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Voices from the Maine Youth Center

Who We Are and Who We Are Becoming

Adolescent Girls' Health Issues

Cultivating Hardiness Zones for Adolescent Girls

Girls' Health: An Action Plan for Maine



Mainely Girls' Special Report

Data and Findings from the 1998/1999 Survey of Girls

For further information contact:

Mainely Girls
69 Elm Street
Camden, ME 04843

Copyright 2000 by Mainely Girls. Permission to copy, disseminate, or otherwise use information from this survey report is granted as long as appropriate acknowledgment is given. To obtain additional copies of this publication, please contact Mainely Girls.

(Click here for Executive Summary)


Survey Mission
About Mainely Girls
The Survey Tool
Methods of Survey Dissemination
Survey Population
The Findings
     Part One: Getting to Know You
     Part Two: Body, Heart and Soul
     Part Three: School Biz'
     Part Four: Future Moves
Summary of Survey Findings and Recommendations
Not a Conclusion But Rather a Beginning

This report was prepared for Mainely Girls by Cathy Plourde, BS, MA

Copyright 2000 by Mainely Girls. Permission to copy, disseminate, or otherwise use information from this survey report is granted as long as appropriate acknowledgment is given. To obtain additional copies of this publication, please contact Mainely Girls, 69 Elm Street, Camden, ME 04843. Phone 207-230-0170. E-mail

Survey Mission

Mainely Girls has set out to better understand the needs and realities of Maine girls. Surveys that have been done of Maine youth have only recently been sorting according to gender, and it is hoped that by identifying girls' specific responses and experiences we can influence other surveying agencies to consider a gender sort in the future. It is the goal of this report to give voice to the realities, challenges, dreams, needs, and strengths of Maine girls.

Note: A similar survey was commissioned by the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group in Augusta, Maine to assess the needs of and services for girls in the juvenile justice system as well as those incarcerated or in after-care programs at the Maine Youth Center. A copy of that report can be obtained by calling the Maine State Juvenile Justice Advisory Group. It can also be found on the Mainely Girls' web site.


The Mainely Girls Survey, Maine Girls: Who We Are And Who We Are Becoming was made possible by a grant from The Lillian Berliawsky Charitable Trust, and the Bingham Foundation supplied additional funds for the printing, publicity and distribution of the final report. Great thanks must be extended to all of the teachers, counselors, principals and friends who assisted Mainely Girls in reaching close to 500 respondents around the state of Maine. Additional copies of this report are available from Mainely Girls or can be found on the Mainely Girls web site.

Thanks to all the Maine Girls who took time to take the survey. Also, many thanks to the people who assisted in the creation of the final survey: the Mainely Girls' Student Executive Board, Jeannie Dissette, Barrie Pribyl, Lauren Sullivan, Louise Trembley of New Hope for Women. Steve McFarland from the University of Southern Maine and the Casco Bay Partnership for Workplace Education assisted with database technicalities. Dr. Alan Leighton of the Muskie School of Public Service, and Dr. Cary Jenson of the University of Maine, Orono, provided invaluable guidance during the process as well as assistance with the presentation of the findings. Cathy Plourde, BA, MA, coordinated the distribution of the survey and the writing of the report.

About Mainely Girls

Mainely Girls, a non-profit organization, was developed from a personal research project on girls' development issues begun by Mary Orear in 1992. After five years of pursuing this interest while teaching at the middle and high school levels, Ms. Orear formed Mainely Girls in the summer of 1996 as a full-time effort to galvanize communities to identify and address girls' unmet needs. In addition to working with and for girls in local communities, Mainely Girls assumes a public eduction role on behalf of girls in schools, legislative bodies, and businesses.

The Survey Tool
Description of the tool

The survey was 95 questions long, with many of the questions having single or multiple part follow-up questions or requests for explanation resulting in over 200 database fields. Some were concerned that the girls would find it too long and lose interest, but many observations indicated that the girls were engaged all the way through. When completed by hand, rather than on the computer, it took 7th grade girls between 21 and 31 minutes. It often took an hour when administered on-line.

Described below are the survey's four sections. Each ends with an opportunity for the respondents to comment on the survey or their experience so far:

  • Part One: GETTING TO KNOW YOU (questions 1 through 18)
  • Part One asks the respondents for town and age, the two major identifying questions. The town gives a rural, urban, northern and southern sort to the data. We ask what race they identify as (optional question), with whom they live, how long they've lived in Maine, and whether or not they have traveled out of the state and country. We also look for whether their parents are from Maine, their parents' highest level of education, and parents' employment. We ask the girls how financially comfortable they feel their family is and what degree of responsibility they have in their family. Data is available on how the girls describe their relationships with their mother and father.
  • Part Two: BODY, HEART AND SOUL (questions 19 through 56)
  • This second section is more personal. The questions focus on girls' mental health (general outlook, stressors, and depressors), and access to mental and physical healthcare services. There are questions about eating disorders, self-mutilation, depression, stealing, smoking, drinking, drugs, and gangs. We also look for information about sexual, verbal and physical abuse, date rape, gang-related, or other forms of violence. We asked the girls to self-identif in any of the categories and ask, if abused, was the abuser a person living in their home and/or a relation. The girls also answer questions about suicidal tendencies, body image, diet and exercise and television habits. The final line of questioning focuses on sexual attitudes, behavior and experience.
  • Part Three: SCHOOL BIZ' (questions 57 through 80)
  • This third section of the survey looks at school environment and attitudes toward school. We ask about both social and safety aspects as well as academic and performance information. Information about jobs, pay rate, school and non-school activities give a fuller vision of how girls fill their time outside of class.
  • Part Four: FUTURE MOVES (questions 81 through 95)

The final section of the survey taps into the girls' plans, aspirations, and understanding of their future options. We ask what would make their lives happier right now and as adults, what obstacles are or could interfere, and who supports their dreams. One last question asks what sort of workshops, opportunities or information they are interested in having available to them as they work toward making their dreams a reality.

  • Comments

After each of the four survey sections we ask the girls to write their comments on the survey or for us so far. Many of these comments are placed as sidebars throughout this report, offering valuable context and voice to the data findings.

Four women who have had extensive experience working with adolescent girls wrote the survey in 1997. The surveys produced by the Minnesota Women's Fund (1990), the Women's Foundation of Colorado and Girls Count (1994), and the Radcliffe Policy Institute (1996) was consulted during the development of the Mainely Girls survey. Subsequent drafts and revisions were made to incorporate input from girls, adolescent health and wellness workers, domestic abuse counselors, psychologists, etc. and the survey was piloted with 30 junior high and high school girls in the Maine mid-coast area.

Methods of Survey Dissemination

Web page designer Annie Higbee and computer technician John Rocheleau, placed the survey on the Mainely Girls web site so that completed surveys arrived in a special email account with an anonymous identification default easily downloaded into the database. The intention was to be able to reduce data entry expenses and time and guarantee anonymity, hopefully increasing girls' willingness to be honest and give more information. We recognized that computer-only access would limit the girls to those in equipped schools or who had home access. Hard copies were to be distributed to individuals and school sites that did not have computer access.

Roughly, 1/3 of the surveys actually came in over the Internet, and there were several reasons for this disappointing result. School computer labs are heavily used and scheduling was a problem for many. The survey administrators were usually guidance counselors or willing teachers and some of them were uncomfortable with the technology. Getting the students together at the same time to do the survey and coordinating the lab time was problematic. Some schools just didn't have enough computers for the group they wanted to take the survey.

Survey Population

The survey was completed by girls aged 12-14 and 16-17, roughly in the 7th grade and 11th grade. The intention of targeting these two age groups was to identify what changes are in store for girls between their junior high/late middle school years and their late high school years. The total number of completed, usable surveys was 459.

Schools selection and county distribution.

Working by county, the selection was primarily based on schools and individuals that were willing to be involved in the project. The geographical distribution was more uneven than had been hoped for, but northern, central, down-eastern, western, mid-coast, and southern Maine are all well represented, and the distribution does mirror Maine's population distribution. While there were no identifiable participants from Sagadahoc County, there were individuals and schools who participated from more rural regions in Cumberland County. 38 high school and junior high/middle schools officially participated. Where possible, 7th graders and 11th graders were approached in the same district, but this goal was not always achieved. How many junior high girls and how many high school girls per county is not reported here because the sampling sizes were not always big enough to support same-district comparative studies.

Selection of the participants.

Based on the uncontrolled methods of selecting and accessing participants, and by the total number of surveys gathered, the data we offer you is not to be regarded as hard statistical facts representing all girls in Maine, but rather data on girls who completed the survey. In the schools, we relied on the contact person, usually a guidance counselor, to find willing participants. We specifically asked that the individual use her judgement to procure 10 or more students who represented the school's population, rather than only the perceived "best and brightest". Some did this by getting all the girls from an entire health class or study hall, or in two cases, an entire grade to participate; other proctors handpicked their own cross-section. It must be acknowledged that often those who are willing to do these sort of favors for a counselor or teacher come from a more narrow group of students, and as this was a voluntary project, only those who wanted to participated. Some girls who were taking the survey with their whole grade choose to give obviously false or outrageous data and those surveys were not included in the data analysis.

Not all girls who took the survey were approached in schools. Some were approached at girls' conferences (Waterville and Camden in March 1999, for example); some were personally known by the project handlers and were willing to fill out the survey; some were involved in special programs, such as YWCA's or Peer Education groups and responded to the request.

What about the girls who are not in the schools? Our efforts to reach home schooled students were limited to personal contacts, as efforts to go through home-schooling networks or guidance counselors who were in touch with home schooled students was unsuccessful. During the administration period, many other surveys were being circulated, making it impossible to have access to some schools. Girls involved in social services were also being subjected to surveys assessing their agency, and the small number of girls who had dropped out of school who took the survey was again limited to a couple of personal contacts. These are the girls that the system had already failed, or who had failed in the system—girls who had rejected the system's structure or were rejected by the system.

It is hoped that the anecdotal comments and interpretations from girls themselves will give voice and perspective to what is real for girls. Though it is not hopelessly bleak, and there are some wonderful surprises, there's still a great deal of work to be done. This is just a first level of inquiry. What is most clear is that when we need to know what to do and what to offer girls—what we need to do first is ask them. If they feel it is safe, and if they feel it's worth their time to tell us—meaning why do we want to know and will we really listen? —they will speak openly and honestly.


The results from the Mainely Girls Survey, Maine Girls: Who We Are And Who We Are Becoming is offered in sections which parallel the structure of the survey itself, Parts One through Four. Whenever possible, the headings repeat the actual questions to which the girls were responding.


How many girls participated?

459 surveys were deemed useable. Discards were made when data was unreadable (computer mysteries) or if it seemed the respondent was not being truthful (e.g., outlandish responses).

The break down for age and location?

     290 respondents were junior high school age
     169 respondents were high school age

Note: Some schools call themselves middle schools, some call themselves junior highs, and some actually house the 7th grade in the same building as high school students. For consistency in this report, we will refer to the respondents aged 12 to 14 as junior high and to the others as high school.

     North: 160
     South: 299

Note: The line for north and south was determined above or below Augusta, with the down east respondents, while technically south as the crow flies or the boat, counted as northern Maine because of driving distance.

     111 from urban locations
     348 from rural locations

Note: The definition of what is urban and what is rural is a highly debated point for social demographic research, and is relative state to state. A line must be drawn somewhere, and we have used the Muskie School of Public Service's guidelines. See Appendix.

What is the ethnic make-up of the respondents?

The difference between urban/rural and north/south approximate the actual population distribution in Maine, with most of Maine living in southern, rural towns. Similarly, the ethnic demographics echo Maine's ethnic make-up: 3% of survey respondents declined this optional question, 91% identified as Caucasian, and 6% indicated non-White ethnicity. Included were African American, Native American Indian, Somalian, Latina, and Asian/Pacific Islander girls.

With whom do the girls live?

Approximately two-thirds of the respondents live with two adults, some combination of natural or adoptive parents, step-parents, parent's significant other, foster parents or guardian care. The numbers shift slightly when broken down according to age:

     80% of respondents in junior high have a two-adult household
     73% of respondents in high school have a two-adult household

These numbers indicate that the result of the divorce rate may for a time present youth and their families with the challenges of single parent households, or for shared custody difficulties; but, because their parents find new partners, an additional challenge for youth may be to adapting to a new authority figure, possibly new siblings and the sharing of resources, parental attention, and private space in their blended families.

How deep are the Maine roots?

75% of the respondents have spent 10 years of more in Maine, with the majority of these girls actually having lived in Maine all of their lives.

The breakdown for their parents being from Maine is nearly identical for both mothers and fathers:
      69% of all respondents fathers are from Maine (63% if urban-dwelling)
      68% of all respondents mothers are from Maine (59% if urban dwelling)

Have Maine girls traveled out of state or country?

All but 3% of the girls responding have traveled out of state, and approximately half have traveled out of the country, no matter what sort combination for age and urban/rural. For northern-dwelling girls the number of out-of-the-country traveler slightly increases to 59%, which conjecture could attribute to Canadian proximity.

What is the level of education of the girls' parents?

There are some interesting differences in the numbers when looking at the highest level of education completed by the respondent's mothers and fathers, most notably with the difference between parents with only some high school or with post-college graduate work: more mothers had done post-college graduate work, and more fathers had not graduated high school. The data marked with below must not be considered as completely accurate, as these are extraordinarily high numbers, perhaps due to confusion between “graduate work” and “graduated”. It is our feeling that the girls indicated that their parents “graduated”, and these numbers do not necessarily mean that they did master's or doctoral studies, and it would be safe to assume that the mothers do have a higher amount of education than the fathers.

Level of Education Mother Father
Some High School 2% 15%
High School 32% 30%
Some College 15% 12%
Graduate Work 51% 41%

(Note: Father's data will not total 100% due to missing data.)

Do the respondents' parents work outside of the home?

Consistent with the American trend of two income households, only 19% of their mothers are not working outside of the home, and 9% of the fathers. There was no discernable difference with age or urban/rural sorting.

Do girls feel their families have enough money to get by?

In this culture, children are not usually included in the family financial discussions, and rarely know what the family income is. Open discussion of sex is more likely at the dinner table than finances. The majority of the girls responding feel that their families have enough money. Those who don't feel their families have enough is about the same for junior as well as senior high girls. The older girls have a different opinion about having more than enough, though, which may reflect their increased expenditures as they go out more, have cars or need to contribute to a friend's gas fund, as well as the increased consumerism that comes with mobility and access to stores.

Perception of Money Junior High High School Total Sample
Not enough money 9% 11% 10%
Enough money 69% 73% 70%
More than enough money 22% 16% 20%

While girls indicate that they perceive to have enough or more than enough money in their family, other data in the state indicates that the girls' perceptions do not necessarily agree with actual poverty numbers. The Maine Children's Alliance reports in the Maine Kids Count 1999 Data Book (see appendix for information) that children aged 0-17 living at or below the federal poverty line, for a five year average over 1992-1996 is nearly 16% (compared to a national figure of 21%). Families that make above the poverty line but are still not able to meet their basic needs are not included in this figure: 31.4% of school children in Maine received subsidized school lunches in the 1997-1998 school year.

How do girls feel about the amount of responsibility they're given in their family?

79% of the girls responding feel that they have the right amount of responsibility in their family. 9% feel they do not have enough, and 12% feel they have more than enough. There was no difference between the junior high and the high school girls.

How do girls describe their relationships with their parents?

There is a leaning for the girls to have a slightly better relationship with their mothers than their fathers. From these numbers, it is clear that most girls have a positive relationship with at least one of their parents. Combining the two responses “Warm and close” with “Lukewarm/Close”, 79% are well established with their mother, compared to 70% who are well connected to their fathers. At the other end of the scale, combining the three completely negative responses— “Chilly/Not very close,” “Cold and distant”, and “Hot—we are enemies” —10% of girls have difficult relationships with their mothers and 25% have difficult relationships with their fathers. The increase of negative relationships with fathers over mothers is quite high, and looking for ways to help fathers and daughters improve their relationships could be beneficial to both the girls and their fathers.

Relationship with parents Mother Father
Warm and close 57% 39%
Lukewarm/Close 22% 31%
Chilly/Not very close 7% 11%
Cold and distant 2% 10%
Hot--we are enemies 1% 4%
Hot and cold--constantly changing 10% 5%

Girls' Comments on Part One

This first request for comments from the girls gave them an opportunity to let us know where our questions and options for answers were insufficient or too limiting. The list of responses, for example, for their living situation did not allow for specific step-relations, or same-sex parents. Several girls don't have access to information about one or another parent (usually their father) due to a divorce, and several girls explain missing information due to no place to put biological parent and step parent information, or because of a parent's death. Most of the responses, however, were words of encouragement to the survey-writers, telling us “So far so good” or “Fun!” It was also clear where the proctors had not fully explained the purpose of the survey, as the girls said things like “Why do you want to know?”


How do girls see themselves? Attitudes and outlook.

The girls were asked to select which statements would apply to them personally, choosing as many of the phrases as they wanted from the list. In descending order of those frequency:

Attitudes and Outlook

I am generally a happy person 73%
I usually see the bright side of things 50%
I am often bored 34%
Things easily get me down 28%
I am often unhappy 10%

A third of the girls self-identify as often bored, which corresponds closely with the preliminary numbers from the Maine Aspirations Benchmarking Initiative (see appendix for information). In their findings, 34.5% of girls in 6th through 8th grade and 25.7% of girls in high school agree or strongly agree with the statement, “I am usually bored when I'm in school.” Yet, in the Mainely Girls survey, in spite of these high numbers to the negative, most of the girls indicate that they are fairly happy (73%), and even optimistic (50%). Their optimism and happiness is positive, with exceptions for individuals and for difficult circumstances. Girls say they are managing and thriving, and the overwhelming feeling is that they are happy individuals. However, we need to acknowledge that there is strong societal pressure for girls to appear happy, smiling, and feeling “fine!”

Do girls belong to or attend church regularly?

38% of the respondents identify affirmatively to being a member or attending church regularly. Of interest is that the number is substantially different with an age sort:

     41% of junior high respondents are church members
      31% of high school respondents are church members

The spirituality of youth is not often explored, especially in public education. The connections among girls' spirituality, well being, and emotional strength need to be explored as adults work to understand and to support girls in their development. Examining what stresses and depresses them is a quick and precise way to begin an inquiry:

How often do girls feel stressed?

34% of the respondents indicate they are always or almost always stressed. Markedly, there is a difference between junior high and high school with increased stress levels, as the combined groups of always or almost always stressed in junior high is 27%--not an insignificant number in itself-- while in high school that group jumps to 44%:

How Often Stressed? Junior High High School Total Sample
Always 4% 6% 5%
Almost always 23% 38% 29%
Once in a while 68% 52% 62%
Never 5% 3% 4%

When asked for what things or activities make them feel stressed, the answers fell into three general categories:

     Work, Family/fighting, School

Under the school category, there were distinct and specific sub-categories:

     Tests, Homework, Social Aspects (friends, boyfriends, groups), Sports

Once the girls get to high school, the increased amount and complexity of homework, increased responsibility for home chores or siblings, and an increased number of girls holding part-time jobs all seem to factor in heavily. Future queries into the working lives of Maine girls, and how girls can maximize earning opportunities, skill development, job advancement and working conditions would be a worthy investigation, relevant to developing strategies for improving their lives and futures.

How often do the girls feel depressed?

10% of the respondents indicate that they feel depressed always or almost always, with little difference between junior high and high school girls. This is a hard core and consistent number throughout the survey, and the concern is to whether or not these girls have been identified and are being treated.

68% of the girls indicate that they feel depressed at least once in a while.
     The junior high girls just a little less so at 65%.
     The high school girls just a little more so at 73%.

While these numbers are not all that surprising, what is most useful and of interest is what makes the girls depressed. They can be broken down into two categories, one specific to their lives and one more general in nature:

Are girls able to receive care services when they need it?

Personal counseling, medical care, birth control and dental care are costly. Maine has an aggressive child medical care program, but counseling and mental wellness services are highly restricted by insurance companies. And insurance companies are even less likely than a girl's parents to pay for birth control.

Services Available? Yes No/? Sometimes
Personal counseling 72% 15% 13%
Medical care 96% <1% 3%
Birth control 84% 14% 2%
Dental care 96% 2% 2%

Before accepting these numbers at face value, it is helpful to know some of the reasons why they say care is not available.

Personal counseling.

There were interesting responses to why girls don't feel personal counseling services are available. The overwhelming reason was simply because the girls don't want or need it, which may mean that the 15% of “no—counseling not available” is somewhat inflated. Several girls state that they take care of their problems themselves (or are too “proud” to go for help), or seek other resources like family or friends. There were a few girls who are not allowed to get counseling services, some because it is “mom's rule” and others because of their parents' money situation. Some said that it is simply unavailable where they live, or, in the case of using school counselors, the counselor is only available some days and it's difficult to get an appointment due to the demands for counselor time. Others are unwilling to talk to a counselor, for a variety of reasons: it wouldn't help, it isn't worth the time they have to wait, they don't trust anyone, or, in a couple of cases, the community is too small and they have a relationship with the counselor outside of school and don't feel comfortable or safe confiding. The questions the girls' answers raise are who are the counselors—school guidance, therapists, social workers, and neighbors? How often are they available to the girls? And what type of counseling do these girls actually need?

Medical and Dental care.

The 1999 Maine Kids Count report (see Appendix for information), a more complete picture of what Maine children's health care status is really like, and of what the Medicaid State Agency, the IMPACT Programs, and the Department of Human Services are doing to make access and reporting more streamlined. Affordable health insurance is available to families with uninsured children under the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), with expanded Medicaid and Cub Care. The Maine Department of Human Services' report of Health Insurance Coverage Among Maine's Children: the Results of a Household Survey 1997 says that 10% of Maine's children do not have health insurance coverage, yet only 9% of the girls taking the Mainely Girls survey said that they were unable to have care. Of the few girls who say medical care isn't always available when needed, the biggest reason was money or insurance. For a few, it was literal access—getting someone to take them to see a doctor that is a problem, most often due to parents or guardian's availability.

In the case of dental care, programs are growing for low-income children, but the low number of participating dentists and the difficulty with paperwork is an obstacle still being worked on, according to the 1999 Data Book. For the girls offering an explanation for their difficulty with dental care access, the reasons were primarily financial, though some stated it was trouble getting an appointment from a dentist accepting new patients. The question as it was worded asks whether, when a girl has a pressing need to see a dentist, can she do so? If the questions had read “Do you see a dentist every 6 months for preventative care?” or “Do you see a doctor for preventative care?” the number of girls unable to get dental care would likely be much higher.

Birth control.

12% said birth control is not available and 2% said they are not sure. 20 to 25 fewer responses were given for this question than the others regarding service availability, perhaps indicating for those survey participants who declined to answer that access to birth control is not an issue for them at this time. As with counseling services, “no—birth control not available” may be somewhat inflated because so many of the girls cite the reason it's not available is because they don't need it at this time or are simply too young to even think about it yet. Of course, if all girls were to actually ask their parents if they could get birth control, the number might increase greatly. Several said they don't know because they haven't asked, but more girls said that it would be forbidden or that they would be too scared to even ask. There are a couple of girls who equate needing birth control with being pregnant, and hopefully a health class or parent will straighten them out sooner than later. Only one girl said that her community is too small to allow girls to get birth control confidentially, but she knows of others who've gone outside of the community to get what they need. Here are a few of their remarks:

Physical and learning disabilities of girls?

39 girls responding, or 9%, indicate that they have a disability. Their explanations include ADD and other learning disorders; asthma; depression; visual and auditory impairment; and specific diseases and physical disabilities.

Mental health and self-destructive behaviors.

The next few questions establish what sort of pressures, activities and concerns are in the world of Maine girls, what they see impacting the lives of their peers as well as themselves.

To better understand choices that girls are faced with about their personal behavior, it's helpful to take a look at the choices that are being made by their peers. The girls were asked if they consider themselves to be involved in that same list of eight behaviors/activities. 165 girls said yes, which is 36% of the total survey sample.

Number/Percent of Girls Who Perceive Their Peers are Involved with Specific Behaviors/Activities

Other girls

Eating disorders 292/68% 40/10%
Mutilation 203/49% 148/36%
Depression 311/73% 151/37%
Stealing 290/68% 298/70%
Smoking 366/82% 359/83%
Drinking 323/75% 324/76%
Drugs 303/70% 315/74%
Gangs 113/27% 145/35%

For all eight of these behaviors and activities, the numbers were examined for differences between junior high and high school girls, for those who live in urban and rural areas, and for those who live in northern or southern locations. All percentages are based on the number according to their sort. For easy reference, the totals of the girls according to those sorts are in the chart below.

Total population

Junior high girls 290
High school girls 169
Urban girls 111
Rural girls 348
Northern girls 160
Southern girls 299

Eating disorders. 36 girls, 8% of survey population.

There were no significant differences among any of the sorts at all, with the percentages all coming in at about 8%. While this number may seem “low” compared to the other numbers in this section, it should be remembered that eating disorders have the highest fatality rate of any mental illness at this time.

Mutilation/Self-Tattoo. 23 girls, 5% of survey population.

Location did not offer any significant differences, but 3% of the total junior high sample compared to 8% of the high school sample self-identify in this category. This is a number almost certainly on the rise, as well, as piercing and tattoos take on cultural meaning for youth. The data didn't differentiate between piercing/tattoos and the practice of self-cutting/scarring that may indicate deeper disturbances needing professional help.

Depression. 80 girls, 17% of survey population.

There was a huge increase from the total junior high sample, 13%, to the high school sample, 24%. The northern and rural girl's numbers were higher than the southern and urban girls who self-identify with depression: urban, 14%; rural, 18%; north, 19%; and south, 16%. A question for further study might be: are northern, rural girls in actuality struggling more with depression than girls who live in Maine's southern and urban locations? If so, why, and what can be done to help?

Stealing. 45 girls, 10% of survey population.

While the difference of self-identified girls in junior high or high school who steal is marginal (9% of our junior high respondents, 11% of our high school respondents), the number of girls dealing with the issue is largest in urban areas. 16% of the girls who said they steal are from urban areas, while only 8% of girls who steal say they are from rural locations. As most of the urban locations are in southern Maine, the slightly lower number of northern-living girls who steal, 8% coincides with the slightly higher number of southern-living girls, 11%.

Smoking. 83 girls, 18% of survey population.

There's almost not a degree of difference whether the girls who smoke were from urban, rural, north or south, all hovering around 18%. The age difference, however, is staggering: 12% of the junior high girls participating in the survey say they smoke; 30% of the high school girls participating say they smoke. As with other high-risk behaviors, smoking prevention needs to be addressed in junior high, and at the high school level education must include intervention as well as prevention.

Drinking. 95 girls, 21% of survey population.

Just as with smoking, the urban, rural, north and south sorts matched up with the total sample percentage, at 21%. 10% of junior high respondents leaps to 39% of high school students responding who drink.

Drugs. 54 girls, 12% of survey population.

Girls' life experiences and choices continue to become more complex as they get older. Drug usage by 6% of junior high respondents increased to 22% by the high school respondents. The numbers were slightly higher for the urban, southern dwelling girls, at 15% and 13%, respectively, than they were for the rural and northern dwelling girls, at 11% and 10%, respectively.

Gangs. 16 girls, 3% of survey population.

As might be guessed, urban, southern girls self-identified at a higher rate than the rural, northern girls, but because the sampling is so small, the difference was only one percentage point. Curiously, the junior high girls were more likely to be involved in gang activity than the high school girls. An entire grade at a middle school was surveyed, though, and despite efforts to get a similar occurrence at a same-district high school, we were not able to do so.

How many girls know of other girls who are victims of abuse and violence?

Girls see or know that abuse and violence is happening to their peers, and asking them about this can give us another look into what girls' perception of the world is, in their immediate surroundings. (*) indicates an inability to get an accurate percentage as most respondents left this section blank. What is evident is that girls are much more likely to be victims of sexual and rape crimes than boys.

Number of Girls Who Perceive of Peers Who Are Victims of Abuses/Violence Other girls Boys
Sexual Abuse 196/47% 55/14%
Verbal Abuse 255/61% 152/38%
Physical Abuse 192/47% 127/*
Acquaintance Rape 77/19% 11/*
Gang Violence 46/11% 90/*
Other Violence 125/31% 112/*

Number of girls who self-identify as victims of abuse?

Without providing definitions or explanations of what constitutes abuse or abusive behavior, a difficult legal as well as philosophical task, the girls were asked if they consider themselves having been a victim of abuse or violence. The total number of girls who said yes totaled 112, or 25% of the sample. In the chart below, notable differences can be seen in the sort of the numbers, the bold indicating the higher of the sorted percentages, with actual number for reference:

Girls Who Self-Identify As Victims of Abuse

Junior high: 19% (53 of 284 girls)
High school: 35% (59 of 169)
Urban: 19% (21 of 110 girls)
Rural: 27% (91 of 343 girls)
North: 30% (48 or 159 girls)
South: 22% (64 of 294 girls)

Responding girls who were in high school, from rural and/or northern locations, were much more likely to perceive themselves as victims of violence or abuse (and again, no definitions of the abuses were offered, just a check box). To say that the older the girl, and the more remote her location—presumably more removed from services and emergency help—the more danger she could be in is a frightening observation from this data. The actual types of abuse and violence are charted below, giving the number of girls who checked the abuse, the percentage within the self identified group, and the percentage from the survey respondents as a whole:

Types of Abuse/Violence That Respondents Self-Identify:
Totals and Percentage
  Number Of Girls % of Survey Population
Sexual Abuse 37 8%
Verbal Abuse 70 15%
Physical Abuse 31 7%
Acquaintance Rape 10 2%
Gang Violence 7 1%
Other Violence 15 3%

It is counter-intuitive that a higher number of girls would consider themselves victims of sexual abuse than physical abuse. But these are the reported numbers from the girls themselves. Did they include sexual harassment, perhaps in their understanding of “sexual abuse”? Without further questioning, this data remains unclear. The next few questions re-asked the previous questions but in more specific terms and may offer an easier way to understand information:

Has domestic violence, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or verbal abuse been a problem for girls? Do they know how to get help? Was that person living in her home and/or a relative?

Domestic violence.

71 girls, 15% of the survey sample, indicated that domestic violence is or has been a problem in their homes. 65 of those 71 (92%) girls said that they know how to get help. 6 girls (8%) did not.

Physical violence.

112 girls, 25% of the survey sample, indicated that they have been subject to physical abuse (being intentionally hurt or injured). 64 of these 112 girls (57%) said it was a relative or person living in her home. In more than half of the cases of girls who have been victims of physical abuse, the girls have not been safe in their own homes.

Sexual abuse.

70 girls, 15% of the survey sample, said they have been sexually abused. Only 52 (74%) of them said that she knew how to get help, and 43 girls (61%) said that the perpetrator was someone from her own home—again, revealing that some girls are not safe in their own homes.

Verbal abuse.

An amazing 235, 51% of the survey sample, said that they have been verbally abused (constantly put down, yelled at). Of these girls, 152 (65%) said the source of the abuse was someone living in her home. 83 of the girls (35%) did not say it was a person from her own home.

Suicide: How often do girls have thoughts about ending their own lives?

The Mainely Girls survey did not ask the girls if they had ever attempted suicide, just if they had ever considered it. 28% of the total sample checked one of the following: “once in a while,” “frequently,” or “everyday.” 10% of the girls have had suicidal thoughts or impulses in the past “but not anymore.” The majority of the girls said “never,” which is the good news. While girls make more attempts at suicide than boys, girls who do attempt suicide often choose less violent (i.e. not guns or hanging) methods that have higher failure rates or provide for greater chance of intervention (e.g., drug overdose, cutting of wrists).

The Maine Kids Count 1999 Data Book reports that in Maine, the child suicide rate was 11 per 10,000 children aged 10-19 over a five-year average, 1992-1996.

How do girls describe their bodies? How often do they diet?

The girls were given four choices to describe their bodies: “about right,” “too thin,” “too heavy,” or “how I feel depends on the time of day. Over 50% indicated that they are not happy with how they look or what they weigh. 42% of the girls are exercising 4 or more times per week, with the number of girls who don't exercise at all matching the number of girls who exercise 6-7 times a week.

Describe Body As: %
About right 50%
Too thin 4%
Too heavy 27%
Depends 19%

Diet? %
Always diet 6%
Sometimes diet 47%
Never diet 44%
Did but do not diet anymore 3%

How many times do girls exercise per week (on average)?

Weekly exercise habits.

Never 1-2x/wk 3x/wk 4-5x/wk 6-7x/wk >8/wk
11% 26% 23% 22% 12% 8%

What are the cross-tabulations of body perception and exercise?

A solid 50% of the girls are feeling their body size is about right. There are 50% who are not comfortable with their bodies. 55% fall in a range of exercise of three to seven times a week.

Body perception and amount of exercise per week.
None 1-2x/wk 3x/wk 4-5x/wk 6-7x/wk 8x/wk TOTAL/%
About right 28 girls 48 girls 48 girls 62 girls 21 girls 20 girls 227, 50%
Too thin 3 girls 6 girls 3 girls 1 girl 4 girls 0 girls 17, 4%
Too heavy 14 girls 34 girls 29 girls 18 girls 18 girls 10 girls 123, 27%
Depends 9 girls 28 girls 15 girls 21 girls 11 girls 5 girls 89, 19%
TOTAL/% 54 girls/ 12% 116 girls/ 25% 95girls / 21% 102 girls/ 22% 54 girls / 12% 35 girls/


456 girls/


How much of television and movies do girls watch per week for entertainment?

202 girls, 44% of the survey sample, watch TV and movies either everyday or almost everyday. The lifestyle and time demands change between junior high girls and high school girls so that 49% of the younger girls watch TV this much, but it drops to 36% with the older girls.


This series of questions was included in Part Two: Body, Heart and Soul, but after a few initial questions on orientation and perceived “best time” to first have sex, only girls who had had sex filled out the remainder of the section.

How do the respondents define their sexual orientation?

Of the 459 girls, only nine said they consider themselves to be non-heterosexual. Those nine selected “bisexual” as their sexual orientation. No girls indicated identification as homosexual or lesbian. The uncontrolled distribution of the survey, or an unintended bias in the survey semantics, or the societal bias against non-hetero orientation (trans-gendered, homosexual, questioning, or other), or even a girl's own place in development may have resulted in this number being lower than what is actually true in our survey sample. Also, a large number of youth who are on the streets and not in schools have left home due to conflicts about their sexuality.

What do girls think is the ideal time to first have sex?

The percentages are based on the respondent total for this question of 408, but the answers below exceed 100% because 56 girls chose more than one answer.

Ideal Time to First Have Sex %
Middle school/Junior high 5%
High school 18%
After high school 18%
20 to 25 years old 10%
When you are married 27%
When you are in a committed relationship 13%
Whenever you find the right person 13%
Can't say 8%

How many of the respondents have had sex? How old were they, and how old was their partner?

22%, or 101 of the 459 girls surveyed had had sex. We did not ask if the girls had had a sexual experience with the same sex, and would amend this in a future query, but to the best of our understanding, their partners were all male. The majority of all the survey participants were either 12-13 year olds/7th graders or 15-16 years old/11th graders and the question was about their first sexual experience. 79 of the 101girls had partners who were the same age or within 5 years of their age. Except for one girl, all of the partners were older.

Sexual activity Number of girls
Age 7 1
Age 8 2
Age 11 2
Age 12 7
Age 13 18
Age 14 17
Age 15 29
Age 16 25
Age 17 2
Total girls 101

50%, 85 of the total 169 high school girls surveyed, had had sex between the ages of 12 and 17.

6%, 16 of the total 290 junior high girls surveyed had had sex between the ages of 7 and 13.

The increase of sexual activity is expected as the girls get older, and the percentage jump is startling. None of the junior high girls surveyed actually had their first sexual experience at age 14, yet the high school girls had a high incidence of first sexual activity at age 14. This gap in the data might indicate that the transition time between spring and fall of their 8th grade and 9th grade year is actually an important time.

The data from the 101 girls who had had sex is examined in different points, with further explanation or comment:

47% of the 101 girls were 14 or younger when they first had sex.

Close to half of the girls have had sex before they've finished their 9th grade year. This is valuable information for parents who are unsure of when to have sexual information talks with their children. Clearly, girls' sexuality becomes an issue for a girl sooner than perhaps parents and our society may be prepared to admit.

76% of the 101 girls were under the legal age of consent.

Though a girl may have had sex before the age of 16, it doesn't necessarily mean the sexual encounter was statutory rape. If the girl is under the age of consent, less than 16 years old, and if the partner is 5 or more years older, that is statutory rape. For example, if a girl is 14 and her partner is 18, that's legal; if she is 14 and he is 19, that is not. Maine law indicates that the legal age of consent is 16 years (Maine Criminal Statue Book, Title XVII). Gross sexual assault, or rape, can be found under several conditions and contingencies. For example, if the girl (or boy, if the victim is a male) is not yet 14 years of age; if intoxicants or drugs were involved; if the victim is of a less-than-able mental status; if the victim is unconscious or rendered physically incapable, for a few examples.

15% of the 101 girls had partners who were 5 or more years older.

Two of the girls were of the age of consent, but fourteen of the girls, who were under the age of 16, had partners that ranged 5 to 13 years older. Therefore, even if the girls were willing—some of the girls in fact indicate that they are in love with their partner—their partners could possibly be convicted as felons.

10% of the partners with whom the girls first had sex were between the age of 20 and 26.

Keeping in mind that mostly 7th and 11th graders took this survey, this statement points to a serious problem. The age range of these particular ten girls was 13 to 17, with only four of them at the legal age of consent, and two of them being within four years of their partners' age. Eight of these ten girls' first sexual experience was with a man who was in his twenties and between 5 and 13 years older.

Why did the girls choose to have sex, for the first time?

As this was an open response question here, some of the girls' answers had more than one component to them. There were eleven types of responses identified, listed in descending order.

“Because I wanted to/I was ready." 65 girls indicated that they themselves chose to have sex, sometimes saying they trusted their partners and felt respected by them. Also included in this category were responses such as "Felt the urge" and "I was horny" which are important reminders that girls experience their sexuality and sexual feelings as strongly as anyone.

"Love." 20 of the respondents said the reason they became sexually involved was because they were in love with their partner. Some of these answers said it was still true; others indicated it no longer was so.

"I don't know." 13 girls simply stated that they didn't know why they chose to have sex. Carol Gilligan's work on dissociation indicates that girls do know, but push away their own knowing.

"Long-term/committed relationship." 11 respondents explained they chose to have sex because of the status of their relationship.

"Forced/raped." 6 girls stated that the reason they had sex for the first time was because it was forced upon them.

"He wanted to/pressured." 4 girls gave over their own voice and choice in their decision to have sex for the first time.

"I was drunk." 4 girls explained their first sexual experience was had under the influence of alcohol.

"Thought he would leave me." 3 girls gave in to sexual pressure because they felt it was necessary to do so in order to stay in the relationship.

"He was my boyfriend." 2 girls gave this answer, which is widely open for interpretation. It implies an assumed behavior, but doesn't easily or clearly indicate that they felt ready or wanted to, as in the first category above.

"I was stupid." 2 girls actually called themselves stupid, and 2 others referred self-deprecatingly to their confusion in their choice.

Many of the girls responding to these questions about their first sexual experiences were or seem to be still happy with their decision: "We respected each other." "Because it felt right." "Because we discussed it, and had been abstinent for over a year. We both wanted to share the experience, we are still in love today.” 60% of the respondents' answers were quite positive in this way, and didn't hint at any regret.

For the 13 girls who didn't or couldn't explain why they choose sex that first time, their neutrality is telling. They are likely to be still sorting out the experience and their emotions--restrictions of time and place, the amount of internal or external pressure, the experience level of her partner, and how the relationship has continued since the encounter, probably factor in to the "I don't know." Setting aside those who said their first sexual encounter was forced, there were 23 girls who either out right or semantically indicted regret or disappointment: "I thought I was in love." "I felt like that person really cared and was not going to leave me or hurt me. Well, I guess I was wrong." "I thought it was the right person, didn't know better."

Have the girls ever felt pressure to have sex, and what was the source of that pressure?

Unfortunately, only the girls who had had sex were asked this question--undoubtedly there are many girls who have not yet had sex have been pressured. Of the girls who have had sex, 47 of them did say they had felt pressure. 29 of them indicated it was pressure felt from the male, usually a boyfriend, with the spectrum of pressure being perceived as unintentional ("my boyfriend made me feel pressured even though he didn't know") to violent ("my ex-boyfriend raped me"). Sometimes it was just a date or guys who were around when the girl was drunk, and in at least one case, it was a friend's brother. 5 girls felt pressure from peers ("my friends did--they said if you don't do it you're just a kid and I have not had a lot of friends so to have them like me I did") and 3 girls felt "personal pressure" to perform.

Do those who have had sex wish they had waited before becoming sexually active?

59 of the 101 girls said they wish they had waited.

Have any of the respondents ever been pregnant? Had an abortion?

15 of the girls who've had sex have been pregnant: 4 junior high school girls and 11 high school girls. In our survey sample, this is just 3 %, which is well below the national and state figures for teen pregnancy. 9 of the girls miscarried, 3 had an abortion, and 3 gave birth and kept the child. No adoptions were indicated.

According to the Maine Children's Alliance's 1999 Data Book, births to unmarried teenage mother who've not completed 12 years of school was 8.4 per 1,000 females aged 10-19 over a five year average, 1992-1996. This was down 4.6% from their 1998 data, and puts Maine with one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the country.

Are the sexually active using birth control? Aware of STD's? Practicing safe sex?

What was revealed is that girls mean the Pill when they refer to “birth control”, and “safe sex” is equated with the use of condoms. 66% of the sexually active respondents say they always use birth control. 16% use an unspecified method of birth control, and 18% never use birth control.

These numbers are not quite as alarming when looked at alongside their responses to their safe sex practice: All of the girls said they are aware of the dangers of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. While there is a slight drop slightly with the number of girls always practicing safe sex to protect themselves from HIV and other STD', 64%, only 10% never practice safe sex. The middle answers of only usually or sometimes practicing safe sex jumps to 26%.

Girls' comments after Part Two: Body, Heart and Soul.

There had been cheerleading-type responses, or lack of clarity expressed about what was going on so far after Part One, Part Two sparked quite a flood of remarks. . Some expressed frustration with the lack of opportunity in some of the questions to accurately respond, due to the limitations of their choices. The girls wanted to further clarify things that they had been asked about, mostly about the topic of sex. Many girls felt that the survey was way too personal, or that we were asking too much about their sexual lives. “Gross!” “Funny!” “Cool!!!!...” were interspersed with the recommendation we mind our own business and longer remarks about their opinions about being sexually active:


What are girls' favorite activities, in or out of school?

Hats off to Title IX! 71% of the girls indicated that they play sports, either club, school, or recreationally, and this percentage was consistent among junior high/high school, urban/rural, or northern/southern girls. While many play different sport for different seasons, their favorites are listed below. This list should be useful when considering what programming or opportunities to offer to girls. Their favorite activities have been divided into sports and non-sports activities, and are listed in descending order of frequency mention in each of the categories:

Sports Activities
  • Basketball
  • Soccer
  • Swimming
  • Softball/baseball
  • Working out/Athletics in general
  • Skiing/snowboarding
  • Running/track
  • Skating (figure and roller blading)
  • Dancing
  • Field hockey
  • Cheering
  • Horseback riding
  • Biking
  • Tennis
  • Volleyball
  • Gymnastics
  • Hiking/outdoors
  • Walking
  • Karate
  • Lacrosse
  • Boating/wind surfing
  • Bowling
  • Racing
  • Yoga
  • Football
  • Paintball
Non-Sports Activities
  • Hanging with friends/talking on the phone
  • Listening to/creating music
  • Singing
  • Art
  • Theatre
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Shopping
  • School
  • TV
  • School clubs
  • Movies
  • Computer/internet
  • Family
  • Student government
  • Photography
  • Peer support work
  • Animals
  • Cooking/baking
  • Math Team
  • Collecting things
  • Games
  • Spectator sports
  • Travel
  • Partying
  • Babysitting
  • Volunteering
  • Working
  • Church Activities
  • Girl Scouts
  • Film making
  • Eating
  • Knitting/sewing
  • Zine making

How many girls work? What are they paid for their work?

The number of girls who are working is amazing: 391 of 459. 95% of high school girls and 88% of junior high girls. The numbers were just a couple of percentage points higher for girls who were urban and southern dwelling than rural and northern. Many of the girls had multiple sources of employment, but 65% had babysitting as at least one source. Babysitting was done more frequently for urban (74%) or junior high girls (69%) than rural (62%) or high school girls (58%).

Job Type Number of girls
Babysitting 299
Retail 39
Cleaning 33
Farm work 29
Family business 23
Food service 17
Landscape 17
Wait staff 6
Animal sitting 13
Technical/Office work 13
Education 9
Ice cream shop 4
Senior care 3
Paper route 2
Misc. labor oriented 13
Misc. non-labor oriented 27

The girls' pay was a bit difficult to figure out, as they were asked to give the pay range per hour and some were unable to answer that because they were paid by the job/task, or, they simply didn't know how much they made.

Lowest pay range of the 381 girls with jobs.

Lowest pay range Number of girls Percentage
Under Minimum Wage

(currently $5.15)

251girls 66%
$3 or less per hour 157 girls 41%
$5.15 to $10 per hour 89girls 23%
Don't know pay 33 girls 9%

Highest pay range of the 381 girls with jobs.

Highest pay range

Number of girls Percentage
Under Minimum Wage

(Currently ($5.15)

196 girls 51%
$3 or less per hour 94 girls 25%
5.15 to $10 per hour 141 girls 37%

The lowest pay range table gives the lowest of what the girls might make per hour. When looking at the girls' pay, using their highest pay range, the number of girls who make under minimum wage drops down to 51%. When an urban/rural sort is applied to the lowest pay range, rural dwelling girls fare a little better, with only 64% of them making under minimum wage while 73% of the urban girls responding who work making under minimum wage.

What does a girl have to do/be to be accepted by the kids in her school—not just her friends? A boy?

We asked girls what a girl had to do or be to be accepted, and followed that with what they felt a boy had to do or be. Their answers were sometimes short and to the point—“nothing”, “dress good”, “be cool”—and others were long lists of specific do's and don'ts. 6% of those who did respond (408 for the girls' question, and 407 for the boys' question) said they didn't know what a girl had to do and 10% said they didn't know what a boy had to do. About 13% said that both girls and boys simply had to be themselves or do nothing in particular to be accepted (although immediately after saying this, several qualified their answer by adding that clothes or looks were important).

Note that the percentages below do not total 100 as many of the girls listed multiple answers to the question. We would caution readers in underestimating seriousness and importance of the responses about peer acceptance, as even in their apparent humor and sarcasm, they are quite serious. Dress codes and behavior pressures are not superficial or trivial.

The single largest factor according to the girls responding is that a girl be "nice" or "outgoing". Those answers and variations totaled 29%. 16% feel that a girl has to be "cool" or "popular". The numbers for boys was slightly inverted. The single largest factor for boys was to be "cool" or "popular", the 93 responses giving this answer 23%. 17% believed a boy has to be "nice" or "outgoing" to be accepted.

16% felt looks were important for girls to be accepted, closely matched by 14% believing looks were important for boys. 8% specified that a thin body was important for a girl, while only 5 respondents or 1% of the girls mentioned a thin or tall body for boys as key to social acceptance. 23% indicate that cool clothes are critical for girls and 17% indicate that cool clothes are necessary for boys.

Athleticism had a significant gender difference: while 14% said it was important for boys to be athletic, only 4% indicated as such for girls. The other large gender gap was that 37% believe that boys have to act macho, rude and/or obnoxious to be accepted, and there wasn't any clear counterpart answer for girls' behavior besides a couple of answers that said a girl needed to be flirty or ditzy (under 2%). Other perceptions that registered multiple responses include being funny (6% for girls, 8% for boys), being smart (4% for girls, 3% for boys), doing drugs, smoking or drinking (3% for both), conforming (11% for girls, 6% for boys), and being a good, honorable person (5% for girls, 3% for boys).

Do girls feel physically safe in school?

Physically safe? No Not all the time Yes
Total sample 4% 21% 75%
Rural dwelling 4% 20% 76%
Urban dwelling 6% 24% 70%

The number one reason why girls didn't feel safe in their school was because of other kids—their moods, behavior, fights, and threats. The next largest group was of girls who felt targeted specifically. Drugs and/or smoking was followed by girls who didn't feel safe due specifically to the behavior of boys who target girls—rape, sexual harassment, verbal abuse and general physical safety being their concerns. Next, girls were troubled by both kids who bring weapons to school and by the other school shootings happening around the country (Note that the majority of the students took this survey before the Columbine incident in April 1999.). Girls were aware of groups who were targets—arty kids, gay/lesbians, nerds, or specific races. Additional reasons cited at least once include the presence or lack of presence of police; bomb scares; intimidating teachers; the physical plant's condition; and, for one girl, her own predilection for fighting made it unsafe for her at school. In their words:

Strangely, what makes some girls feel safe and reassured might not make adults feel so easy:

The overwhelming reasons for feeling safe is because they don't perceive their school as a place for violence or weapons, and they feel their teacher and principals are watching out for them. For so many, the size of their school and/or community made them feel safe. Fourth on their list was having friends who offered security and protection, and not feeling personally targeted. This was followed by girls being confident in their own strength and ability to defend themselves. Getting at least one mention were family proximity to the school, presence of a police officer and cleanliness of the school.

Do girls feel its safe to be themselves in school?
Safe to be self? No Not all the time Yes
Total sample 9% 19% 72%
Rural dwelling 9% 17% 74%
Urban dwelling 9% 25% 67%

For many of the girls, their confidence in who they were in relationship to their peers was extremely strong and positive, as their remarks indicate. Does that mean they have found out the rules of the game and assimilated early on? Does it mean that they have to work hard to maintain their strength? Does the community at their school support and challenge them? It would be interesting to know how seriously these girls have been challenged about their individuality. One girl from southern rural high school felt that girls had more lee-way for being who they want to be than boys do: "You are more respected if you are who you are...(this only applies to girls, for boys, it is safer to be like others)."

Sexuality is only one of the areas where it is not always safe for a girl to be herself. One issue is choosing to be or not be sexually active and the possible fallout when that information gets out to her immediate peer group or beyond. Another issue is sexual orientation and how safe it is to explore or even acknowledge non-heterosexuality. While one of the girls did say she could be open about her sexuality, others indicated that it was not safe to address sexuality or orientation.

Being a target for teasing, exclusion and harassment was the main reason why girls said it was not safe to be themselves at school. And whether she lives in a rural or an urban area, the close and closed community of the school makes it impossible to escape when things go wrong in the peer group. While clothes, behaviors, circles of friends delineate some things for a time, for some students the security of acceptance cannot be locked in. As one junior high girl from a northern rural school said, You can't be too sure about anything." For the young women who are feeling strong and secure, hats off. "I am all `dat.'"

Do girls think of themselves as smart? Why?

83% of the girls answered “yes!” 2% said “yes and no.” Over half of the girls taking the survey indicated that at least part of the reason they considered themselves to be smart or not smart was based on their school grades. Many girls were unable or unwilling to consider why or why not too deeply, responding simply, “Because I am!" Several girls explained their smartness as due to the fact they didn't do drugs, had common sense, an ability to tell right from wrong, or because of their effort/willingness to learn. Other explanations:

What are their grades?

The majority of the girls participating in the survey are getting good grades in school. The girls report that about 22% of them are getting all A's in their classes, 41% get A's and B's. 28% get mostly B's and C's with the occasional A or D, and 8% of the respondents get C's D's and F's. A grade is one indicator of how things are going for girls, and certainly when they drop below C-level we would expect the traditional support systems to come into play. What we are recognizing is that the traditional support systems and means of identifying and subsequently attending to at-risk youth, don't necessarily take care of at-risk girls. The explanations of girls who have considered dropping out of school, and their sentiments are reflected in other data from the survey.

First, the numbers of girls who've considered dropping out: 40 of the younger girls (14% of the 290 junior high girls) and 34 of the high school girls (20% of the 169 high school girls) have considered dropping out of school. Half of the junior high girls said that they wanted to drop out either because they were bored or because they hated it (no further explanation). The next most frequent reasons were 1) because of stress or difficulty, 2) because they felt they weren't learning or school was a waste of their time, or, 3) because of difficulty with either peers or teachers. The high school girls had the same types of responses, but the distribution was a little different and they tended to give longer, more detailed, and obviously more considered answers. The number one reason, cited by a third of the high school girls, was because they felt that school was a waste of their time and that they weren't learning anything, a few of them indicating that they would prefer to home school or could educate themselves better. It would probably be safe to assume that several of these girls are bored, but only one high school girl gave boredom as an answer. The next frequent response was that they "hated it" (school), followed by peer relations and by feelings of stress and pressure, and depression. A few other reasons offered were their teachers or a desire to be with family (for one girl, her mother; for another, her child).

What are girls' favorite and least favorite courses?

The girls were asked about their favorite and least favorite class and why they felt that way. Because this was a fill in the blank, and the options were not controlled, many girls put in more than one response for each of the requests.

Essentially there was a three-way tie for most favorite class (24-25%): English/writing classes, Math, and Social Studies/History. A distant fourth place were Science classes (13%), and combined tally of Arts, Music, and Theatre was just 11%.

Only two girls said that computer classes and three girls said accounting classes were their favorite. Knowing what we know about the place of computers and business in the working world today, this is quite a concern and we need to look for ways to make computers more relevant and interesting in girls lives.

For least favorite classes of the girls taking the survey, Math classes took the lead with 32%, and Science classes followed at 24%. English/writing classes and Social Studies/History classes tied for third least favorite class at 15%.

There was a slightly higher percentage of high school girls who said Science was their favorite class, and a slightly higher percentage of junior high girls who said Science was their least favorite class. A slightly higher percentage of junior high girls said Math was their favorite, and a slightly higher percentage of high school girls gave Math as their least favorite.

When girls named a math or science class as their favorite, it was more about whether or not they were good or understood the subject, with only a few saying it was because of the teacher. With the other classes, it was very much about their interest in the subject, that they liked the activities and found the class fun, interesting and challenging. And unlike with math or science classes, many girls specifically listed the teacher as a factor when they liked a class.

When a math or science class was named as their least favorite, the overwhelming response was because they were not good at the subject. The next largest response was the fact they thought the class was boring or irrelevant, and the third factor being the teacher. When talking about other classes being their least favorite, the largest factor was if they thought the class was boring or irrelevant, followed by the teacher, and then their ability to understand.

How skilled do girls perceive themselves at math, science, computers and reading?

Nearly all the girls answered this question, with the percentages based on 453 to 455 out of the 459 survey respondents. Junior high students seemed more confident at their computer skills and reading abilities, while the high school girls were slightly more confident than the younger girls in both math and science.

Math Junior High High School Total Sample
Good 50% 57% 52%
Not good 15% 16% 15%
Not bad but not great 35% 27% 32%
Science Junior High High School Total Sample
Good 53% 58% 55%
Not good 13% 10% 12%
Not bad but not great 34% 32% 33%
Computers Junior High High School Total Sample
Good 69% 51% 62%
Not good 5% 10% 7%
Not bad but not great 26% 39% 31%
Reading Junior High High School Total Sample
Good 72% 59% 67%
Not good 8% 5% 7%
Good but slow 20% 35% 26%

Do girls consider dropping out of school? Why?

17% of the survey sample has considered dropping out of school. As may be expected, the high school rate, 21%, was higher than the junior high rate, 14%. While there was no difference with an urban and rural sort, there was substantial difference between northern and southern dwelling girls: 11% of the northern sample had considered dropping out while 20% of the southern dwelling girls had considered it. Their reasons are listed in descending order of frequency:

  • Hate it (17 responses)
  • Not learning anything/Waste of time (13 responses)
  • Stress/Difficulty of work (11 responses)
  • Boredom (10 responses)
  • Negative peer environment (9 responses)
  • Depression (4 responses)
  • Negative interaction with teachers (4 responses)
  • Wanting to be with parent or child (3 responses)

If the answers of boredom, feeling that school is a waste of time, and simply hating it can be combined, that accounts for over half of the girls' reasons for wanting to drop out of school.

Do girls perceive that women's accomplishments and contributions are well represented in their school and curriculum?

77% of the girls responding to the question felt that women were well represented in their school, classes, text books and course offerings, with 22% feeling the opposite. The remaining 1% was unsure.

What are girls' experience with sexual harassment and affirmative action?
  • “I think it is important to have [a sexual harassment] program in schools. I am glad it is important for our school so when it happened to me I knew what I could do and what I should do.”
  • “I feel sexual harassment is overrated and blown out of proportion. Girls need to know the difference between acceptable flirting and harassment. The line is thin but often girls are confused and abuse the privilege of `crying' harassment.”

38% (173 girls) of the total survey sample said that they had been sexually harassed by another student. The percentage of junior high girls, 36%, was slightly lower than the number of high school girls, 41%. While 68% said that the harassment had stopped, 32% indicated it hadn't at all or gave a "yes and no" answer.

The girls were asked how they dealt with the harassment and their answers can be categorized in three general responses: they either laughed or ignored it; they dealt with the situation themselves; or, they told someone. Some of the girls gave multiple responses as they had had multiple experiences and handled it different ways at different times, according to the severity and their perceived safety in the situation.

A full third of the girls, 34%, said they had just "laughed" it off or "ignored" the situation altogether.

22%, or 38 girls, had taken the situation in their own hands, and some of their responses are listed below:

How did being sexually harassed make girls feel?

A full third of the girls told someone about the harassment, often a school counselor, teacher or principal but also their mothers or boyfriends. Five girls had even gone to the police and/or pressed charges. Of the girls who did nothing or took the situation in their own hands, 30% to 33% indicated that the problem had not fully been solved, whereas the girls who told someone about the harassment, 25% of them still experienced the problems.

While five girls experienced harassment that escalated to the extreme and went to the police, none of the girls specifically indicated that she had gone to her school's affirmative action officer.

Girls' comments at the end of Part Three: Body, Heart and Soul.

Here the girls were less annoyed with the survey and its creators than they were at the end of the second section. Their responses reiterated earlier sentiments, provided encouragement, or explained further thoughts related to questions. The final remarks that came at the end of the survey offer more insights.


We asked a series of questions about the girls' thoughts and plans for their future, starting by asking them to indicate all options that might possibly apply. Some girls checked all the boxes in the list; others just selected a few.


89%, or 410 of the 459 girls indicated that they are planning on going to college at some point in their future, right after high school or after some work or travel. Many girls checked both options, allowing that they would consider both in and out of state college options. But, those who preferred out of state colleges (58%) substantially exceeded those preferring in-state (38%). Girls from rural and northern locations were more likely to consider a Maine college than their urban and southern counterparts. Girls from urban and southern locations were more likely to be planning for an out-of-state college experience.

Maine College Out of State College
Rural 23% 74%
Urban 43% 53%
North 49% 47%
South 32% 67%
Total Sample 38% 58%

That so many girls are planning to attend college is significant, and it is consistent with the national trends of female college enrollment being on the rise as well as above male enrollment. This survey indicates their mothers have had more years of formal education than their fathers. Will it be possible for all of these girls who are planning to go to college to actually attend? How many will get to college and drop out due to finances, pregnancies, performance, or other unforeseen circumstances?

Married with children?

49% of the total survey sample said future plans included getting married, a number that increased to 60% when qualified as "Get married after college." There was no significant difference in the numbers when sorted geographically. 44% plan on starting a family, increasing to 54% when qualified as after college. Again, there was not a serious difference in percentages when the responses were sorted according to location.

If you plan to get married, at what age would you like that to happen?

There were just 368 respondents for this question, and often they gave a range of ages. In order to quantify their answers the following numbers address the earliest age that they would like to be married. 23% of them said between the ages of 17 and 21. 26%, perhaps thinking of finishing college first, said between the ages of 22 and 24. The largest grouping and type of answer was either written in words or numerically "mid" to "late" twenties. 40 percent of the respondents said between the ages of 25 and 29 as the earliest age they would like to marry. 7%, or 26 respondents, said 30 to 35.

If girls plan to have children, at what age would they like to become a mother?

The responses to this question resemble a bell-curve. About 15% of the total survey sample didn't respond to this question. Seven girls would like to be married before they turn 18, one of whom actually is married at this time. 10% (40 girls) responded to this question gave an age between 18 and 21. 15% (57 girls) gave an age between 22 and 24. Nearly half of the girls responding, 47% (185), said they would like to start motherhood by their mid to late 20's. 19% (75 girls) indicated an age between 30 and 36, and just two respondents gave the age of 40 as their preferred motherhood age.

If girls plan to have children, how many would they like to have?

Working with the 402 respondents who gave their preferred number of children, 55% indicated a maximum of two children. The largest response was for a maximum or two or three children, with 67%. 14% of the girls responding said four children, if we include those who indicated four children as the maximum in their preferred range, with 35 girls of those girls wanting at least four children. One girl was going to leave the choice up to God, and one girl was going to leave the choice up to her husband. Four were clear that they wanted no children, and two preferred adopting to birthing their own. Note that ranges were usually given, so the percentages will not total 100 for these numbers.

Combinations of work, college, travel, and other plans.

76% of the girls checked "Work" as a part of their future plans, a number that is indicated as even higher in a later question asking them specifically how they planned to support themselves once they finished their education (see below). Just 5% said they would plan to work first before going to college. 59% would like their future to include travel, again with 5% planning travel before attending college. Just 7% indicated other plans such as military service.

Work and Career Plans?

The girls were asked how they planned to support themselves once they concluded their education. The overwhelming response--87%--was by working. Nine girls included a partner's income would help support them, and just eight girls planned on marrying and having their husband support them. (As found earlier in the data, 81% of the girls had mothers who worked outside of the home.) The expectation that girls will support themselves or expect to work even if they are married is certainly something that has shifted into place over the last few decades and may not be of any surprise. What it raises is the question: what is being done to prepare girls for this economic reality, including expanding their career options and subsequent earning power? But first, what do the girls think they will be doing with their working lives?

  • 63 Arts (Music, Photography, Acting, Dance, Writing)
  • 60 Teaching
  • 55 Medical Field
  • (38 specifically a Doctor or Psychologist)
  • 26 Science
  • 24 Veterinarian
  • 22 Counseling/Therapy/Social Work
  • 22 Lawyer
  • 18 Business/Bank/Accounting/Advertising
  • 13 Sports (Professional, Coaching or Therapy)
  • 13 Something with Children (not otherwise specified)
  • 11 Nurse
  • 11 Technology/Computers
  • 9 Animals
  • 9 Fashion or Interior Design
  • 8 Agriculture/Environment
  • 8 Architecture/Engineering
  • 8 Beautician
  • 8 Own a Business
  • 7 Reporter/Journalism
  • 7 Law Enforcement
  • 7 Model
  • 5 Secretary
  • 5 Management
  • 3 Travel/Flight Attendant
  • 3 Retail
  • 2 Interpreting Languages
  • 2 Massage Therapist
  • 2 Politics
  • 1 Cleaning
  • 1 Astronaut
  • 1 Military

Without placing imposing values or judgement on girls who are planning on more traditionally female careers (nurses, teachers, beauticians, travel/flight attendants...), this list reflects encouragingly high aspirations.

Where do girls want to live when they get older?

To the question of where she wants to live when she gets older, girls' answers ranged from "in a house" to a list of exotic overseas options. Some named a specific town or island in Maine and others gave rough criteria of geography (northern rural US) or topography (near mountains). A full third of the girls saw themselves living in Maine either permanently or at some point when they got older, and if we broaden this to the New England region, the number increased to 43%. Just 6% indicated a desire to live out of the country, with European countries and cities making up the bulk of their responses.

What kind of life would bring girls happiness right now as teenagers, and what problems get in the way of having that kind of life?

This was an open-ended question, eliciting clear and direct answers as well as long, thoughtful responses. Certain themes emerged. Each of the following categories ranged from 40 to 58 "votes", in descending order: friends (acceptance, access, more, better); family (harmony, quality time, health), money (from winning the lottery to having financial needs met); boyfriends (from wanting one to wanting to marry the current one); school (less homework, different school, grades). The other specific qualities or concerns that would make their lives happier (7 to 23 "votes" apiece) included: freedom; happiness (in general, to be thin, to be happy with oneself); less stress; fun/less boredom; different house or location (from access to school to living in Paris); sports (excellence or more access); car or license; peace/non-violence (from personal to global); and horses.

In response to what might be in the way of having the life they wanted, 65 girls said they were happy with their life as it is. The problems or obstacles that girls perceive, in descending order of frequency: Parents were far and above the most frequent response, with the girls wanting more freedom, trust, choice, and better relations with their mothers and fathers. Carrying about equal weight were school pressures (homework, grades, restrictions), money, and friends (pressures, negativity, acceptance). The stress and responsibility that girls carry get in the way about as much as the girls say they do themselves, citing a lack of motivation, bad choices, confidence and self-esteem as their obstacles. Jobs (either the lack thereof or their options for employment), location and proximity, a lack of time for rest and relaxation, the lack of boys or the pressures from the opposite sex, and weight and looks were all cited as well.

What kind of life would bring girls happiness as adults, and what problems might get in the way of that kind of life?

Overwhelmingly, these answers were very similar and very predictable: good husband, good family, a well-paying job, no financial worries, and a nice house. Sometimes it was qualified that the kids should be nice or healthy, that the husband should be rich, and the job a satisfying career.

While happiness as a teen very much included friendships, acceptance, activities, and freedom, only about 15 girls mentioned friendships as a part of a happy adulthood. About 40 girls qualified a future partnership/relationship as "loving", more often citing a desire for a nice or supportive husband instead of a loving relationship, and none indicated a preference for a same sex partner. This may be in part a self-censor as the preceding questions asked for traditional-family expectations and might not have seemed to invite non-heterosexual responses. One other striking absence or expectation is that while so many girls have sports as an important part of their lives right now, only half a dozen girls included sports as a part of adult happiness.

Because it is well established that the divorce rate is around fifty percent, and that ninety percent of women will at some point in their lives have to support themselves, it is important to look at the number of girls who said a family and husband would bring them happiness and that there were just five girls who said that being independent or self sufficient would make them happy. Just as it's prudent to tell girls about the pregnancy rate and unprotected sex, girls should also know the economic realities of supporting oneself or being a single mother. While girls are expecting to work, they may not be expecting to be the sole breadwinner.

A lot of blank answers and "I don't know's" were registered with the question of what problems might get in the way of achieving happiness in their adult lives; some girls simply indicating that they were too young to even think about it yet. It's true that girls should be given time to just be kids while they still can, and that the onslaught of pressures and decision-making will arrive in their lives soon enough. That said, it's useful to note what they are--or are not--thinking about. The biggest obstacle to happiness was in the heterosexual-relationship arena: not being able to find a husband, not getting good one, divorce. Money, lack of college education (which was sometimes connected to money issues), and job (opportunities, or dissatisfaction) were the next clump of concerns. Bad decision-making, society, early pregnancies or marriages, death and health problems were also potential pitfalls. It's good to know that only a couple of girls found their looks or weight to be impediments to happiness.

Are there adults in girls' lives who support and listen to them, and what is their relationship to the girl?

No one gets where they are going completely by themselves, and support comes in many forms. 92% (438) of the respondents say there is a supportive adult in their lives, and many girls listed several adults they find supporting their plans, hopes and dreams.

62% said one or more of their parents are supportive. The teenage years are notorious for the contention between parents and children, and while they still may scuffle and struggle, this high number indicates that a lot of teenagers and their parents are finding success together. What was clear, though, is that other relatives are also extremely important sources of support for young women. 42% named relatives as supportive, with 10% being specifically a grandparent, 8% were aunts, and 24% other or unspecified relatives. Because the number of relatives who are not parents is so high, it is feasible that mentoring programs could look for ways to further support and enhance this close-to-home resource that girls already are aware of.

18% of the people girls cited couldn't be classified as relatives, either because they weren't one (boss, boyfriend, neighbor...) or because the second part of the question wasn't clear--many girls thought we were asking them to rate the relationship and their answers were "close", "good", "important", etc.

What opportunities would girls like to have to better prepare for their futures?

Before asking for final comments about the survey, the final question to the girls was about what types of opportunities and programming would helpful in making their future goals and plans a reality. The could check as many boxes as they liked.

INTERESTS Junior High High School TOTAL
Workshops or chat groups on self-image/esteem 29% 40% 33%
Workshops or chat groups on sexuality 15% 17% 16%
Information about sex: pregnancy prevention- STD's etc 26% 34% 29%
Anger (how to deal with it) 33% 41% 36%
Mentoring (spending time with an adult woman in order to learn new things) 25% 30% 27%
Leadership Club for girls 26% 37% 30%
Economic Empowerment (Own business, money management; looking at your financial future) 33% 44% 37%
Take Our Daughters To Work Day 44% 37% 42%
How to get the most out of high school 34% 57% 43%
Planning how to finance post-high school training 28% 47% 35%
Girls' conferences 26% 30% 27%
Camps for girls 35% 38% 36%
Special all-girl classes or workshops 40% 35% 38%
Computers 32% 24% 29%
Math and Science 26% 20% 24%
Art/Music/Theatre 40% 35% 38%
Video/Film 34% 25% 31%
Writing 32% 28% 31%

Other interests indicated that were not offered on this checklist included: Sports (kickboxing, karate, hockey, skiing/snowboarding, swimming); photography; zine making; politics; visiting colleges; first aid/health; reading or music groups. Said one girl: “Classes about people and relationships- like sociology and psychology- but with just girls so you could discuss girl issues.”

The number of girls interested in all-girl classes is extremely high. What does this say about girls' present educational environment? How do we begin to meet girls' expressed need for single-sex classes and when all girl classes are formed, what pedagogy or approaches should be tried?

For girls open to single sex education, time should be taken to consider the possibilities and outcomes of creating all-girl programming. For example, while girls may not be thinking of an all-girl computer class specifically because they are interested in a computer career, perhaps if given a more girl-friendly learning environment with computers, they could become open to a computer career option.

The girls' top careers were arts-oriented, so the high number of girls interested in arts and writing programming is not unexpected. Arts are relational, and girls often operate in a relational world. Therefore, people interested in boosting girls' self-image and self-esteem would do well to approach the issue from an arts perspective.

The numbers indicate that girls would like to challenge themselves. The trick to programming, of course, known by people who work with teenagers and especially girls is creating programming that they will actually attend. Sometimes that means providing transportation and food. It means competing for their time with other school, work, and family obligations. It means making progams safe, appealing, cool. And most of all, it means being flexible with expectations and desired outcomes.

Girls' final comments after completing the survey.

Before drawing observations from the survey data, it is most helpful to listen to what the girls had to say when they were done answering the questions. While some girls found the questioning difficult or too personal, many of the girls indicated that taking the survey helped them gain some perspective on their lives:

“Thank you for paying attention to our rights and feelings about some very sensitive issues, and helping us get in touch with ourselves as girls/women.”

“I think this was a really good idea. It made me really think about where I stand in my life, and things I can do about it. And what else is going on outside my life that may not affect me, such as gangs and drugs. Even though they are around me, it's not a part of my life directly. But it makes me more aware. I can't imagine living in an environment where I was afraid to go to school and go out at night. It makes me very thankful for the community in which I live.”

“You did a wonderful job. You weren't as boring as the other survey people asking the same question every time. Finally. Keep doing what you're doing helping girls in MAINE!”

“I don't really understand this focus on empowering girls. I know it needs to be done and maybe I'm spoiled but I thought the chicks were doing fine. Teen pregnancy is way down—that must mean something. Maybe what I'm saying is that when I'm president I won't focus so much on how to make girls feel better about themselves but rather on how we can prevent girls from feeling bad about themselves in the first place.”

“[The] survey made me think about what I need to do to accomplish my goals for the future. Makes me a bit nervous—but [I] needed a little reality check. Makes me feel sad about those women/girls who have had major problems in their lives. I look over it and realize that I am really lucky, and that my life is pretty great. I need to slow down, not allow myself to be stressed. This survey definitely made me stop and look at my life. A great time out.”


By listening to what the girls who took the survey had to say, greater insight to what life is like for some Maine girls can be gained. From the survey findings we have identified six key areas of concern for Maine girls. Girls are making choices about sex sooner than adults are often aware of and before girls understand their own sexuality. Depression and stress is going undetected in girls, and their involvement in high-risk behaviors is on the rise as they move out of junior high and into high school. Many girls responding to the survey are not safe in home, or in school, and the results of that will certainly play out in their lives. So many girls do not see what is happening at school as important or relevant to their futures.


The findings:

Girls become sexually active by middle school, and they need support to understand their sexuality and make wise choices. 101 girls, 22% of the survey total had been sexually active. 85 (50%) girls of the 169 high school girls surveyed, and 16 (4%) of the 290 junior high girls had had sex. 47% of the 101 sexually active girls had had their first sexual encounter before they finished 9th grade. In eight cases, the girl's first partner was five to thirteen years older than the girl. 59% of the 101 girls wished they had waited to become sexually active, with many of them citing alcohol, or pressure from boys, their peers or themselves as reasons for choosing to become sexually active. Several girls indicated they were in committed and loving relationships and felt good about their choice to be sexually active. We also observed an interesting distinction. When girls talk of birth control, they mean oral contraceptives; practicing safe sex to girls means using condoms.


Improve and expand ways to teach girls not only about sex, the rights and responsibilities, of the pleasures inherent in and the problems associated with, but also their own female sexuality. When faced with making choices about if, when, with whom and why to become sexually active, girls need to have multiple kinds of support readily available to them: guidance from understanding adults, factual information, and direct services.


The findings:

Overall, 17% of the survey respondents indicated they suffer from depression, 13% in junior high and 24% in high school. A consistent 10% of the total sample was found to be chronically depressed, with initial findings indicating a higher incidence for girls living in northern and/or rural locations.


Further study is needed on depression in northern, southern, urban and rural girls and what help is available to them in those specific locations. Greater awareness and education needs to be done to spot depression in girls. Girls' depression needs to be taken seriously and efforts made to address their illness, which often leads to a host of other problems.


The findings:

34% of the girls surveyed say they always or almost always feel stressed, the distressingly high 27% of junior high girls increasing to an amazing 42% of high school girls. Once the girls get to high school, we know that the complexity of homework, increased responsibilities at home, and part-time jobs all factor into the stress. Increased peer pressures and high-risk behaviors such as smoking, drinking, and drugs (addressed below), are also a part of the mounting stress in girls' lives as they move from junior high to high school. Girls tend to hold stress in, and they can become angry and depressed, as Lyn Mikel Brown, Ph.D., notes in Raising Their Voices: The Politics of Girls and Anger. We need to be aware of suicidal signals and have action plans ready. 28% of the girls surveyed consider the idea of suicide occasionally to frequently. These are "active" suicide thoughts, versus "passive" attempts via eating disorders, carelessness, and other forms of risk-taking.


Girls need assistance in recognizing, reducing and managing stress. Training is needed to recognize the signs of stress in girls before their condition becomes exacerbated and takes new forms.


The findings:

Prevention education works best with junior high and middle school students, and we need to focus heavily on the younger children in those schools to prevent them from becoming involved with high risk behaviors. As the data shows, by high school many students are already smoking, drinking and using drugs. At the high school level, intervention is necessary to help them stop and education approaches shift to reinforce positive choices.

In all of these high-risk behaviors, the numbers dramatically increase between the junior high and high school girls. increase between the junior high and high school girls.

Behavior Junior High High School Total
Smoking 12% 30% 18%
Drinking 10% 39% 21%
Drugs 6% 22% 12%


Prevention and intervention strategies need to specifically address girls at both the junior high and high school levels. It's not enough to bring in the Marlborough Man and assume he reaches everyone.


The findings:

Violence and abuse touch the lives of many Maine girls, whether they are victims or witnesses, in home and/or at school—the two places where they should feel most safe. Often action is only taken when the abuse is deemed life threatening or results in physical evidence—provided the girl is willing to let the evidence be seen. Equally dangerous are years of verbal abuse and criticism. People living in the girls' homes had perpetrated over half of the incidences of sexual, verbal, and physical abuse according to our survey.

19% of junior high girls and 35% of high school girls self-identified as victims of abuse and violence.

  • 71 girls, 15% of the survey sample indicated that domestic violence is or had been a problem in their homes, 92% (65 girls) said they knew how to get help, and 8% (6 girls) who did not know how to get help.
  • 112 girls, 25% of the survey sample indicated that they had been subject to physical abuse, 57% (64 girls) saying the abuser was someone living in her home.
  • 70 girls, 15% of the survey sample said they had been sexually abused, 61% (43 girls) saying the perpetrators lived in their homes.
  • 235 girls, 51% of the survey sample said they had been verbally abused, 65% (152 girls) said the source was someone living in her home, 35% saying the abuser was not someone from home.


Girls need to learn about safe places, healthy relationships, and ways to break the cycle of family abuse. Work needs to be done in all-girl as well as co-educational settings to explore and support healthy relationships. Schools can partner with Maine's domestic violence school-based advocacy programs to educate girls as well as boys about healthy and unhealthy relationships.


The findings:

The safety of girls in school, as well as their attitudes about school are of concern, and are discussed separately below.

  • Safe to be yourself: About 40% of girls said they had to be "nice" or "outgoing" or had to conform to a stereotype to be accepted by the kids in their school. 29% of the girls said they didn't feel safe to be themselves all the time in school.
  • Physically safe: 25% of the girls responding did not feel safe in school at least some of the time. 38% said they had been sexually harassed, and only one third of those cases had been successfully resolved.
  • Attitudes: 17% of girls --14% of junior high girls and 20% of high school girls--have considered dropping out of school. The main reasons cited for this were hating it, not learning anything, stress/difficulty of work, and boredom. Overall, math and science classes were their least favorite classes; girls felt either they were not good in the subject, or that the classes were boring or irrelevant.

The level of safety, emotionally as well as physically, and the attitudes of girls about school, particularly with math, and science, are not new concerns. They are old problems that have not gone away and still need to be addressed. We have to ask if what we are providing for girls in our schools, in the school climate as well as academically and pedagogically is enough? In light of their negative responses about curriculum, harassment, safety, and school's relevance in their lives, it may be surprising that only 17% of girls have considered dropping out. While many girls say they consider themselves to be unique, strong individuals, we wonder what it is about a school environment that doesn't allow girls to be who they are in school. And we wonder what the ultimate cost to girls is.

In regards to single-sex education, 38% of the girls indicated interest in all-girl classes and workshops in areas such as computers, math, science, and arts. While single sex education is under great scrutiny, and is at times quite controversial, girls expressed high interest in single-sex opportunities.


Schools need to recognize and encourage individuality, diversity and differences. Additionally, girls need more single-sex learning opportunities.


Is all that the Mainely Girls survey found bad news? No. There is quite a bit of hope. Girls see themselves as smart, they have great ambitions--travel, college, careers, families-- for their futures, and they are mostly happy. Judging from the interest girls indicated in mentoring opportunities, leadership, economic empowerment, ways to get the most out of high school, and how to finance post-high school education, what may be helpful for girls is assistance with envisioning the possibilities of their futures, and help recognizing that the choices they make today are shaping their future. The fact that 92% of girls have at least one adult in their lives supporting their hopes and dreams is also good news. Often this adult was a woman--mother, aunt, grandmother, or older sister--and it is likely that this one woman will make a difference. These six areas--sex, depression, stress, high-risk behaviors, abuse and violence, and school--are of major concern and require direct and immediate action by all adults who interact with girls.

"But she was looking out, looking for someone to see her."
        -- Susanna Kaysen, Girl Interrupted

This quote by Susanna Kaysen tells of a young woman looking at a girl in a painting and interpreting what the girl in the painting was doing. As readers of the survey, we are the young woman looking at Maine girls, listening to the girls' voices as heard through this survey, hearing their words, interpreting what they are saying about themselves, their lives, their world. The girls are speaking out, hoping that we will hear them. We all need to listen carefully to understand where the young women in their lives are right now, and what can be done to support them in their journey toward womanhood.


Urban cities and towns in Maine

Definition from the Muskie School of Public Service: A note about the urban/rural classification of towns in Maine: this is a topic of considerable interest and debate. A number of classification structures have been developed over the years. Some would consider all towns within Maine's Metropolitan Statistical Areas (Bangor, Lewiston, Portland, and parts of York County that are included in the Portsmouth, N.H., MSA) to be urban, for instance. Others consider all towns within an MSA county to be urban; some are based on population density and/or traffic volume, and so on. We have chosen to place all MSA towns and all major towns along the Maine Turnpike/I-95 corridor as far north as Old Town in the urban category. We have also included as urban a few other towns that have high population density and easy access to an MSA in the urban classification (Ellsworth, for example). It is likely that there will be some difference of opinion on inclusion or exclusion of certain towns based on this definition of urban, but we find this to be a rational means for assigning urban/rural status to Maine's towns.

  • Auburn
  • Augusta
  • Bangor
  • Bath
  • Biddeford
  • Boothbay
  • Brewer
  • Brunswick
  • Cape Elizabeth
  • Eddington
  • Ellsworth
  • Falmouth
  • Freeport
  • Gardiner
  • Gorham
  • Hallowell
  • Hampden
  • Kennebunk
  • Kittery
  • Lewiston
  • Lisbon
  • Lisbon Falls
  • No. Yarmouth
  • Old Orchard Beach
  • Old Town
  • Orono
  • Portland
  • Randolph
  • Richmond
  • Saco
  • Scarborough
  • Sanford
  • So. Portland
  • So. Windham
  • Westbrook
  • Windham
  • Winthrop
  • Yarmouth

Surveys cited and additional publications

Maine Kids Count 1999 Data Book of Child Health Care Access. PO Box 2446, Augusta, ME 04338. 207-623-1868,