Date of Award

Spring 2016

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas Schram

Second Advisor

Paula Salvio

Third Advisor

Winston Thompson


This qualitative study is focused on how gender expectations shape the identities and social actions of seven white middle class adolescent girls. Utilizing an ethnographically oriented grounded theory approach, this study seeks to reframe adolescent girls’ agentic actions in relation to cultural influences. This investigation looks at “cultural impasses” in girls’ lives and how they are indicators of gendered preconditions which shape their everyday choices and behaviors. Research aims are embedded in the concept that gender is socially constructed and produced through the combined interplay of girls’ social actions and cultural demands. Through an examination of girl and adult narratives, elicited texts, and ethnographic research, as well as, the analytic frameworks of pragmatism and critical feminism, this study maps out a range of social actions that are sometimes contradictory in nature. “Strategic gendering” is proposed as a way to illuminate the observable blending of opposing social actions of girls in this study, who strive to satisfy dual commitments to self and culture. Strategic gendering refers to an adaptive negotiation of social actions that simultaneously links girls’ personal goals with cultural expectations and can be evidenced in girls’ day to day behaviors. This concept can be understood through theories of power, gender, autonomy, and agency which are considered in relation to study participants’ life experiences. Further, this study explores implications of findings for white middle class girls, parents, teachers and other professionals who live and work with them.