Gisela Konopka (1966) The adolescent girl in conflict Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall
Gisela Konopka (1910-2003) was born in Germany of Polish Jewish parents who had fled the pogroms in Poland; active in German youth movements before the rise of the Nazis, she met her future husband Paul Konopka and they both joined the resistance to Nazism. After she was briefly held in a concentration camp, they both left Germany, she for Austria where she was imprisoned again. They were ultimately reunited in France from where they emigrated to the US in 1941 and were married.
Entering the Pittsburgh School of Social Work, she encountered group work and became a lifelong advocate, introducing it to her native country after the war. She spent most of her working life at the Minnesota School of Social Work, formally retiring in 1978 but continuing to work into her nineties.
Interestingly, at her death, most of the obituaries highlighted her work with adolescent girls and this book in particular rather than her contributions to group work.
- Studies of adolescence focus on boys.
- Girls’ needs are more complex than boys’.
- Delinquent girls see themselves as ‘delinquents’ rather than as ‘girls’.
- Delinquent girls lack satisfying relationships with adults and are often prevented from developing satisfying relationships with their peers.
- Girls tend to see rejection as personal rather than as related to social attitudes.
- The only escape for working class girls from a life of drudgery at home and at work is to marry a wealthy man.
- Even with equal opportunities, the opportunities for boys are still wider than for girls.
- Most delinquent girls had never received any praise, something which is more important for girls than for boys because their self-esteem is more reliant on acceptance from others.
- The situations of delinquent girls can be best understood though their experiences of puberty, their relationships with their mothers, their working class status and the absence of satisfying relationships with adults.
- Young people should be seen as full members of society, barriers to communication should be removed so that there can be open discussion, the stigmatisation of unmarried mothers should end, there should be more appropriate youth services and there should be an end to all practices which degrade young women.
In Chapter 1 The study, she begins with examples of the isolation and vulnerability of young girls in three countries and points out that the only studies bridging the gap in understanding between the generations have been about boys. Yet girls can have both negative and positive influences on boys – provoking rivalry and reducing their offending. Meanwhile, those who care for girls in institutions are often bewildered by them and are unimaginative, whereas girls’ needs are often more complex than those of boys. She suggests that the lack of imagination is linked to the sexual potential of girls.
She therefore set out both to understand girls and to demonstrate how social group work could help them. Not being able to undertake a large study, she chose to look at those in homes for delinquent girls and for unmarried mothers.
She then surveys the existing literature on delinquency, pointing out that it focuses on boys and says nothing about girl delinquents. So, starting from the modern scientific viewpoint that objectivity is impossible, she decides to ignore theory and focus on listening to what the girls have to say in order to see the world through their eyes. She wrote individually to each of the girls in the institutions before her arrival, telling them about the purpose of her study, and visited each institution for several days at a time to share in the life of the girls, including queuing with the girls for meals, during the study.