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Researching Girls of Color

The following is a guest blog post written by Sharon Lamb, co-author of the article Pride and Sexiness: Girls of Color Discuss Race, Body Image, and Sexualization, which appeared in Volume 8, Number 2 of the journal Girlhood Studies.



Way back when, my/our research group was interested in the issue of sexualization of girls and how girls conceived of it. We wanted to dive into the dilemma and critique of the APA Sexualization of Girls Task Force Report that suggested the co-authors, myself included, represented girls as dupes of the media, rather than shapers of it who make their own meaning from it. Typically, I have found, White middle class feminist students have been interested in the idea of sexualization although that may have been a result of my being a White middle class feminist (in their eyes, that is, — I wasn’t always middle class!). But that year, in the research group, a woman of color joined us and she was also doing a Practicum at a charter school (with 7th-12th grade students) that was quite diverse, more diverse that we at the time realized. She offered to make the connection for us and so we set about thinking through the questions we wanted to ask girls themselves about what is sexy and what is sexualization, and how race and ethnicity might intersect with their ideas.


As we sat with the girls and read through the transcripts, we became more aware and thrilled by the diversity of our sample, such that no previoius literature really applied to the whole of the group. And after our first go at a manuscript was rejected by a mainstream psychology of women journal, receiving lengthy and emotional reviews, we began to get defensive about how important it was that white women join women of color in working with this kind of data, that we had a responsibility to consider the impact of our race on the data that was produced, but that didn’t preclude us from analyzing it. We came from that postmodern perspective that informed us that no matter who led the interviews, there would always be the race of the leaders as a factor influencing the data that was produced.



We think this is a controversial issue and so bring this up for the blog. One early reviewer who rejected the manuscript suggested we ask an African American professor or psychologist to review our analysis but when we thought about that and even spoke to an African American student about it, we all felt it was wrong to have her speak for her race in such a comprehensive way and not quite right for her to represent the voice of girls of color given the diversity of race and ethnicity in the group. We did in the end send out the paper to be pre-reviewed by an African American media professor at another university, who liked the paper and didn’t give any feedback for changes. By the time it was being revised for Girlhood Studies, there was a different African American student in our research group who read through the manuscript and pointed out a few phrases that puzzled her and that she thought might be offensive so we made those changes. Doing this work, and caring just as much about the way media is absorbed and transformed by these girls of color became a passion leading us to work on a book that will be published next Spring. We welcome hearing from other researchers working across race and ethnicity as anthropologists have done for decades, carefully and with respect.



Read Pride and Sexiness: Girls of Color Discuss Race, Body Image, and Sexualization by Sharon Lamb and Aleksandra Plocha.



Sharon Lamb is a Professor at UMass Boston in the PhD program for Counseling and School Psychology, and leads a research group that examines sexualization and sexual subjectivity. She has created a curriculum, Sexual Ethics for a Caring Society Curriculum (SECS-C). She is Co-Chair of the committee to revise the APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Girls and Women.


Aleksandra Plocha is a Ph.D. student in the Counseling Psychology program at UMass Boston where she also received her M.S. in Mental Health Counseling. She is currently working on a dissertation on resilience in young adults.