In 2016 two nonfiction titles exploring girls and sexuality and presentations of the sexual self received extensive media attention, thus shaping a construction of girl in popular media. In this article I examine how Nancy Jo Sales’s American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers and Peggy Orenstein’s Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape construct girls as sexual subjects and desired objects. In a close reading of the texts I consider how the authors constitute girl and the ways in which girls navigate society’s expectations and constructions of them as sexual subjects. I use the words of girls themselves to examine the dissonance between authorial constructions and the post-feminist culture that emerges in the texts on the one hand, and the girls’ language on the other.
Sexual Subject? Desired Object?
Mary Ann Harlan
Agency, Hybridity and Transformations of 'Femininity'
Jessica Laureltree Willis
What are the contours of cultural stories that explain how a girl becomes a girl? Girlhood is an identity position often taken for granted in the social world. Yet how girls learn to construct normalized gender identities can reveal important shifts in changing cultural ideas about societal expectations for female youth. Utilizing a cross-disciplinary approach, the basis for this discussion are individual interviews with preadolescent girls. Interpretive discoveries focus on how girls in their meaning-making and decision-making contribute to diverse cultural constructions of female subjectivity. This research pertains specifically to a small sample of girls from a large ethnically diverse city in the Northeast United States. The thematic patterns that emerge, nonetheless, offer broader insight into the diverse ways that girls fuse aspects of 'femininity' and 'masculinity' in establishing complex subjectivities. This practice of reimagining cultural conceptions of 'femininity' indicates girls' innovative contributions to the co-creation of culture in their acts of establishing subjectivity through agentive and alternative uses of discourse.