Melanie Kennedy and Natalie Coulter
We reflect on the media coverage of Amy “Dolly” Everett’s death by suicide to highlight the continued spectacularization of tweenhood as an idealized form of white feminine beauty tied to consumer culture, and one that shores up contradictory notions of the can-do/at-risk girl binary. We consider contemporary tweenhood’s continuities with the visibility and concerns of girlhood from the 1990s while questioning what a definition of tweenhood in the age of digital media and beyond the boundaries of whiteness, heteronormativity, able-bodiedness, and the Global North might look like. Calling for a discursive approach to understandings and conceptualizations of tweens, we introduce the eight articles in this special issue that range from media representations of the tween to lived experiences of actual tween girls.
Sarah E. Whitney
In this article, I consider middle-grade tween literature through a Black Girl Magic framework that creates space and visibility for girls of color in postfeminist America. I read two works of fiction by middle-grade author Sherri Winston through such a lens. By locating girls’ tweenhood as a space of developmental continuity, and by claiming an aesthetic of sparkle, Black Girl Magic readings can re-situate dominant interpretations of the tween literary hero and provide exciting new methods for reading middle-grade fiction.
Revising the Family Story
Thebes Troutman in Miriam Toews’s is a quirky eleven-year-old Canadian tween. In this article I argue that Thebes’s body, skin, and movement offer a textual counterpoint to the rigidity of the story of the nuclear family as it is conventionally told. Aligning the deterritorialization of the family with that of the nation, I argue that Thebes’s marking of her body in an engagingly bizarre tween performance proclaims her separation from the conventional family road trip and story, promoting new iterations of family, home, belonging, and origins. It is Thebes as tween who, through creating a zany, sometimes disturbing, but articulate identity and culture on her own skin, raises new possibilities of the tween’s role in breaking down borders. Thebes Troutman as a twenty-first-century fictional tween carves out space for new directions and a more fluid Canadian family.
Tween girls spend a significant amount of time with peers both in and out of school. Little research has examined and theorized tween friendship culture, particularly as it relates to tween media culture. Drawing on qualitative data gathered on four tween girls, three of whom I discuss in this article, I explore the role of media in friendship negotiations occurring within the home. I argue that a televisual lexicon helps girls negotiate friendship in informal settings, participating in what I term friendship work to establish their own status within the group through intimate conversations about television. As a framework, friendship work situates tweens’ engagement with media as a social tool.
Exploring Girlhood Identity in Technology Camp
Jen England and Robert Cannella
In this article we discuss how the Girlhood Remixed Technology Camp (GRTC) empowers tween girls to challenge sexist and misogynistic media portrayals of girlhood by constructing their own digital identities. Drawing from campers’ projects and blogs, we foreground two important outcomes of the camp: the development of technological, critical, and rhetorical literacies as girls pursued their own technology-related goals; and the crafting of powerful, positive articulations of girlhood through girls’ production of new media and technologies. We conclude with further considerations for the development of girls’ technology camps.
Gender Nonconformity in Middle-Grade Fiction
In this article I use four middle-grade novels to query the relationship between gendered forms of childhood and gender nonconformity in tweens. For the young characters in these novels, objects and spaces of gender enfranchisement—including gendered forms of childhood—are often out of reach. Using conceptual tools such as the orientation of objects, queer futures, and the transgender gaze, this work examines the ways in which these novels narrate their main characters’ yearning for things that will make their gender identities legible, and how they, as agentic subjects, attempt to take revenge on the rules and structures of gender normativity.
Barbara Roche Rico
In this article I examine the representation of bullying in Felita (1979) and Going Home (1986), two novels by Nicholasa Mohr, an important but critically overlooked author of the Puerto Rican Diaspora. Using material from current research in the social sciences as well as a close reading of the texts, I explore the emergence of the female subject from behind her self-definition as a victim of girl-bullying. The girl’s involvement with art enables her to move from the role of object to that of subject. That involvement not only counteracts the negative effects of bullying but also brings the girl to a deeper understanding of her culture and herself. That the author would then reengage bullying episodes from these novels in a memoir written later provides a powerful example of the author’s writing back to the tween whose experiences inspired her work.
The dead girl genre of Young Adult (YA) literature is characterized by dying or recently deceased female narrators and/or central characters who embark on exciting new adventures once dying or dead, often find that they are now listened to and taken seriously, and generally find true love and satisfying sexual experiences. My concern is with these books as artifacts of a culture that allows little to no sexual agency or subjectivity for (living) teenaged girls and young women. In addition, we increasingly hear of cases of young women being harassed and bullied for their sexual activity, sometimes to the point of suicide. Based on a content analysis of these books, I consider the questions of how it is that dead has come to be promoted as a viable sexual subject position for young women, and how these books might actually nurture a culture of bullying and suicide.
Sexual Subject? Desired Object?
Mary Ann Harlan
In 2016 two nonfiction titles exploring girls and sexuality and presentations of the sexual self received extensive media attention, thus shaping a construction of girl in popular media. In this article I examine how Nancy Jo Sales’s American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers and Peggy Orenstein’s Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape construct girls as sexual subjects and desired objects. In a close reading of the texts I consider how the authors constitute girl and the ways in which girls navigate society’s expectations and constructions of them as sexual subjects. I use the words of girls themselves to examine the dissonance between authorial constructions and the post-feminist culture that emerges in the texts on the one hand, and the girls’ language on the other.