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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Girls and the State of Feminism in Popular Culture
Deirdre M. Kelly and Shauna Pomerantz
The article explores representations of "realistic" teen girlhood in popular culture in order to examine the current constructions of power made available to girls. Specifically, it focuses on three recent popular and critically acclaimed films: Mean Girls, Thirteen and Ghost World. The dominant discourses put forward in these films—girls as mean, as wild, and as alienated—naturalize negative behavior as a normal part of girlhood. In the terrain where these distinct, yet overlapping and reinforcing discourses on girlhood operate, postfeminism is taken for granted. Girls are portrayed as facing only individual concerns rather than any group-based injustices and, therefore, as not needing collective deliberation, evaluation, or action to solve their problems. The resulting discursive formation works to limit access to feminist and other oppositional discourses that name girls' experiences and link their feelings to the ongoing quest for gender justice.
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.
Girls, ethnicity and mediated doll products
Angharad N. Valdivia
Drawing on a theoretical framework that combines Media Studies, Latina/o Studies, and Girls Studies with the concept of hybridity, I explore American Girl, Dora the Explorer, and Bratz—three mediated doll lines—as manifestations of an ethnic identity crisis that in turns generates a moral panic that seeks to return whiteness and conventional femininity to its normalized mainstream standing. Issues of production, representation, and reception of mediated doll lines illuminate both a synergistic marketing strategy and a contested reception of hybrid mediated dolls. As such, mediated doll lines can be productively examined as they are an excellent vehicle for understanding contemporary agendas over gender, age, class, and ethnicity.
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.