Heather D. Switzer. 2018. When the Light Is Fire: Maasai Schoolgirls in Contemporary Kenya. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.
New Subjectivities: Maasai Schoolgirlhood as Light and (Girl Effects) Logic
When the Light Is Fire: Maasai Schoolgirls in Contemporary Kenya
Tiffany Rhoades Isselhardt
Where are the girls who made history? What evidence have they left behind? Are there places and spaces that bear witness to their memory?
Girl Museum was founded in 2009 to address these questions, among many others. Established by art historian Ashley E. Remer, whose work revealed that most, if not all, museums never explicitly discuss or center girls and girlhood, Girl Museum was envisioned as a virtual space dedicated to researching, analyzing, and interpreting girl culture across time and space. Over its first ten years, we produced a wide range of art in historical and cultural exhibitions that explored conceptions of girlhood and the direct experiences of girls in the past and present. Led by an Advisory Board of scholars and entirely reliant on volunteers and donations, we grew from a small website into a complex virtual museum of exhibitions, projects, and programs that welcomes an average 50,000 visitors per year from around the world.
This Special Issue of Girlhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal represents another milestone in the history of the journal, coming, as it does, out of the second international conference of the International Girls’ Studies Association (IGSA) that was hosted by Notre Dame University, South Bend, Indiana, in 2019. As the guest editors, Angeletta Gourdine, Mary Celeste Kearney, and Shauna Pomerantz highlight in their introduction, the conference itself and the Special Issue set in motion the type of dialogue and conversation that is crucial to challenging and changing the world of inequities and disparities experienced by girls. For a relatively new area of study that has roots in feminism and social change, critical dialogue about inclusion and exclusion and about ongoing reflexivity and questioning must surely be at the heart of girls studies. The guest editors capture this admirably when they replace the question “What is girlhood studies?” with the provocative and generative question, “What can girlhood studies be?” The articles and book reviews in this Special Issue tackle what girls studies could be in so many different ways, ranging from broadening and deepening notions of intersectionality and interdisciplinarity to ensuring a place for the article, “Where are all the Girls and Indigenous People at IGSA@ND?” co-authored by the girls who belong to the Young Indigenous Women's Utopia group. Such an account offers a meta-analysis of the field of girlhood studies, but so did the call for the Special Issue as a whole. It is commendable that this team of co-editors assembled and curated a series of articles that reveal the very essence of the problematic that girlhood studies seeks to address.
The Young Indigenous Women's Utopia Group, Cindy Moccasin, Jessica McNab, Catherine Vanner, Sarah Flicker, Jennifer Altenberg, and Kari-Dawn Wuttunee
We adopt an autoethnographic approach to share critical reflections from the Young Indigenous Women's Utopia girls’ group about our experiences attending the 2019 International Girlhood Studies Association conference at the University of Notre Dame (IGSA@ND). Moments of inspiration included sharing our work and connecting with local Indigenous youth. Challenging moments included feeling isolated and excluded since the only girls present at the conference were Indigenous people in colonial spaces. We conclude with reflection questions and recommendations to help future conference organizers and participants think through the politics and possibilities of meaningful expanded stakeholder inclusion at academic meetings.
Sharifah Aishah Osman
Rape culture is a provocative topic in Malaysia; the public discourse on it is plagued by gender stereotyping, sexism, misogyny, and rape myths. Recent literary works aimed at Malaysian adolescent girls have interrogated rape culture more pointedly as a means of addressing gender-based violence through activism and education. In this article, I discuss two short stories, “The Girl on the Mountain” and “Gamble” as retellings of Malaysian legends and feminist responses to the normalization and perpetuation of rape culture in this society. Through the emphasis on female agency, consent, and gender equality, these two stories reflect the subversive power of Malaysian young adult literature in dismantling rape culture, while affirming the significance of the folktale as an empowering tool for community engagement and feminist activism.
Consent is not as Simple as Tea
Student Activism against Rape Culture
In this article, I report on an action project undertaken by a group of young women (aged 18 to 20) to foster public discussions about the prevalence of rape culture on their university's campus. Students proposed this action project during a book study of a young adult (YA) novel that focused on rape culture and sexual violence. Discussions during the book study resulted in the women creating a video designed for university orientation events that addressed common misconceptions about issues such as consent, relationship violence, sexual coercion, and victimhood. Using case study and narrative methods, I recount my experience of witnessing unexpected activism in my classroom. Framed within critical literacy research, I consider the outcomes of making space for student activism and I discuss implications for practitioners.
The discursive shift during the twenty-first century from “no means no” to “yes means yes” clearly had an impact on contemporary American teen films. While teen films of the 1970s and 1980s often epitomized rape culture, teen films of the 2010s and later adopted consent culture actively. Such films now routinely highlight how obtaining a girl's “yes” is equally important to respecting her “no.” However, the framework of affirmative consent is not without its flaws. In this article, I highlight how recent teen movies expose some of these shortcomings, in particular how affirmative consent remains a highly gendered discourse that prioritizes verbal consent over desire.
Fantasies of the Good Life
Responding to Rape Culture in 13 Reasons Why
Cameron Greensmith and Jocelyn Sakal Froese
Using Lauren Berlant's concept of cruel optimism, we address the ways in which rape culture, as depicted in Jay Asher's 13 Reasons Why and the first two seasons of the Netflix adaptation, shapes girls’ agency and attachment to possible futures. We take seriously the ways in which social and institutional structures in 13 Reasons Why produce girls’ livability as tied to everyday forms of sexist violence, which supposedly grant them access to what they think of as the good life. Bound up in these cruel attachments is a more limited set of options than may appear available: girls are called upon to endure daily violence in hopes of achieving this fantasy or to choose alternative paths, such as slow death or even suicide.
I met Roxanne Harde, the guest editor of this Special Issue, at the Second International Girls Studies Association conference in 2019 when I attended the panel discussion, “Representations of Rape in Young Adult Fiction.” I recall Roxanne's passion vividly and, indeed, the enthusiasm of all three presenters as they discussed a variety of texts in superb presentations that aligned well with Ann Smith's notion of feminism in action in their seeing “a fictional text not only as a literary investigation into issues of concern to its author but also as the site of educational research” (2000: 245). Their papers pointed to the ways in which the analysis of how rape culture is treated in Young Adult (YA) literature, film, and the print media can take scholars and activists so much further into the issues, and, at the same time, noted the ways in which rape culture in all its manifestations as a global phenomenon has inevitably led to its becoming an everyday topic of YA fiction.
In 1983, Andrea Dworkin addressed the Midwest Men's Conference in Minneapolis. She discussed the rape culture in which we live, noted the similarities between rape and war, and, following the title of her talk, asked for a “24-hour truce in which there is no rape.” And she asked why men and boys are so slow to understand that women and girls “are human to precisely the degree and quality that [they] are” (n.p.). Every sexual assault begins with the dehumanization of the victim. And sometimes, after the violation, after the pain and the fear, comes the institutional dehumanization visited upon the victim who seeks medical or legal help. Two recent memoirs bring to the surface rape culture, evident in the young men who raped these girls and the systemic dehumanization they suffered when they sought justice. describes the aftermath of being sexually assaulted, when she was just out of college and still living at home, by someone she met at a fraternity party. Although the case against her rapist was as strong as possiblethere were eyewitnesses and physical evidence was collected immediatelyhe was sentenced to only six months in the county jail, and she was repeatedly shamed, her humanity denied by the judicial system. describes the aftermath of being sexually assaulted, when she was 15, by two boys, students at her New England boarding school, including an account of how school officials refused to do anything other than label her promiscuous and protect the boys. The ways in which she was silenced by St. Paul's, which disregarded her health and future, and denied her humanity because she was only a girl, were profound. In both cases, the promising future of the perpetrators was prioritized over the humanity of the girls by many institutions, including the judiciary and the press. Crawford was raped just seven years after Dworkin made her plea to that men's conference, but Miller was assaulted twenty-five years after, making perfectly clear that rape culture has become only more entrenched.