This article addresses the growing concern with youth civic engagement by asking how contemporary U.S. girls' organizations envision girls' civic identities. Recent years have seen the growth of girls' organizations that aim to involve girls in their communities. Based on extensive document research and two ethnographic case studies, my analysis distinguishes between this emergent transformative approach and a more widespread, normative model. Transformative organizations engage girls in a sociological analysis of the conditions of their lives, believe that girls should have public authority, and encourage girls' involvement in social change projects. Normative organizations rely upon a psychological understanding of girls' problems, imagine the public as a space of threat and as being full of barriers girls that must learn to overcome, and emphasize service over political action. By comparing these two approaches, this article suggests that scholars and practitioners should carefully consider the implications of organizations for girls' relationship to the public sphere.
Contemporary U.S. Girls’ Organizations and the Public Sphere
Jessica K. Taft
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.