Constructing Female Identities

Meaning Making in an Upper Middle Class Youth Culture

By Amira Proweller

Subjects: Gender Studies
Series: SUNY series, Power, Social Identity, and Education
Paperback : 9780791437728, 284 pages, April 1998
Hardcover : 9780791437711, 284 pages, April 1998

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Table of contents


Chapter 1. Introduction

Chapter 2. Inside Best Academy: Socialization in the Private Girls' School

Chapter 3. Class Identities in the Borderlands

Chapter 4. Race Identities in the Borderlands

Chapter 5. On the Horizon/At the Frontier: Girls' Projections for the Future

Chapter 6. Schooling Our Daughters

Chapter 7. Conclusion: Repositioning Identities At/In the Center

Appendix: Methodology and Research Design




An insightful, and often surprising, look at adolescent girls' socialization in a historically elite, private, single-sex high school.


Research conducted in schools over the past two decades has found that youth shape who they are in ways that do not simply mirror class, race, and gender discourses organizing life in schools. Instead, educators have learned that youth play active roles in shaping who they are on a daily basis, challenging dominant meanings and practices as they move through school. New insights in these directions now compel those in educational circles to talk differently about youth identity formation than they did nearly two decades ago. While sound research on male identity formation in educational contexts has illustrated boys' socialization processes in school, there still is much to learn about girls' social lives and meaning-making processes, particularly in the relatively unexplored arenas of private education and single-sex schooling.

Probing beneath the surface, this book explores one year in the lives of thirty-four adolescent girls in Best Academy, a historically elite, private, single-sex high school, as female students construct their identities in an educational context. Through the eyes of these students, we find that the private school is less of a homogenous and stable culture along class and race lines than educators have understood it to be. School officials and parents interact with these adolescent girls to weave a story of complex and contradictory moments of meaning making as youth work hard at figuring out who they are becoming as raced, classed, and gendered individuals in the context of institutional and structural change.

Amira Proweller is Assistant Professor, School of Education, DePaul University.


"Constructing Female Identities: Meaning Making in an Upper Middle Class Youth Culture is an extraordinary piece of work. Not only does Amira Proweller push our theoretical understanding of identity production in schools, but she adds greatly to our knowledge of what actually happens on a day-to-day basis in a private single-sex high school in the United States, thus filling a distinct void in the literature on schooling, and schooling for young women, in particular. The ethnography is carefully done; the theoretical insights at times dazzling. I strongly recommend this volume to anyone interested in women's education as well as in the ever growing private educational sector in the U. S." — Lois Weis, State University of New York, University at Buffalo