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Disrupting the Invisibility of Working-Class Girls

Redemption, Value, and the Politics of Recognition

Stephanie Skourtes

At a time when individualized narratives have replaced structural explanations like social class to account for inequality, girls who are on the urban fringe are not only made invisible but are under-valued as contributing members to a future, individually oriented society. This article offers a visual disruption in order to re-value the stigmatized, working-class girl by applying the concept of use-value to identify the girls' redemption narratives as an agentic process that is expressed affectively. Drawing from an ethnography of urban, working-class girls who utilize social services, this article reveals how class as culture operated along with other classification systems to inscribe the girls as a problem. Recognizing this, each girl had a redemption tale to tell so as to recover a sense of self; the self-narratives revealed alternative value systems that provided collective and practical value to them.

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The Girl in the Mirror

The Psychic Economy of Class in the Discourse of Girlhood Studies

Valerie Hey

This article questions Angela McRobbie's recent text The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change because it creates some interesting new vocabulary for understanding late modernity's revised sexual and cultural politics. Whilst acknowledging the sophistication of its cultural studies-inspired argument, I consider some consequences of this reading. If theory also performs as a politics of representation, I ask what happens if, in accounting for post-feminism, the theoretical status of class as an antagonistic relation is diminished. I suggest what gender and education discourses can add to a reading of 'new times'.

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"Every time she bends over she pulls up her thong"

Teen Girls Negotiating Discourses of Competitive, Heterosexualized Aggression

Jessica Ringrose

In this paper I explore the themes of heterosexualized competition and aggression in Avril Lavigne's music video Girlfriend (2007) as representative of the violent heterosexualized politics within which girls are incited to compete in contemporary schooling and popular culture. I argue that psycho-educational discourses attempting to explain girls' aggression and bullying fail to account for the heterosexualized, classed or racialized power dynamics of social competition that organize heteronormative femininity. Then I elaborate a psychosocial approach using psychoanalytic concepts to trace how teen girls negotiate contemporary discourses of sexual aggression and competition. Drawing on findings from a study with racially and economically marginalized girls aged thirteen to fourteen attending an innercity school in South Wales, I suggest that the girls enact regulatory, classed discourses like slut to manage performances of heterosexualized aggression. However, alongside their demonstration of the impetus toward sexual regulation of one another, I show how the girls in my study are also attempting to challenge heteronormative formations of performing sexy-aggressive. Moments of critical resistance in their narratives, when they refuse to pathologize aggressive girls as mean and/or bullies, and in their fantasies, when they reject heterosexual relationships like marriage are explored.

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Girls, Power and Style

Social and Emotional Experiences of the Clothed Body

Emilie Zaslow

Drawing on ethnographic research with a diverse group of teen girls, this article asks how play with style is understood and enacted. By positioning girls' everyday transactions with style beside their engagement with style in media, this article demonstrates that girls live with a cultural discordance between the girl power media discourse of style as choice, power, and resistance, and the reality of their own, often disempowered, experiences with style. Bound by the promise of upward social mobility, the fear of losing status, and the risk of remaining in the low income and middle class communities in which they were raised, the girls in this study feel regulated and, at times, hurt by the required performance of the clothed body.

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“Boys Fight, Girls Fight“

Adolescent Girls Speak about Girls' Aggression

Melissa K. Levy

A perceived rise in girls' physical aggression is alarming the public as it collides with dominant views of femininity. Existing research focuses on either boys' violence or girls' non-physical aggression, leaving the realm of girls' physical aggression relatively unexplored. Using data from ethnographic observations and interviews, this study examines young adolescent girls' experience of their and their peers' fighting. Findings indicate that girls participate in fights to stand up for themselves and others, to show they are not afraid, and for fun. This study calls for continued in-depth research into girls' perspectives on aggression and violence in order to provide insight into how gendered, raced, and classed structures affect girls. It seeks, too, to address the problems that arise from girls fighting.

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Janet Seow

Doll play is critical in the formation of young black girls’ gender, race, and class identities. In this article, I use textual analysis that emphasizes how physical changes in dolls correspond to contextual shifts in society over the last seven decades, and qualitative research with ten Afro-Caribbean girls and young women in Toronto to reveal the racial and cultural meanings of dolls in young people’s everyday lives and how doll play is complicated by racist and classist representations of dolls. By exploring what doll play meant to them, I show how it helps black girls understand racial and gendered norms. Through doll play, girls reveal an understanding of their racialized identities and marginalization as they demonstrate unacknowledged skills in their ability to navigate barriers that reinforce racial inequalities and social hierarchies in girls’ material culture in a multicultural Toronto.

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Delphine Letort

The controversies triggered by the Netflix adaptation of Jay Asher’s young adult novel Thirteen Reasons Why (2007) have focused on suicide and downplayed discussions of rape as a central plot device. Making use of stereotypical characters (such as the cheerleader and the jock) and archetypal setting (including the high school), 13 Reasons Why delves into the reassuring world of the suburban town; it deals ambiguously with the entwined notions of gender and power encapsulated in the teenpic genre. A detailed analysis of the series indeed reveals that its causative narrative reinforces the rape myth by putting the blame on girls for events that happen to them. In this article I explore the tensions of a TV series that endorses the rape myth through the entertaining frame of the teenpic.

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Megan Sullivan

In this article I analyze fiction and non-fiction using the critical lens or methodology of Girlhood Studies. I re-examine my published writing on Irish writer Mary Beckett and Irish-American author Lucy Grealy to demonstrate how feminist scholars can read differently. I argue that in my initial readings of the aforementioned texts I neglected the girl in the story, because I was concerned about the woman the female character would become. Finally, I also argue that feminist scholars should mine their own childhood experiences for insight into the study of girls. I provide an excerpt from my memoir in progress to demonstrate how this might be accomplished.

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“A Pretty Girl of Sixteen“

Capturing the Contradictions of Female Adolescence in the Nancy Drew Series

Kate Harper

This article explores the construction of female adolescence in the first three texts of the Nancy Drew Mystery series: The Secret of the Old Clock (1930), The Hidden Staircase (1930), and The Bungalow Mystery (1930). It reviews, briefly, the development of the concept of adolescence and its gendered implications, particularly the association of female adolescent sexuality with delinquency. I argue that the Nancy Drew series rejects the construction of adolescence as a period of turmoil and emotional instability, as well as the prescription of constant adult supervision. The character of Nancy Drew also captures the contradictory messages of female adolescence in the 1930s when girls were represented as sexually attractive and aggressive but were denied sexual desire.

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Mel Gibson

This article looks at girlhood in an historical and culturally specific context, through close textual analysis of a central narrative from a key British girls' comic of the 1950s. Girl, published by Hulton Press, predominantly addressed issues around femininity, girlhood and class in that period, often linking reading with other activities considered “appropriate” for girls. I will explore how Girl articulates gender and class and also how it encouraged the mainly middle-class readership to make ballet an important aspect of their cultural practice, popularising ballet classes across Britain. In doing so, I shall focus on the narrative, “Belle of the Ballet.” I will also look at other texts of the period, including Bunty, launched in 1958 by DC Thomson, and show how the representation of ballet changed in later comics for girls, relating this to shifting constructions of girlhood.