Shauna Pomerantz can’t stand the stereotype that teenage girls are shallow, vapid and mean. They are smart and complex, she says, and she has the research to prove it.
An assistant professor of Child and Youth Studies, Pomerantz has authored two books in the relatively new discipline of “girls’ studies” — the analysis of teenage girls in a cultural and sociological context. Pomerantz became interested in the field after she noticed that teen girls were being unfairly stereotyped.
Teenage boys are scrutinized for aggression, she said. But they escape most of the criticism aimed at teenage girls.
“When I started my PhD in 1999, all around me were articles and magazine covers about how skanky girls were,” she said. “Everyone was talking about how girls were in trouble. I thought, ‘This is a good place to do my research.’”
Pomerantz is now a widely recognized and quoted expert in the academic analysis of teenage girls. In 2009, she co-authored Girl Power: Girls Reinventing Girlhood (Peter Lang Publishing), which examines whether modern girls benefit from the “girl power” phenomenon. In 2008, she published Girls, Style and School Identities: Dressing the Part (Palgrave), which looks at how style shapes a girl’s identity.
For the latter, she spent a year with 20 high school girls in British Columbia. The girls embraced Pomerantz’s presence, letting her follow them around their high school and attend their classes.
“High school is so much more interesting the second time around,” said Pomerantz, who is tapped into youth culture through her love of contemporary books, music and popular culture. “Nobody saw me as a threat, so that was an in.”
The girls, she said, were “totally interested, extremely helpful and anxious to get their stories out.”
Pomerantz’s next three-year project, with Brock colleague Rebecca Raby, is called Smart Girls. In the post-feminism era, she said, girls are expected to be multitasking overachievers who are smart, funny, sexy and athletic.
“We wanted to look at, do girls think they have it all? Do they have all they need for success?” said Pomerantz, who talked to six St. Catharines girls as part of a pilot study. “Sometimes girls are expected to do well without any help, and get called more names when they do.”
Teenage girls draw fascination because they are a symbol of virtue in society, Pomerantz said.
But the recent pilot study shows that life “is still not equal. Girls are still stretched to the gills,” she said. “They are still expected to be sexy and hot. The only thing that’s changed is that now they have to be good at everything.”
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