Meeting at the Crossroads by Lyn Mikel Brown and Carol Gilligan has a clear theme, namely, how girls moving from childhood into adolescence become increasingly less free in their actions and communication due to social pressure. What is most important here is that they are primarily concerned with how their peers and the media affect girls' behavior. While some feminists focus on the patriarchal elements being present in overt political structures, Brown and Gilligan argue that the forces involved are more ubiquitous and diffuse.
In writing a paper about a single theme in the book, one might to choose "likability." One of the major motivations in the ways the girls censor themselves is the desire to be liked or popular. This can mean refraining from self-assertion, expressing ideas tentatively, "playing dumb," and otherwise internalizing a need to be "nice" in a manner that not only suppresses girls' own feelings and ideas but also makes them appear weaker, more passive, and less competent.
The authors use close observation and case studies of a small number of girls at a private girls' school to study this effect. This means that the girls are in a classroom environment dedicated to fostering women's excellence and are not directly competing with or for boys. Instead, they are internalizing and policing a patriarchal ideology themselves.
One of the most telling examples is the parable of the moles and the porcupine, which serves as a symbolic way of measuring how Jessie negotiates the tension between independent thinking and outspokenness and the need to be "nice" to be socially accepted.
Sonia's example shows a case where family support can lend strength to a young girl and help her form a strong and independent identity. Nonetheless, we see that Sonia's freedom at home and independence of thought can lead her into awkward relationships with the other girls and social conflicts. She advocates for the need to be assertive, but she laments the way other girls may disapprove of displaying rational thinking and assertive action when it does not conform to the oppressive standard of "niceness." Perhaps the most tragic example is that of Liza, whose attempts at social conformity are partially responsible for her descent into anorexia.
One way to conclude this sort of thematic analysis might be to look at the present, where women in politics and business are still described as facing a "likability/competence trade-off." The pressure for girls to appear "nice" or "likable" forces them to appear less competent and vice versa. Thus, we can argue that this work by Brown and Gilligan illuminates a theme of how the ideology of female "niceness" impedes not only the social lives of girls, but also women's careers.