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"Young ladies should be virgins and always dress nice": Exploring perceptions of femininity among adolescent girls

Ciaravino, Samantha (2017) "Young ladies should be virgins and always dress nice": Exploring perceptions of femininity among adolescent girls. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Public Health Significance: During early adolescence, girls experience a rapid rise in mental and sexual health problems. Adherence to feminine ideology and feminine gender role stress have been associated with depressive symptoms, anxiety, disordered eating and poor sexual health. While emerging research points to rigid constructions of gender norms as a potential target for public health interventions to improve the health of adolescent girls, few existing programs have attempted to do so. This study sought to gain insight into adolescent females’ perspectives on femininity with the goal of developing a framework for tailoring prevention curricula to meaningfully incorporate gender norms change.

Methods: An arts-based approach was used to explore femininity norms with adolescent females between the ages of 11 to 17 (n=64) recruited from a local high school and community organization in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Qualitative data collected through the Visual Voices sessions (artwork and discussion transcripts) were analyzed using NVivo 10.

Results: Participants emphasized common femininity scripts that they felt were most influential such as hypervigilance to social media, policing of appearance, conflicting messages, as well as their navigation of expectations regarding femininity. Participants were critical of the objectification of women, mixed messages, and double standards that are prevalent in society. However, they also expressed ambivalence in regard to adhering to the messages they are receiving about femininity.

Conclusions: This study provided a foundation that will inform efforts to incorporate gender norms change into prevention programming for girls. Findings from this work point to the need to also address the ambivalence that young people express trying to adhere to these societal rules. This might include interventions which not only promote critical thinking about the social messages but also developing skills in when and how to resist these messages, and more directly addressing the perceptions young people have about the consequences of not adhering to these norms.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Ciaravino, Samantha
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBurke, Jessicajburke@pitt.edujburke
Committee MemberMiller, Elizabethelm114@pitt.eduelm114
Committee MemberHawk, Marymeh96@pitt.edumeh96
Committee MemberGoodkind, Sarasara.goodkind@pitt.edusara.goodkind
Date: 24 February 2017
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 8 December 2016
Approval Date: 24 February 2017
Submission Date: 27 November 2016
Access Restriction: 1 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 1 year.
Number of Pages: 63
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Public Health > Behavioral and Community Health Sciences
Degree: MPH - Master of Public Health
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Adolescent; Gender norms; femininity; arts-based approach; adolescence
Date Deposited: 24 Feb 2017 16:38
Last Modified: 01 Jan 2018 06:15

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  • "Young ladies should be virgins and always dress nice": Exploring perceptions of femininity among adolescent girls. (deposited 24 Feb 2017 16:38) [Currently Displayed]


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