, Volume 57, Issue 7-8, pp 557-568
Date: 09 Aug 2007

Perceived Gender Role Prescriptions in Schools, the Superwoman Ideal, and Disordered Eating Among Adolescent Girls

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In this study of 866 adolescent girls from US private schools we examined disordered eating. Based on the feminist theory of conflicting gender roles, we hypothesized that girls with greater disordered eating attitudes would be more likely to: (1) perceive more conflicting gender role prescriptions at school, and (2) endorse the superwoman ideal. We also predicted that the mechanism through which perceptions of conflicting gender role prescriptions at school influenced disordered eating was an individual’s endorsement of the superwoman ideal. The data supported this mediation model. Girls with perceptions of more intense behavioral prescriptions for excellence in academics, appearance, dating, and the androgynous gender role, tended to endorse the superwoman ideal which, in turn, was associated with greater disordered eating.

The first author dedicates this manuscript to Sue Rosenberg Zalk, former Editor of Sex Roles. Dr. Zalk was my mentor when I began this line of research in graduate school. Her knowledge about and passion for the study of gender was inspiring, and her genuine concern for students reassuring. She has been dearly missed since her premature passing in July, 2001.
The research conducted for this manuscript was drawn from a dissertation submitted to the Graduate Faculty in Psychology in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at The Graduate Center of CUNY. Sincere appreciation is given to the first author’s dissertation advisor, Dr. Setha Low, Dr. Ira Sacker, colleagues at H.E.E.D., the participating schools, and the participants themselves who all helped make this study possible.