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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

October 02, 1994|ERIKA TAYLOR

SCHOOLGIRLS: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap by Peggy Orenstein (Doubleday: $23; 335 pp.) In 1900 the American Assn. of University Women conducted a study involving more than 3,000 children between the ages of 9 and 15. The conclusion, which cut across ethnic, regional and socioeconomic lines, was sad, but hardly surprising considering our culture. By the time they reach adolescence, an enormous number of girls experience a dramatic loss of self esteem, emerging into adulthood with much less confidence than their male counterparts.

Peggy Orenstein, a journalist and former editor of Mother Jones magazine, decided to find out more. She spent a year following a group of eighth grade girls from two extremely different Norther California schools as they wrote papers, spent time with friends and tried to deal with their emerging sexuality. The resulting book, "SchoolGirls," is an informative and sometimes tragic look at exactly what causes so many girls to warp their personalities and often their bodies in the hopes of fitting into a male dominated world.

Orenstein's writing is excellent. She knows exactly when to end an anecdote, when to insert herself and when to give statistics. In addition, "Schoolgirls" is flawlessly researched. One area not examined here is the inborn differences between girls and boys, differences many studies have shown actually exist. It might have been interesting to see how Orenstein thinks biology has contributed to inequality in the classroom, and what could be done to take advantage of the natures of both sexes without repressing either one.

"SchoolGirls" is a fascinating book. Hopefully, it will be read by the right people--parents and educators who could change the experience of young girls in the future.

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