Synopsis: Girls Like Us is an observational documentary that explores the ideologies young girls develop about their sexuality and how gender norms imposed by their family and/ or society shape their experiences. The film documents four years in the lives of four working-class teenage girls from diverse ethnic backgrounds residing in South Philadelphia. By following the girls between the ages 14 and 18, the film depicts the transitions that take place during each girl’s journey to womanhood. The documentary provide a multi-faceted view of teenage sexuality and presents themes such as coping with teen pregnancy, adhering to religious ideals, being treated differently than the males in their families, and either achieving or failing to reach educational goals.
First, we are introduced to Raelene (European/ American Indian descent) through a series of interviews and candid footage. Raelene’s story is the saddest of them all. During the four years, Raelene becomes pregnant twice starting at 14 years old and has numerous boyfriends, some of whom abusive. After giving birth to her first child, Raelene drops out of school at 15. Between the ages of 16 and 17, while getting a check-up during her second pregnancy, she explains that she has never experienced an orgasm. This statement was interesting because it made me question Raelene’s incentive for sleeping with many different men and paying the consequences by getting pregnant if she did not enjoy the experience? By 18 years old, a tired and weathered Raelene, moves to live the Pocono Mountains with her fiancé, her two children by two different men, and his children.
Anna (Vietnamese-American), a good student who hopes to one day attend medical school, is between with her parents’ traditional ideas of how she should use her sexuality and the desire to fit in with the more promiscuous American cultural expressions of sexuality. Although some of her friends are not so lucky, she achieves her goal of attending college by the end of the film. Lisa (Italian-American) is also a dedicated student who starts romantically experimenting with boys at the tender age of 12. She soon learns that some men can be unfaithful. By18 years old, Lisa also attends college. De’yona (African-American) attends a performing arts school and is a gifted singer who aspires to have a profession in music. But after De-yona’s closest cousin dies, her grades decline. She unexpectedly becomes pregnant and her dreams are derailed.
Girls Like Us provides a realistic snapshot of sexuality through the eyes of adolescents. Although it explores many important themes, the film allows the viewers to make their own conclusions.
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Official Website, Women Make Movies, “Girls Like Us” Review.
Sweeney, Kathleen. “Maiden USA: representing teenage girls in the ’90s”. Afterimage (United States) 26 Jan/Feb (1999): 10-13
The Austin Chronicle Website, “Girls Like Us” Review.