In this article I explore the performance art of international hip-hop artist M.I.A. to interrogate the problematic of girls' resistance and agency within a global youthscape. Using a feminist transnational framework, I analyze how her music and celebrity persona may be considered gendered post-colonial cultural productions that highlight issues of inequality, violence and domination. I argue that M.I.A.'s cultural productions serve as pedagogical symbolic resources for theorizing girlhood in post-colonial contexts specifically around issues of sexuality. As a symbolic resource, M.I.A.'s work is pedagogical in the larger global youthscape as well as in scholarship on girls in post-colonial contexts. Specifically, M.I.A. (in her music and interviews) openly wrestles with the embodied tensions between complicity and possibility in post-colonial girlhood. Consistent with a feminist transnational framework, I argue that the identities of “Third World” girls are discursively produced as innocent yet hypersexualized exotic Others in the service and/or mercy of “First World” colonial men and women. However, M.I.A. makes explicit that within the context of globalization, the cultural politics of gender and sexuality take place on/through/with brown female bodies—whether it is in the battlefield, the street or in the bedroom. A close analysis M.I.A.'s song 10 Dollar illustrates how Third World girls exercise resistance and agency in negotiating imperialist and nationalist heteropatriarchy.
Rethinking Girls' Resistance and Agency in Postcolonial Contexts
What Comes After Girl Power?
Marnina Gonick, Emma Renold, Jessica Ringrose, and Lisa Weems
With the current proliferation of images and narratives of girls and girlhood in popular culture, many ‘truths’ about girls circulate with certainty. Amongst the aims of this Special Issue is to examine critically these ‘confi dent characterizations’ (Trinh 1989), to trace the social conditions which produce these ‘truths’ along with the public fascination with girls and to analyze critically the eff ects of these ‘truths’ in the lives of young girls. Th e concepts of resistance and agency have been critical to the field of youth studies, sociology of education and school ethnographies (Hall and Jeff erson 1976; McRobbie 1978; Willis 1978) for conceptualizing the relationships between young people and their social worlds. Ground breaking scholarship by McRobbie (2000) challenges the gendered assumptions of political agency articulated in previous theories of subcultures developed in the 1970s and 80s. While feminist poststructuralist work in the 1990s has re-conceptualized agency in ways that are markedly diff erent to humanist notions of rational actors with free-will (Butler 2006; Davies 2000), feminist researchers have also shown the importance of a classed, raced and sexed analysis of agency. For example, scholarship by feminists of color have shown how girls of color challenge and defy dominant stereotypes of girlhood in culturally specifi c ways such as participating in spokenword contests, rap and hip hop, and ‘beauty contests’ (Hernandez and Rehman 2002; Gaunt 2006). In the changing social, economic, political and globalizing context of the new millennium, where ‘girl power’ has become a marketing tool and a branding (Klein 2000) of girlhood, it is important to look anew at the relations between girlhood, power, agency and resistance.