Figuring the Girl Activist as Global Savior
Jessica K. Taft
There has been a notable increase in the public visibility of girl activists in the past ten years. In this article, I analyze media narratives about several individual girl activists to highlight key components of the newly desirable figure of the girl activist. After tracing the expansion of girl power discourses from an emphasis on individual empowerment to the invocation of girls as global saviors, I argue that girls are particularly desirable figures for public consumption because the encoding of girls as symbols of hope helps to resolve public anxieties about the future, while their more radical political views are managed through girlhood's association with harmlessness. Ultimately, the figure of the hopeful and harmless girl activist hero is simultaneously inspirational and demobilizing.
Addressing Early and Forced Marriage in South Africa
Sadiyya Haffejee, Astrid Treffry-Goatley, Lisa Wiebesiek, and Nkonzo Mkhize
Increasingly, researchers and policymakers recognize the ability of girls to effect social change in their daily lives. Scholars working across diverse settings also acknowledge the key influence of individual, family, and societal structures on such activism. Drawing on our work with girls in a participatory visual research project in a rural community in South Africa, we consider examples of partnership and collaboration between the adult research team and the young participants. We highlight their agency in mobilizing adults to partner and support community and policy change to address traditional practices of early and forced marriage in this setting. We conclude that collaborative engagement with adults as partners can support activism and advocacy led by girls in contexts of traditional leadership.
Activist Networks by, for, and with Girls and Young Women
Catherine Vanner and Anuradha Dugal
Emerging Conversations on Girls’ Literature and Girlhood
Dawn Sardella-Ayres and Ashley N. Reese
In this article, we seek to articulate a genre theory-centered definition of girls’ literature, and interrogate its subgenre, the girl's bildungsroman, as contextual, cultural sites of rhetoric regarding girls and girlhood. By exploring English-language North American girls’ literature, we identify it within a framework of genre as social action, tracing the protagonists’ maturation into the socially determined roles of wife and mother. We explore the ways in which the girl's bildungsroman follows a home-away-home model, but with the end result of socially acceptable community integration, rather than the boy's bildungsroman's culmination in heroic independent identity via quests and adventures.
The concerns addressed by the authors in this issue point to the need for a reimagining of girlhood as it is currently framed by settler and carceral states. To quote the guest editors, Sandrina de Finney, Patricia Krueger-Henney, and Lena Palacios, “The very notions of girl and girlhood are embedded in a colonial privileging of white, cis-heteropatriarchal, ableist constructs of femininity bolstered by Euro-Western theories of normative child development that were—and still are—violently imposed on othered, non-white girls, queer, and gender-nonconforming bodies.” Indigenous-led initiatives in Canada, such as the Networks for Change: Girl-led ‘from the Ground up’ Policy-making to Address Sexual Violence in Canada and South Africa project, highlighted in four of the eight articles in this issue, along with the insights and recommendations offered in the articles that deal with the various positionalities and contexts of Latinx and Black girls, can be described as creating a new trail. In using the term trail, here, I am guided by the voices of the Indigenous researchers, activists, elders, and community scholars who participated in the conference called More Than Words in Addressing Sexual and Gender-based Violence: A Dialogue on the Impact of Indigenous-focused, Youthled Engagement Through the Arts on Families and Communities held in Montreal. Their use of the term trail suggests a new order, one that is balanced between the ancestors and spiritual teachings on the one hand, and contemporary spaces that need to be decolonized on the other with this initiative being guided by intergenerationality and a constant interrogation of language. The guest editors of this special issue and all the contributors have gone a long way on this newly named trail.
Sandrina de Finney, Patricia Krueger-Henney, and Lena Palacios
We are deeply honored to have been given the opportunity to edit this special issue of Girlhood Studies, given that it is dedicated to rethinking girlhood in the context of the adaptive, always-evolving conditions of white settler regimes. The contributions to this issue address the need to theorize girlhood—and critiques of girlhood—across the shifting forces of subjecthood, community, land, nation, and borders in the Western settler states of North America. As white settler states, Canada and the United States are predicated on the ongoing spatial colonial occupation of Indigenous homelands. In settler states, as Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang remind us, “the settler never left” (2012: 20) and colonial domination is reasserted every day of active occupation. White settler colonialism functions through the continued control of land, resources, and racialized bodies, and is amalgamated through a historical commitment to slavery, genocide, and the extermination of Indigenous nationhood and worldviews. Under settler colonial regimes, criminal justice, education, immigration, and child welfare systems represent overlapping sites of transcarceral power that amplify intersecting racialized, gendered, sexualized, and what Tanja Aho and colleagues call “carceral ableist” violence (2017: 291). This transcarceral power is enacted through institutional and bureaucratic warfare such as, for example, the Indian Act, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the child welfare system to deny, strategically, Indigenous claims to land and the citizenship of racial others.
As this issue of Girlhood Studies went to press, two very dramatic moments in the history of girls and young women were in the public eye. One was the large 8000-strong gathering of NGOs, researchers, politicians, and activists from 165 countries at the Women Deliver Global Summit on gender equality that took place in Vancouver, Canada, from 3 to 6 June 2019. There, according the program, the focus was on how power can both hinder and drive progress and change for a world that is more gender equal. On 3 June, the long-awaited report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in Canada was released, with its 231 recommendations or calls for social justice to address what is now acknowledged as being part of what was (and continues to be) cultural genocide. Both the Global Summit and the report on MMIWG are reminders of the need for the blend of scholarship and activism that is so critical to advancing issues of equity and to implementing recommendations to achieve this. This unthemed issue with its broad range of geographic locations, concerns, and methods and its attention to activism, along with scholarship that features work from both the humanities and social sciences, is key in relation to mobilizing a social justice agenda.
I am very grateful to Barbara Brickman, the guest editor of this Special Issue of Girlhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal for her term “dislodging girlhood” in the context of heteronormativity. Repeatedly in this issue Marnina Gonick’s pivotal question, “Are queer girls, girls?” (2006: 122) is cited. In the 13 years since she posed this question, we have not seen enough attempts made to address it. To mix my metaphors I see this issue of Girlhood Studies as helping to break the silence and simultaneously to open the floodgates to a ground-breaking collection of responses to Gonick’s question. Given the rise of the right in the US and in so many other countries, queer girls— trans, lesbian, gender non-conforming, non-binary to mention just a few possibilities—are at even greater risk than before. Girlhood Studies has always been concerned with social justice, so this special issue is a particularly important one in our history. It is also worth noting that many of the articles are written or co-authored by new scholars, signaling an encouraging trend in academic work that has social justice at its core. I thank Barbara Brickman, the authors, and the reviewers for their history-making contributions to the radical act of dislodging girlhood.