Sometimes the evolution of an open call issue of Girlhood Studies results in something of a girls studies reader unto itself. Since this issue is packed full of criss-crossing themes based on work in several countries—Canada, Iceland, India and the US—there is just no room for editorial commentary. In its inclusion of works on intersectional feminisms and feminist and Indigenous-led critique to school-based and intergenerational interventions and the power of the visual, this issue is something of such a reader.
Looking Outward from/with IGSA@ND
Angeletta KM Gourdine, Mary Celeste Kearney, and Shauna Pomerantz
We are proud to introduce this special issue that was inspired by the 2019 International Girlhood Studies Association (IGSA) conference at the University of Notre Dame (IGSA@ND). At that time, we were not yet acquainted with each other beyond exchanging pleasantries and knowing of each other's academic profiles. Yet we came together as three co-editors and scholars committed not only to the diversification of girlhood studies but also to the larger project of social justice for all. We want to promote such work through this special issue and, in the process, expand perspectives and practices within the field of girlhood studies, as many before us have done.
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.
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.
Claudia Mitchell and Ann Smith
As with Zika, Ebola, HIV and AIDS, and other pandemics in recent history, girls and young women are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 socially and emotionally if not medically. Some observers have referred to the current crisis as a tale of two pandemics in reference to both the obvious health issues and the pervasive gender inequalities that have become exacerbated, and others have referred to it as “the shadow pandemic” (UN Women 2020: n.p.) in highlighting the negative impact that physical distancing and social isolation are having on already vulnerable girls and young women experiencing sex- and gender-based violence. All over the world girls and young women are facing increasing levels of precariousness as a direct result of the health measures being taken to curb the global transmission of COVID-19. The increasing lack of privacy in the home furthers the practice of cultural forms of patriarchy that lead to violence.
Activist Networks by, for, and with Girls and Young Women
Catherine Vanner and Anuradha Dugal
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.