Recommended Books Related to the
Growth, Development, and Socialization of Girls and Women
William G. Huitt

Citation: Huitt, W. (1997, June). Recommended books related to the growth, development, and socialization of girls and women. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date] from

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The socialization and development of girls, the equality of women with respect to men, the differences between women and men in terms of thinking patterns, needs, and communication styles are all topics that have received increased attention during the past decade. The purpose of this brief digest is to review some books I have found personally rewarding in this area.

Williams (1986) provides an excellent starting point, at least from an academic perspective. After dealing with the myths and stereotypes of women developed over human history, she summarizes the empirical research related to women's development. Her contribution is somewhat unique in that it covers topics pertinent to the entire life span. Especially important is her review and critique of the psychoanalytic view of women as this approach has dominated much of the popular and scientific discussion of this issue.

Estes (1992), a Jungian psychoanalyst, poet, and storyteller, provides an even more profound critique of the modern myths and stereotypes about women through ancient and modern stories of the Wild Woman archetype. By this she means that part of woman's nature that is instinctive, innate, and basic. She states that

When women assert their relationship with the wildish nature, they are gifted with a permanent and internal watcher, a knower, a visionary, an oracle, an inspiratrice, an intuitive, a maker, a creator, an inventor, and a listener who guide, suggest, and urge a vibrant life in the inner and outer worlds. When women are close to this nature, the fact of that relationship glows through them. This wild teacher, wild mother, wild mentor supports their inner and outer lives, no matter what (pp. 6-7).

Her book is meant to celebrate the psychological lives and ways of gifted women, talented women, creative women(p. 9) as a counter to the writings that focus on the weaknesses and foibles(p. 9) of women that are amply described by Williams (1986).

Emily Hancock (1989) uses biographical studies of women (mainly in their 40's and 50's) to investigate the psychology of women. Her discovery that most women have a well-articulated self in childhood that is lost in the process of becoming an adult provides an engaging bridge between the traditional psychology of Williams and the more anthropological, mystical writing of Estes. Hancock's proposition is that the freedom and newfound abilities of the 8- to 10-year-old girl are rarely fostered in adolescence as they are in boys. Rather girls are encouraged to become proper, to fit in, to reign in the explorations she finds fascinating, to become a nuturer rather than striving for competence and excellence. In adolescence, girls become smaller and weaker than boys. They begin to notice that men are central to the accomplishments in science, business, medicine, and education. Few stories are available about successful women. Traditional female roles begin to reduce aspirations and accessible options. Hancock proposes that the key to a woman's identity is the rediscovery of the girl within.

Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule (1986) show us how women develop in their thinking and decision making. Their work builds on the findings of Perry (1970, 1981) who developed a theory of how men come to know, Kohlberg (1984) who formulated a theory of the development of moral thinking, and Gilligan (1977, 1982) who developed an alternative to Kohlberg's theory that more nearly fits the experiences of women. A significant addition is a first level of knowing for women labeled silence" where women felt they had no voice or could not learn and could not think or reason clearly. Perry did not report this level for the college men he studied. In addition, Belenky et al. provide suggestions as to how to educate women that takes into account their cognitive growth patterns.

Bingham and Stryker (1995) remind us that individual growth takes place within a social context. An important contribution is a revision of Erikson's (1964) theory of the stages of psychosocial/personality development that describes developmental tasks of particular concern to women. These are:

  1. developing the hardy personality (through age 8),
  2. forming an identity as an achiever (ages 9-12),
  3. skill building in self-esteem (ages 13-16),
  4. strategies for emotional and financial self-sufficiency (ages 17-22), and
  5. satisfaction in work and love (adulthood).

Bingham and Stryker propose that if a girl does not achieve a sense of achievement prior to puberty, it is very difficult to develop later because of the heavy social pressures toward conformity. After reviewing literature on how to develop a hardy personality and healthy self-esteem, the authors provide suggestions for specific actions that parents and educators can take to enhance girls' development.

Brown and Gilligan (1992) make an important contribution to the literature on girls' development and document the girl within described by Hancock (1989). They began interviewing girls in first, fourth, seventh, and tenth grades and did follow-ups for several years thereafter. The authors provide a rich description of their research methodology which they describe as reframing psychology as a practice of relationship by voicing the relationships that are at the heart of psychological inquiry and growth (p. 22). They document the different approaches girls take to integrating their rich emotional lives with the narrowing visions of nice and kind women [which] leaves them struggling with the difference between true and false relationships (p. 88).

Kerr (1994) extends this discussion of female development by focusing on what it means to be smart, gifted, and female. In addition to documenting the lives of 25 of her colleagues who participated in a gifted education program in the late 1950's, she summarizes the research on female giftedness, provides brief biographies of 9 (out of 33) eminent women she studied such as Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Maya Angelou, and makes suggestions as to how to assist gifted women to fulfill their unique potentials. Kerr documents that in spite of increased educational and career opportunities for women, women's career achievement and earnings lag behind men today, even as they did in Terman and Oden's (1947) follow-up study of gifted women in the 1940's. She points to girls' social (rather than achievement) goals and lower levels of self-confidence as being two of the many differences between gifted boys and girls. One interesting point is that those women who secured a mentor generally achieved similar career levels and earned as much as their gifted male counterparts.

Pipher (1994) describes in graphic detail the toll on young women's self-concepts that American/Western culture is exacting in the modern era. She concludes that while the culture is certainly potentially dangerous to girls and women, some do manage to survive better than others. It is her view that the functioning of the family is the most important factor in how children grow and develop.

Psychologists who study what kinds of families produce what kinds of children have focused on two broad dimensions. The first has to do with affection. At one end are parents who are accepting, responsive and child-centered; at the other end are parents who are rejecting, unresponsive and parent-centered. The second dimension has to do with control strategies. At one end are parents who are undemanding and low in control, and at the other end are parents who are demanding and high in control.

These two dimensions interact to produce different outcomes for teenagers. Low-control and low-acceptance parents produce teens with a variety of problems, including delinquency and chemical dependency. Parents who are high in control and low in acceptance (authoritarian parents) have children who are socially inadequate and lacking in confidence. Parents who are low in control and high in acceptance (indulgent parents) have teenagers with high impulsivity, low responsibility and low independence. Parents who are high in control and high in acceptance (strict but loving parents) have teenagers who are independent, socially responsible and confident. According to this research, the ideal family is one in which the message children receive from parents is : We love you, but you must do as we say (p. 83).

Pipher believes that one of the most important actions adults can take is to simply listen to girls, to let them find and develop their voice, supporting the work of many of the writers reviewed in this digest.

Bauermeister and Smith (1997) provide a wonderful resource for those involved in girls' development. They created a guide to literature with girls as heroines with a belief in the power of books to give children a vision of what is possible" (p. 2). And what an extraordinary vision it is. They have drawn from the resources of the world to furnish a glimpse of the rich texture of the world around us. Every library that serves children should use this book as a guide for purchases in the next several years. And parents, even of boys, should have an ample selection of books as examples of what it is possible for girls to do and become. This guide could also serve as a resource for multicultural studies.

While not specifically written about girls, Seligman (1995) provides valuable information about inoculating our children against depression, an affliction to which girls are more prone than boys. He provides an instrument that can be used to measure a child's level of optimism with specific exercises and techniques that parents and educators can use to help children develop a better level of optimism. In my work with this instrument, I have found that women may be more prone to personalizing bad events and providing external explanations for good events than are men. This leads to a depressed optimism score and may be an area worth further study.

Goleman (1995) also discusses a topic that, though not specifically about women, is nevertheless important for women's success: emotional intelligence. He defines emotional intelligence as knowing about and managing one's emotions including delayed gratification, self-motivation and persistence, recognizing emotions in others, and handling relationships. Although Goleman does not cite data differentiating men and women on these dimensions, some clinical data presented by Harley (1986) and Gray (1992) suggest that women may have some superiority in the empathetic and handling relationships aspects of emotional intelligence, whereas men may have some superiority in self-motivation and persistence.

Aburdene and Naisbitt (1992) confirm and extend some of the advantages women have as we move into the 21st century. These authors provide information on social and political trends that are especially likely to impact women during the 1990s and beyond. They believe that the shared values of the democratic nations of the world (e.g., multiparty democracy, freedom of choice, free trade, privatization and prosperity based on the marketplace) are beginning to be embraced by all nations. They state that the role of women in providing leadership in economics, politics, the arts, religion, and other aspects of society has become a self-sustaining movement that may at times experience setbacks, but [is headed in a] direction [that] is unstoppable"(p. 320). The authors assert that women are at present more able to integrate the outer-directed, worldly part of what it means to be a mature adult with the more inner-directed, personal, spiritual side and that this allows them to be more powerful and whole--more balanced, more complete, than most of their male colleagues" (p. 320). This seems to be an important consideration as we identify important factors for personal and social success in the information age.

McCorduck and Ramsey (1996) maintain that the future may not be as favorable to women as Aburdene and Naisbitt (1992) suggest. They provide a stimulating presentation on how present trends may evolve into quite different alternative futures. The authors describe four separate scenarios that delineate how women's condition might be impacted by changes on two separate dimensions: 1) the economy either grows or declines while at the same time 2) individual or group rights become the norm by which we judge appropriate thinking and behavior. They describe a growing economy coupled with Western-style individual rights as A Golden Age of Equality,"a scenario reminiscent of Aburdene and Naisbitt's (1992) forecast. However, a declining economy coupled with group rights prevailing produces a context of "Backlash" where the situation for the majority of women is much less pleasant. A growing economy with group rights prevailing provides a context labeled Separate--and Doing Fine, Thanks in which groups of women opt for separate communities as a means of taking control of their lives. The fourth context, where a declining economy is coupled with an individual-rights orientation produces a context labeled "Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back" where gains and losses occur in about equal amounts. After describing the worldwide impact on women that might occur in each context, the authors report on the UN Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995. They remind us that the future is embedded in current trends and activities and that, ultimately, our future is up to us.


The contrasts among the styles of these authors as well as the content of the books is an important one in the study of girls and women. For example, Williams (1986) provides a somewhat traditional coverage of the psychology of women, writing from a main-stream academic perspective. Estes (1992) is more interpretive, using ethnography and case studies as substance for her theory building and presentation. Most of the other authors, such as Belenky et al. (1986), Brown and Gilligan (1992), and Hancock (1989) are somewhat in between: attempting to use a more qualitative, interpretive methodology within a traditional research paradigm. These differences in research paradigms exemplify the struggle in academia between telling an important story and engaging in "good" science (Smith, 1997). It seems that women researchers are more inclined to investigate the active person within fluid context, which makes for a less "clean" research study. However, in my opinion, this paradigm offers a more valid approach to the study of the mental (i.e., cognitive, affective, and conative) aspects of human beings within the framework of the changing context of present-day society. This approach is more robust when investigating the complex relationships among the various components of mental and social development and is a welcome addition to the more narrow perspective that has come to dominate current work in psychology and the social sciences.

Authors such as Covey (1989) and Waitley (1996) suggest that if we are to build a better future, we must first imagine it. While knowledge from science and personal experience such as that provided in these books is quite valuable, it tells us more about where we are and where we have been than about possible futures. Toynbee (1948), in his 12 volume discourse on the foundation of civilization, states that visions of possible futures are more the role of religion. The books reviewed above report some of the best knowledge available. However, many of the authors are critical of the role religion has played in subjugating women. What is needed is an ideal vision of the future that we can strive for, that will allow us to focus our efforts in the most effective and efficient manner. It should both describe the structure and functioning of the global civilization that humanity is now developing as well as articulate equitable roles for both men and women within that civilization. This requires either a reinterpretation of existing religions or a new spiritual revelation that can guide the development of a civilization more equitable to developing the potential of both women and men.