Girl studies, also known as girlhood studies, is an interdisciplinary academic field of study that is focused on girlhood and girls' culture that combines advocacy and the direct perspectives and thoughts of girls themselves. The field officially emerged in the 1990s after decades of falling under the broader field of women's studies. Scholars within girl studies examine social and cultural elements of girlhood and move away from an adult-centered focus. Those working in the field of girl studies have studied it primarily in relation to other fields that include sociology, psychology, education, history, literary studies, media studies, and communication studies. Girl studies seeks to work directly with girls themselves in order to analyze their lives and understand the large societal forces at play within them. Scholars in girl studies also explore the connection the field has to women's studies, boyhood studies, and masculinity studies.
History and development
Girl studies officially became a field in the 1990s, after the increase in conversation about getting more girls into science, math, and technology fields in the 1980s, though scholars and researchers were studying girls prior to this decade. In the 1970s, some feminist scholars brought to attention the unbalanced focus of boyhood in comparison to girlhood in youth research. Angela McRobbie, Meda Chesney-Lind, and Christine Griffin were some of the few scholars studying and critiquing the lack of study on girlhood and girl culture in the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 1990s, the Harvard Project on Women's Psychology and Girls' Development conducted a study on the social development of relationships of girls. This study found that when they approach adolescence, girls begin to hide their honest feelings and desires from those they are in close relationships with, making it hard for them to express their feelings later in life. In 1992, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) published How Schools Shortchange Girls, "the first national survey to assert a link between girls' psychosocial experience and schooling".
Girl studies emerged in the 1990s, a time when there was an increased interest from the media and fashion and beauty industries in young women. Advertisers and retailers marketed towards girls by "promising female youth agency and social value" from purchasing the products. Within the academy, there was an increase in feminist and gender studies scholars focusing on intersectionality and subsequently on girls. In 2008, scholars Claudia Mitchell, Jacqueline Reid-Walsh, and Jackie Kirk established and launched Girlhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal after recognizing the emerging interest in the field at the 2001 "A New Girl Order: Young Women and the Future of Feminist Inquiry" conference at King's College London.
As girl studies develops, "there has been significant movement away from studying girls as future women and toward analyzing girls as members of a unique demographic group", especially in psychology, history, and sociology. There is also a movement towards focusing more on intersectionality and the experiences of girls across the world. In a 2016 article, Claudia Mitchell acknowledges the presence of girlhood studies in Africa, referencing a South African video project called Vikea Abantwana (Protect The Children: A Story about Incest). The video chronicles the life of Philendelini, a young girl who was raped by her father. Mitchell mentions this film to highlight the necessity of girlhood studies; in the film, Philendelini confides in several adult women about her assault and is ignored or turned down in each instance.
On the topic of insuring an intersectional and transnational approach in girl studies, scholar Oneka LaBennett commented “Black schoolgirls and college students have engaged in protests across the globe. Girls themselves have drawn attention to the negative impact of things like white beauty standards, the intersections of racial and gender violence, the problems with police brutality and the school-to-prison pipeline."
Previously a subject of adolescent psychology and feminist studies, girl studies have also grown through the adoption of 'Cool Japan,' a campaign by the Japanese foreign ministry to spread the appeal of Japanese popular culture and images. Due to its preoccupation with Japanese youth and schoolgirls, Cool Japan has become a topic of girl studies, branching out into many areas. Such movements reflect the interdisciplinary nature of girl studies.
Black Girlhood Studies
Black Girlhood Studies has developed in recent years to combat the white washed field of Girls' studies. Black girlhood studies is understood as a site of Black feminist inquiry with aims of centering the coming into knowing Black girls’ experience and representations of Black girlhood. In Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip-hop Feminist Ruth Nicole Brown states that Black girlhood are, “the representations, memories, and lived experiences of being and becoming in a body marked as youthful, Black, and female.” For Brown, Black girlhood is a powerful concept that enables Black girls to create sacred spaces for themselves and each other even while structural forces work “to posit [Black girls] as the very “risky” problem, an aberration of normal.” Brown’s sentiments were echoed again during the 2016 “Black Girl Movement: A National Conference”, a three-day conference at Columbia University in New York City that focused on Black girls, cis, queer, and trans girls, in the United States. The purpose of the conference was to recognize that while Black girls are “among the most significant cultural producers, community connectors, and trendsetters”, Black girls still remain highly invisible and “are in crisis.” Scholars have used this moment to theorize liberating projects for Black girls and Black girlhood, a site of both theoretical and practical analysis. Founded by LaKisha Simmons, Renee Sentilles, and Corinne Field, History of Black Girlhood: An Academic Network provides a forum for scholars centering Black girlhood to share work and collaborate. While many of the work in Black Girlhood Studies is contemporary, there are Black feminist canonical texts that home in on the ways in which Black girlhood has always already been present in the work of Black women (Beloved by Toni Morrison, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood by bell hooks, among many others). These materials span literature, film, poetry, policy, magazine articles, and so on.
Many of the texts foundational to the contemporary field of Black girlhood studies fall within an ethnographic tradition. These works include Elizabeth Chin's Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture (2001), Ruth Nicole Brown's Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip-hop Feminist Pedagogy (2009) Oneka LaBennett's She’s Mad Real: Popular Culture and West Indian Girls in Brooklyn (2011), and Aimee Meredith Cox's Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship (2015). These texts examine Black girls’ complex racialized, gendered, and age-based cultural realities as they navigate and resist multiple forms of violences. These ethnographies are rooted in a Black feminist epistemological emphasis on centering lived experiences.
Historians Abosede George Making Modern Girls: A history of girlhood, labor, and social development in 20th century colonial Lagos (2015), Marcia Chatelain South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration (2015), LaKisha Simmons Crescent City Girls: The Lives of Young Black Women in Segregated New Orleans (2015) extends beyond the ethnographic work of the field in which the three scholars mentioned focus on place and social history to tell the stories of Black girls. This regional approach emphasizes the necessary local specifies of Black girlhood. Nazera Sadiq Wright's Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century (2016) traces a long literary tradition to discover the origins of Black girlhood as we have come to understand the category today.
As an emerging field, girl studies has faced some criticisms from other scholars. Janie Victoria Wald and Beth Cooper Benjamin have found that connections between "girls' psychosocial development and persistent issues in adult women's lives" are not as present in recent scholarship as they were during the advent of the field and believe they should be in order to explore intergenerational relationships. These two scholars also criticize the increased specialization of focus in the field and subsequent disconnect between the subfields. Mary Celeste Kearney, a scholar who does work in girl studies, notices that though there is a focus on intersectionality within the field, "non-white, non-Western girls remain vastly understudied as result of such research being conducted primarily in Canada, Australia, Great Britain, Northern Europe, and the United States." Some critics identify problems that they see with the field as a whole, claiming that it is neither a new nor exciting field, as the Girlhood Studies journal states, but rather one that is established and in crisis.
Future of Girlhood
Girlhood and girl power work t ogether to form a strong bond between young girls across the globe. When girls are growing up, they are learning from the women around them, what is right and what is wrong. Women of the older ages are set up as role models for those who are under the age of 18. The future of girlhood is in the hands of those who chose to set a good example forward for these young people to grasp onto. Marnina et al., explained in their book that we are past the after-girl power stage (2009). After passing this stage these groups of writers are posing another question as to if there is something that comes after this stage. Girls have seen violence from all sorts of stages causing them to fear their growing up ways. As mentioned in the text History and Popular Culture at Work in the Subjectivity of a Tween, the authors daughter was scared to become an adult because of the concerns of others. Other people in her class were bring articles and other pieces of writing that scared Elisabeth into thinking that growing up was not something that she wanted to do (2005). With girls having these types of ideas rushing through their minds as they get older – we are not helping them grow in a safe space. Instead, we are raising them to fear the outside world and not want to be a part of it. This can change if we focus on what comes next once we pass the after-girl power.
- Kirk, Jackie, Claudia Mitchell, Jacqueline Reid-Walsh. “Welcome to this inaugural issue of Girlhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal (GHS).” Girlhood Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, 2008.
- Kearney, Mary Celeste (2009). "Coalescing: The Development of Girls' Studies". NWSA. 21 (1).
- Driscoll, Catherine. “Girls Today: Girls, Girl Culture and Girl Studies.” Girlhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 1, no. 1, 2008.
- Mitchell, Claudia (2016). "Charting Girlhood Studies". In Mitchell, Claudia; Rentschler, Carrie (eds.). Girlhood and the Politics of Place. Berghahn Books.
- Benjamin, Beth Cooper and Ward, Janie Victoria. “Women, Girls, and the Unfinished Work of Connection: A Critical Review of American Girls’ Studies.” All about the Girl: Culture, Power, and Identity, edited by Anita Harris, Psychology Press, 2004, pp. 15-27.
- Mitchell, Claudia (2016). Girlhood and the Politics of Place. Girlhood and the Politics of Place. Berghahn Books. pp. 87–103. ISBN 9780857456021. JSTOR j.ctt14jxn16.10.
- "Meet the Scholars Building a Network Around Black Girlhood". The Chronicle of Higher Education. 2017-04-06. Retrieved 2018-03-23.
- Miller, Laura (2011). "Taking girls seriously in 'Cool Japan' ideology" (PDF). Japan Studies Review. 31:1: 18–29.
- Brown, Ruth Nicole. Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy. First printing edition. New York: Peter Lang Inc., International Academic Publishers, 2008.
- “Black Girl Movement Conference | IRAAS Institute for Research in African-American Studies.” Accessed December 7, 2017. http://iraas.columbia.edu/Event/black-girl-movement-conference.
- Mendes Kaitlynn, Kumarini Silva, Linda Duits, Liesbet van Zoonen, Sharon Lamb, Shakuntala Banaji, and Natalie Edwards (2009) Commentary and criticism, Feminist Media Studies, 9:1.
- Gonick, Marnina; Renold, Emma; Ringrose, Jessica; Weems, Lisa (2009-01-01). "Rethinking Agency and Resistance: What Comes After Girl Power?". Girlhood Studies. 2 (2): 1–9. doi:10.3167/ghs.2009.020202. ISSN 1938-8209.
- Cherland, Meredith (2005). "CHAPTER SIX: Reading Elisabeth's Girlhood: History and Popular Culture at Work in the Subjectivity of a Tween". Counterpoints. 245: 95–116. JSTOR 42978694.