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Girls Reconstructing Gender

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.

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Girls, Power and Style

Social and Emotional Experiences of the Clothed Body

Emilie Zaslow

Drawing on ethnographic research with a diverse group of teen girls, this article asks how play with style is understood and enacted. By positioning girls' everyday transactions with style beside their engagement with style in media, this article demonstrates that girls live with a cultural discordance between the girl power media discourse of style as choice, power, and resistance, and the reality of their own, often disempowered, experiences with style. Bound by the promise of upward social mobility, the fear of losing status, and the risk of remaining in the low income and middle class communities in which they were raised, the girls in this study feel regulated and, at times, hurt by the required performance of the clothed body.

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Elina Oinas

In this article I explore the concept of the rebellious girl by examining the cases of three different girls: an HIV activist in South Africa; a young feminist in Finland; and a topless on-line protester in post-revolution Tunisia. Although their contexts and messages vary greatly, there are marked similarities between and amongst them. I suggest that, in general, the media, political movements, and research agendas often appear to have difficulty taking girls' protests seriously. The rebellious girl is ridiculed, shunned, shamed, and disciplined. The protests explored here can, however, be read as important visual interruptions that attempt to invoke an epistemic mutiny that does not beg for inclusion on preexisting terms but, rather, challenges the boundaries of acceptable bodily integrity. They also gesture towards the social in a way that demands recognition, acceptance, and support, not a simplified acceptance based on the notion of neoliberal individual freedom.

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Because I am a Girl

In the Shadow of War

Nikki van der Gaag, Sarah Henriks and Feyi Rodway

Conflict affects girls differently from boys—their rights are ignored, their responsibilities changed, and their lives altered forever by war. Girls face discrimination on at least two counts: because they are young and because they are female. We focus here on the changing nature of war and conflict and what this means for girls' health, economic well-being, physical security and protection, and also for their resilience and empowerment. We examine how girls are uniquely affected by, and respond to, conflict, its build-up and its aftermath. We assess the role of the institutions that have a duty to protect and support girls in conflict-affected states, and explore the reasons why policy actors do not take girls into account in their responses to violent conflict. We outline recommendations for action in terms of girls' education, harnessing girls' resilience and encouraging their empowerment.

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“A Pretty Girl of Sixteen“

Capturing the Contradictions of Female Adolescence in the Nancy Drew Series

Kate Harper

This article explores the construction of female adolescence in the first three texts of the Nancy Drew Mystery series: The Secret of the Old Clock (1930), The Hidden Staircase (1930), and The Bungalow Mystery (1930). It reviews, briefly, the development of the concept of adolescence and its gendered implications, particularly the association of female adolescent sexuality with delinquency. I argue that the Nancy Drew series rejects the construction of adolescence as a period of turmoil and emotional instability, as well as the prescription of constant adult supervision. The character of Nancy Drew also captures the contradictory messages of female adolescence in the 1930s when girls were represented as sexually attractive and aggressive but were denied sexual desire.

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Valerie R. Friesen

In many parts of the developing world, sport is a non-traditional activity for girls, one which is being used increasingly by development organizations for the empowerment of girls and women. However, very little research has been done on the complex subjective perceptions and understandings of the participants themselves. The girls in this study were participants in an after-school program in Windhoek, Namibia, which combines academics and sport. I used discourse analysis to highlight issues of agency, power, and gender that emerge from their reflections on their sport participation. Girls' conversations often revealed acceptance and normalization of dominant gender norms but also a growing critical consciousness, and demonstrated the numerous ways girls resist, negotiate and engage with these discourses through their own perceptions of power, agency, and hope.

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Martha Kamwendo

This article examines a group of Malawian teachers' views of the relationship between gender and achievement in order to highlight their participation in students' constructions of gendered identities, which in turn have an impact on achievement. Based on a survey with 35 teachers and interviews with 20 of them, the study on which this article is based shows how teachers position boys as high achievers and girls as low achievers. The teachers drew on a number of identity-related concepts that included sexuality, notions of femininity, differential gender socialization in the home, and self image to explain girls' underachievement. I discuss the implications of the findings and suggest how teachers can be encouraged to have a more positive attitude towards girls and their achievement.

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Veronika Honkasalo

This article examines multiculturalism and gender equality in the light of ethnicity, gender, and agency so as to illustrate how gender equality is used as a marker of Finnishness in various youth work contexts. The data presented consists of interviews with youth workers (n=42) and ethnographic fieldwork carried out from 2003 to 2005. The results illustrate that questions related to multiculturalism have enhanced the visibility of gender equality in youth work. The identification of gender-based inequality is connected, in particular, to girls from migrant backgrounds whose education and well-being are of social concern. Youth work itself is often seen as gender-neutral and equality-based. However, this illusion of gender equality reflects more the ideals of equality which are not being concretized in the practices of youth work. Equality in this context is defined as a purely quantitative concept: the solution to any possible inequalities is, therefore, that everyone should be treated in the same way.

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Through Our Eyes

Using Photovoice to Address Stigma in the Age of AIDS

Learning Together Project

Learning Together Project

Th e photographs in this essay were taken by grade eight and nine girls in one rural school in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa in response to the question: What is the face of stigma in our community in the context of HIV and Aids? Th e girls used inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras to document the issues on location at their school, staging scenes that tell critical stories of the impact of stigma on the community. Once they had taken the photographs they developed captions which speak to the issues that they were working to represent. Some wrote in isiZulu while others chose to write in English. Th e isiZulu captions were translated into English. The images in this photovoice project help to identify, understand and interpret incidents related to stigma and discrimination against people living with, and aff ected by, HIV and AIDS.

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Catherine Driscoll

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.