The history of modern girlhood is entwined with anxieties about cultural norms and cultural change that are foundational to "girlhood" and "girl culture." This essay sketches a history of discourses on girls, girlhood and girl culture as the necessary genealogical context for a subsequent discussion of the field of contemporary girl studies. It begins with historical perspectives on the 'girl of the period' from the nineteenth century, through the "girl of yesterday," the "it girl" to the post World War I period that coalesced the cultural conditions necessary for the teenager to take on iconic status. The second half of the article considers girlhood studies today—and in particular its interest in locating, describing and problematizing girls' voice and girls' agency. In a world increasingly perceived as "global," these are powerful starting points for thinking about what constitutes "girl studies" (or "girlhood studies" or "girl culture studies") today.
Reflections on the Inaugural International Girls Studies Association Conference
Victoria Cann, Sarah Godfrey, and Helen Warner
As we move towards the second International Girls Studies Association Conference, to be held at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, in February 2019, we reflect on the work of the scholars and practitioners who presented at our first conference
Karoliina Ojanen, Heta Mulari, and Sanna Aaltonen, eds. 2011. Entäs tytöt: Johdatus tyttötutkimukseen [But what about girls: Introduction to girls’ studies]. Nuorisotutkimusverkosto/Nuorisotutkimusseura, julkaisuja 113. Tampere: Vastapaino.
Lyn Mikel Brown
Lyn Mikel Brown gives an autobiographical account of her shift in focus from studying girls and theorizing girls and girlhood to working as an activist and advocate for and with girls. Specifically she describes the Maine-based nonprofit organization called Hardy Girls Healthy Women (www.hghw.org) that she founded in 2000. She situates her current praxis historically in the light of her groundbreaking work with Carol Gilligan at the Harvard Project on Women's Psychology and Girls' Development in the 1980s and early 1990s. This work did indeed put the "girls" into Girls' Studies.
Bodil Formark and Annelie Bränström Öhman
While we have been working on this themed issue the political talk about The Girl has entered a new phase in a global shift manifested both by the establishment of the International Day of the Girl and through the launching of various campaigns on themes such as: Give Girls an Education and Eradicate World Poverty. The necessity for such initiatives was cruelly illustrated by the violent attack on Pakistani girls’ rights activist Malala Yousafzai on her way home from school on 9 October 2012. Such blatant discrimination makes it difficult for us not to feel that we live in a privileged part of the world. The five Nordic nation states—Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden—are indeed often perceived by outsiders, too, as progressive countries that have come very far in achieving gender equality. However, although Nordic girlhood may appear in stark contrast to that of the millions of disadvantaged girls in the world, there are complexities and ambivalences beneath the surface of Nordic progressiveness that a reductive, comparative, and linear, framework fails to take into account.
Current Themes and Theoretical Approaches
Claudia Mitchell and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh
This special issue of Girlhood Studies is the first one to have been devoted to the study of girls living in a specific geographical region. Here we focus on girls in the Nordic countries. What makes this set of essays particularly fascinating is that they address issues concerning girls who are located in countries whose advanced social services and democratic beliefs and practices are admired around the world. The rest of the world believes that the Nordic countries, Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Denmark, have achieved much of what girls in other countries in both the Global North and Global South are still working and fighting for. Interestingly, in their call for papers the guest editors Bodil Formark and Annelie Bränström Öhman, both located at Umeå University in Sweden, cite Finish sociologist Elina Oinas (2011) who queries whether Nordic girls do in fact belong to that exclusive group of “girls who won the lottery.” In the articles in this issue, the contributors interrogate some of the assumptions the rest of the world makes about the lives of girls living in Nordic countries, and the different notions of freedom that have an impact on them.
Place, Desire, and Country Girlhood
This article explores the figure of the bored country girl that appears widely in popular culture but also in girls studies and rural studies through ethnographic research in Australian country towns. While the presumption that country girls lack resources and opportunities for entertainment and leisure is in many ways empirically valid, this problem's articulation in girls' lives also offers an important perspective from which to ask what boredom and cultural needs mean, relative to each other, for both rural studies and girls studies. This article suggests that girlhood's relation to policy discourse and urbanized modernity can be productively reconsidered through the lived experience of country girls.
Negotiating New Discourses with Old Practices
Natalie Guice Adams and Pamela J. Bettis
In Alpha Girls: Understanding the New American Girl and How She is Changing the World, psychologist Dan Kindlon (2006) claims that the new psychology of girls has produced a dramatically different kind of girl from her 1990s girl-in-crisis predecessor. He proposes that this new type of girl is a hybrid, personifying the best traits of masculinity and femininity. The Alpha Girl represents a new form of girlhood in which girls are seen as the economic, social, and cultural winners in the twenty first century because they are risk takers, competitive, and collaborative. How does cheerleading, one of the most female-identified and sexualized cultures of adolescent life, coexist with this seemingly new discourse of empowering girlhood? We argue that cheerleading provides a rich space for Girls Studies scholars to analyze how modes of femininity play out in the social practices that girls themselves deem important.
Feminist Media Literacy Education with Underserved Girls
Leigh Moscowitz and Micah Blaise Carpenter
In this article we report on the results of a semester-long critical media literacy initiative with underserved fourth- and fifth-grade girls. Building on the work in girls' studies, feminist pedagogies and critical media studies, this project was designed to privilege girls' voices, experiences, and agency by culminating in the girls' own media production of zines—hand-made, hand-distributed booklets based around the author's interests and experiences. By examining before and after focus group interviews conducted with participants and analyzing the content of their zines, we interrogate participants' general—but hardly linear—shift from positions of celebratory, uncritical media exposure, to self-affirming, transgressive media consumption and production. Ultimately, our findings both emphasize the need for feminist critical media literacy education, and articulate its pedagogical challenges.
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