Review of School Talk: Gender and Adolescent Culture by Donna Eder

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As discussed in class in School Talk, Donna Eder focuses on a critical yet uncommon examination of middle school years. The author examines a normal Midwestern middle school to uncover and address the nature of gender inequality within school culture. This includes an in-depth study of conversations amongst the junior high students and daily routines that enforce cultural norms and language between the students.

Concerning gender, labeling and engaging in insults exchanges seemed to have a big hand in how the students viewed cultural ideas on gender. Eder and her team of graduate students invested three years of observing peer to peer exchanges, especially in an unsupervised setting, like the lunch cafeteria. As discussed in lecture, examining the students in an uncontrolled and barely supervised setting like a lunch cafeteria can help strengthen a study like this because it provides raw unfiltered data to be able to draw strong conclusions about what really goes on within the adolescent mind and peer to peer.

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The ultimate purpose of this study wasn’t to necessarily give an insight to middle school life in the Midwest but to highlight the language and social beliefs that shape an adolescences’ conceptions of gender and relationships. Eder stresses how the analyses of male and female discourse processes and the cultural emphases are ultimately limiting to the potential of both genders, but especially to young females Her analysis with an overall description of the system of stratification in the middle school. Since there are few avenues for status and visibility in junior high, few highly popular students are able to achieve a level of rank and prestige denied to the much larger group, that is everyone else. For males, success in competitive sports, while for girls, cheerleading and good looks are most critical in the eyes of the adolescences.

The findings suggest several bases of boys’ aggressive and often insensitive treatment of girls the general emphasis of boys on aggressive competition, and boys’ fear of being different or at the bottom of their social hierarchy. The study also found objectification of girls as a central process of promoting gender inequality in schools. Based on their findings, the authors suggest the elimination of especially aggressive and violent sports in schools. They also note that the focus on appearance and attractiveness in such activities as cheerleading teams is not in the best interest of girls, and suggest a shift of focus to inner qualities that lead to a more complete and ultimate sense of self. Many of these themes are not new, but Eder has made a major contribution in carefully explicating how this view of maleness is built up in almost imperceptible taken-for-granted ways through routine discourse processes.

The authors also describe a spill over effect arguing that both the form and content of boys talk affects the nature of their emerging relations with girls. Boys’ more tender feelings are denied, girls’ feelings are ignored, and heterosexual relations become little more than another arena in which to “score. ” The discussion of female peer groups is also insightful focusing on ways in which girls’ language routines and preoccupations often contribute independently to this traditional picture. For example, the girls studied expended a great deal of energy managing and talking about their own appearance, and gossip was also frequently centered on the appearance or clothing of others.

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