School (TYWLS), an all-girl public school that serves inner city girls in East Harlem. Sonia and her friends discuss the benefits of attending an all-girl school and the stress of the college application process. At the end of the program we learn that every girl in Sonia’s graduating class will be continuing their education.

Overall, I liked “A Girl’s Life” and the fact that PBS and Simmons touched on a number of girls’ experiences and issues. I would have loved it if the special was longer than an hour and included a wider variety of girls. It’s hard for me to watch/listen/read anything on girls or girlhood and not think: “Who is left out of the picture? What girls are we not talking about?” In this case the special does not discuss girls alongside queerness, religion, or ableism. Maybe these girls will share their stories in a sequel to “A Girl’s Life.” That would be nice.

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~ by actyourage09 on January 14, 2010.

One Response to “watch it: “A Girl’s Life” a PBS special by Rachel Simmons”

  1. […] Simmons, who discussed girls and cyber-bullying in her PBS special, A Girl’s Life, has also written about cyber-bullying on her blog. In a recent post Rachel argues that […]

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