Gender Differences

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PRACTICE

PERSPECTIVES

Gendered Differences: Postmodern Feminist Perspectives and Young Women Identified as "Emotionally Disabled'' Uta M. Walter 8 K. Jean Peterson

Abstract
Little consideration h a s been given to adolescent girls identified a s h a v i n g emotional disabilities in either t h e research or clinical literature. Social workers continue t o use d e v e l o p m e n t a l theories that are based on males, a n d t h u s contribute to t h e persistent silence a b o u t t h e n e e d s of this population. Feminist and p o s t m o d e r n perspectives c a n serve t o highlight h o w d o m i n a n t discourses around "gender/ "emotional disabilities/ and "psychological 7 7

d e v e l o p m e n t " influence social work t h e o r y and practice with this population. This paper uses feminist a n d postm o d e r n re-visions of developmental theories to deconstruct t h e current research and clinical practices with female adolescents a n d s h o w s h o w t h e s e re-visions can inform our thinking a b o u t adolescent girls identified as h a v i n g e m o t i o n a l or behavioral disabilities.

CURRENT LITERATURE ABOUT ADOLESCENTS identified as having emotional "disabilities" rarely grants attention t o issues o f gender. T h e lack of consideration paid t o adolescent girls i n research and clinical literature "parallels t h e silence a b o u t adolescent girls in t h e literature of developmental psychology" (Gilligan, Rogers, & T o l m a n , 1 9 9 1 , p . 1). T h e experiences and lives of female adolescents in general, a n d those with emotional or behavioral disabilities in particular, remain largely invisible in research a n d theory. While feminist literature a b o u t female development has b e g u n t o address developmental issues specific t o adolescent w o m e n , feminist critiques have n o t yet included constructs s u r r o u n d i n g y o u n g w o m e n with disabilities. Therefore, social w o r k practice a n d research regarding emotionally disabled y o u n g w o m e n continues t o be informed mainly by traditional developmental theories based o n m e n . 1

As they enter into adulthood, young w o m e n with e m o tional disabilities face the difficulties associated with these disabilities in addition t o the challenges a patriarchal society presents t o t h e m and their nondisabled peers. Feminist a n d p o s t m o d e r n perspectives can serve t o highlight h o w d o m i nant discourses around "gender," "emotional disabilities," and "psychological development" influence social w o r k t h e ory a n d practice with young w o m e n situated at t h e nexus o f these discourses. T h e purposes of this paper are twofold: (a) t o d e m o n strate h o w c u r r e n t research and clinical practices w i t h female adolescents can be deconstructed using feminist a n d p o s t m o d e r n re-visions of developmental theories, a n d (b) t o show h o w these re-visions can inform o u r t h i n k i n g a b o u t adolescent girls identified as having e m o t i o n a l o r behavioral disabilities.

* Because it is more benign in its connotations, the term "disability" is preferred over other commonly used terms such as "disorder" or "disturbance." Although the word disability will not be set in quotation marks from this point on, the authors wish to alert the reader to the constructed nature of the concept of disability, the multitude of its meanings, and its lopsided focus on the negative. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services

Copyright 2002 Families International, Inc.

596

Walter a Peterson

• Gendered

Differences:

Postmodern

Feminist Perspectives

and Young

Women

Identified as "Emotionally

Disabled'

Feminist and Postmodern Re-Visions of Developmental Theories F r o m a p o s t m o d e r n perspective, all theories and models are professional narratives t h a t are e m b e d d e d in and interw o v e n with t h e larger...
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