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Making It Up

Intergenerational Activism and the Ethics of Empowering Girls

Emily Bent

In this article I consider the ethical boundaries of intergenerational activism for the feminist researcher conducting research in pre-existing activist networks. Drawing on a decade of involvement with girl-activists at the United Nations, I revisit key moments that challenged me to re-think the ethical, discursive, and relational conditions of girls’ political empowerment. Intergenerational activism creates relational messiness between adults and girls since effectively partnering with girls requires disruptions of generational power with practitioner-scholars learning to make it up as they go along. This article illustrates the complex and contested ways in which girls and adults build activist partnerships in adult-centered and sometimes politically hostile settings. In exploring the environment within which North American girls experience political (dis)empowerment, I question the ethics of empowering girls under current spectacular discursive conditions.

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Naila Keleta-Mae

In this article I examine the performances of black girlhood in two texts by Ntozake Shange—the choreopoem “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf” (1977) and the novel Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo (1982). The black girls whom Shange portrays navigate anti-black racism in their communities, domestic violence in their homes, and explore their connections with spirit worlds. In both these works, Shange stages black girls who make decisions based on their understanding of the spheres of influence that their race, gender, and age afford them in an anti-black patriarchal world dominated by adults. I draw, too, from Patricia Hill Collins’s work on feminist standpoint theory and black feminist thought to introduce the term black girl thought as a theoretical framework to offer insights into the complex lives of black girls who live in the post-civil rights era in the United States.

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Editorial

Girlhood Studies in (and with) a History

Claudia Mitchell

This Special Issue of Girlhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal highlights a unique moment in history in two ways. First, it offers a collection of articles based on presentations made at the inaugural International Girls Studies Association (IGSA) conference hosted by the University of Norwich in April 2016. I thank the guest editors, Victoria Cann, Sarah Godfrey, and Helen Warner, who, in keeping alive the spirit of this amazing international event, have worked to produce a collection of articles and an interview with a filmmaker, all of which focus specifically on media as a critical axis of feminist research and activism, and the reviews editor, Marnina Gonick, for three excellent book reviews.

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Tal Meler

In the last three decades, Palestinian society within Israel has been undergoing changes in different spheres, with trends of change and preservation evolving simultaneously. Changes in the familial sphere include a rise in the divorce rate and, accordingly, in the number of single-parent families. Despite the increase in the number of single-parent family units headed by women, this pattern has barely gained legitimacy. As single mothers, divorced Palestinian women are subjected to considerable criticism and supervision on the part of their families. In this article I examine the reasons why Israeli-Palestinian women seek divorce, arguing that they reflect co-existing trends. While some reasons can be defined as traditional, others illustrate a process of change related to the adoption of values and images deriving from the Western romantic love ethos. The article is based on data gathered in semi-structured, in-depth interviews conducted and analyzed with a commitment to the principles of feminist research.

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Claudia Mitchell and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh

This is the first issue of Girlhood Studies that we have devoted primarily to method and methodology related to deepening an understanding of girlhood and girls’ lives. From the very inception of the journal in 2008 we imagined that there would be themed issues devoted to what we have termed “girl-method” (Mitchell and Reid-Walsh 2009: 214), so as to explore the various approaches to studying girlhood, and especially to make explicit the positionality of feminist researchers writing in academic contexts about girlhood. We frame this project as one that aims to be productive and generative and able to take its place alongside transformative themes in feminist methodology, as we see, for example, in the work of Burt and Code (1995) Changing Methods: Feminists Transforming Practice, and Creese and Frisby (2011) Feminist Community Research. However, even though there has been a rich body of work and a long history of research that addresses the nuances of women researching women, particularly in the area of the autobiographical such as, for example, Ann Oakley’s (1981) ground breaking article “Interviewing women: A contradiction in terms,” there remain gaps in feminist discourse that concerns itself with a framework to name and explicate method work that seeks to address working with girls, for girls and about girlhood. Making method, then, seems to us to be a useful framing term to talk about methodology and method in the area of girlhood studies. In one sense the term can signal the idea of making in relation to becoming as a feature of the social constructions of girlhood and the highly contextualized question of “Who is a girl anyway?” It also picks up on the idea of claiming and creating an identity as we see in Gerry Bloustien’s (2004) notion of girl-making in her work with adolescent girls and video-making. But it also speaks to the need for alternative approaches to making meaning, and so, as feminist researchers working in this area, we may find ourselves making it up, in much the same way that Oakley and others have done, and, in so doing, acknowledging the limitations of more conventional forms of working with qualitative data in social research.

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The Cyndi Lauper Affect

Bodies, Girlhood and Popular Culture

Kristina Gottschall, Susanne Gannon, Jo Lampert and Kelli McGraw

Using a collective biography method informed by a Deleuzian theoretical approach (Davies and Gannon 2009, 2012), this article analyses embodied memories of girlhood becomings through affective engagements with resonating images in media and popular culture. In this approach to analysis we move beyond the impasse in some feminist cultural studies where studies of popular culture have been understood through theories of representation and reception that retain a sense of discrete subjectivity and linear effects. In these approaches, analysis focuses respectively on decoding and deciphering images in terms of their normative and ideological baggage, and, particularly with moving images, on psychological readings. Understanding bodies and popular culture through Deleuzian notions of “becoming“ and “assemblage“ opens possibilities for feminist researchers to consider the ways in which bodies are not separate from images but are, rather, becomings that are known, felt, materialized and mobilized with/through images (Coleman 2008a, 2008b, 2008c, 2009, 2011; Ringrose and Coleman 2013). We tease out the implications of this new approach to media affects through three memories of girls' engagements with media images, reconceived as moments of embodied being within affective flows of popular culture that might momentarily extend upon ways of being and doing girlhood.

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Rethinking Agency and Resistance

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.