Thinking Outside the Girl Box
Teaming Up with Resilient Youth in Appalachia

By Linda Spatig and Layne Amerikaner

Finalist for the 2015 Weatherford Award

“Written with great tenderness and insight, this book portrays West Virginia through the eyes of those who seldom appear in the literature about Appalachia: rural girls.”

Barbara Ellen Smith, co-editor of Transforming Places: Lessons from Appalachia

Thinking Outside the Girl Box reads as a delicious, compelling, collaborative ethnography that escorts readers into the delicate, rugged human terrain of life in Appalachia…. This book is beautifully accessible to undergraduates or graduates. Spatig and Amerikaner are gifted story-tellers. Together, with the young women and their mentors, they have crafted a sweet jewel, opening the box of ethnography, challenging the girdle of evaluation, asking us to peer inside the intimacy of growing up girl in rural America.”

Michelle Fine, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Thinking Outside the Girl Box will change the way you look at words like resiliency, development, democracy, girls. Spatig and Amerikaner remind their readers that a real feminist analysis begins with love and that its methodology is necessarily one of loving collaboration. In a period in which multinational agency after multinational agency is `discovering’ that girls exist, the story of the Girls Resiliency Program is a necessary one.”

Daniel Moshenberg, coeditor of Searching for South Africa: The New Calculus of Dignity

“This is an extraordinary collaborative ethnography, one that authentically involves research participants in multiple stages of the research and writing processes. But it is also much more than this. It is, as Spatig and Amerikaner suggest, a love story that both warms and breaks the heart.”

Luke Eric Lassiter, author of The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography

Thinking Outside the Girl Box is a true story about a remarkable youth development program in rural West Virginia. Based on years of research with adolescent girls — and adults who devoted their lives to working with them — Thinking Outside the Girl Box reveals what is possible when young people are challenged to build on their strengths, speak and be heard, and engage critically with their world.

Based on twelve years of field research, the book traces the life of the Lincoln County Girls’ Resiliency Program (GRP), a grassroots, community nonprofit aimed at helping girls identify strengths, become active decision makers, and advocate for social change. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the GRP flourished. Its accomplishments were remarkable: girls recorded their own CDs, published poetry, conducted action research, opened a coffeehouse, performed an original play, and held political rallies at West Virginia’s State Capitol. The organization won national awards, and funding flowed in. Today, in 2013, the programming and organization are virtually nonexistent.

Thinking Outside the Girl Box raises pointed questions about how to define effectiveness and success in community-based programs and provides practical insights for anyone working with youth. Written in an accessible, engaging style and drawing on collaborative ethnographic research that the girls themselves helped conduct, the book tells the story of an innovative program determined to challenge the small, disempowering “boxes” girls and women are so often expected to live in.


Linda Spatig is professor of educational foundations at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.

Layne Amerikaner is a communications specialist at People For the American Way in Washington, DC.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
    The Nutshell. Or,The What, When, How,Where,Who, and Why
  • Introduction
    When I Fell in Love with Shelley Gaines
  • 1
    RIC
    Context Matters. Or, Lincoln County, West Virginia: “I Love It. I’ll Leave Someday.”
  • 2
    Shelley
    The Birth of the GRP. It’s a Girl (-Driven Program)!
  • 3
    Teresa
    The Girls Have More to Say Than They Thought They Did
  • 4
    Cassi
    “They Will Make You Eat That.” Or, Tales of New Experiences and Adventure
  • 5
    Irene And Virginia
    Girls Take the Lead, but “It’s Hard Coming from a Participant to Staff”
  • 6
    Leanne And Betty
    The GRP Collapses, but the Learning Goes On (and On)
  • 7
    Ashley
    Life after the GRP. Or,“College Is a Big Smack in the Face.”
  • 8
    Linda And Layne
    There’s a (Research) Method to Our Madness
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index

Formats

Paperback

978-0-8214-2060-7
Retail price: $26.95, S.
Release date: Jan. 2014
224 pages · 6 × 8½ in.
Rights: World

Hardcover

978-0-8214-2059-1
Retail price: $59.95, S.
Release date: Jan. 2014
224 pages · 6 × 8½ in.
Rights: World

Electronic

978-0-8214-4467-2
Release date: Jan. 2014
Rights: World

Additional Praise for Thinking Outside the Girl Box

“The Girls’ Resiliency Program helped middle- and high- school-aged girls find their voices through community building and social activism. In telling this story, authors Linda Spatig and Layne Amerikaner demonstrate what can happen when people are given the tools to build their strengths, speak out, and engage in changing the world. Good research opens questions for further study, and that is what makes Thinking Outside the Girl Box a vital work.”

Terrence Fernsler, Nonprofit World

“Far too often theories become abstract and convoluted—losing connection to reality in the pursuit of ever higher levels of elaboration. Theorists cite other theorists to prove their erudition. This book, however, is a story that advances theory. Spatig and Amerikaner take life experience that they have felt—love, disappointment and suffering—and conceptualize that knowledge into critical theory. This book is not just about Appalachian girls. This book is about how we study and think about life around us. This book is about how scholars should expose social inequality and oppression and then write about it. When all is said and done what will be remembered are their conclusions about how we do our work and why.”

Lynda Ann Ewen, Founder, Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Gender in Appalachia at Marshall University

“This book exemplifies the possibilities of what can happen when outsiders tell stories about Appalachia.… It is a life history of an organization told through strong characters about lessons learned, loving and leaving, poetry and song, and questions of power, voice and language. I recommend it to those interested in Appalachian studies, girlhood studies, community based activism, and collaborative ethnography.”

Patti Lather, The Ohio State University, Education Studies Cultural Foundations

“The aim of this book is to tell the story of rural, Appalachia girls in a youth development program –their lives presented through their own words, and the words of the authors, Spatig and Amerikaner, highlighting the girls’ challenges, struggles, fears, likes, and dislikes.… Situating these girls’ voices in a framework of ‘collaborative ethnography’ amidst a preferred research focus in the U.S. on quantitative, standardized, accountability models is refreshing, timely, accurate, and serves to highlight what we need to know most about girls’ and schooling.”

Brett Elizabeth Blake, professor, School of Education, Curriculum and Instruction, St. John’s University (NY)

“Writing between hope and despair, and with tremendous grace, this extraordinary pair of mother-daughter researchers reveal the limits that young Appalachian women face in breaking free of the strictures of gender and the injury of being working class in America.”

Ruth Behar, University of Michigan professor and author of Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in Between Journeys