After Girl Power opened with a question: why “girl studies”? The readings, papers and discussions that followed demonstrated the importance of studying girls’ experience and culture, and the range of issues that this study addresses.
The conference opened with a reading from Ailish McAlpine-Green’s play Period Lessons, which discussed menstruation as a feature of girls’ growing sense of self and gender identity. Themes related to the body and embodied subjectivity recurred in several papers, examining body modification and beauty ideals. Jennifer Dawn Whitney described the phenomenon of labiaplasty, as being part of a wider process of “removing the abject from visual culture” in favour of a “doll like plasticity”. Juhi Sidharth examined the experience of adolescent girls in the slums of Mumbai, as they seek to negotiate dress and behaviour within a wider context of community policing and gender roles.
Niamh Moore gave an insight into the history of Feminist Webs, discussing the projects that youth workers have undertaken with girls in the North West, and the importance of making such work transgenerational. She described how a lack of consensus in a working context need not be a barrier to co-operation being reached, and highlighted the importance of making such projects useful for the people they involve.
This question of the end user recurred in Katie Weidermann and Ashley Remer’s presentation on Girlmuseum.org. As a resource for images of and reflections on girlhood, the speakers discussed the possibility of the site being “by girls, about girls and for girls”, emphasising the importance of engaging with the audience.
Helena Louise Dare-Edwards’ paper considered the function of dual identities in Hannah Montana, as a means for ‘having it all’. The show exhorts the importance of self-fashioning in achieving one’s goals, taking the notion of masquerade beyond dressing up to become a lived performance, requiring numerous costumes and products. Suzanna Henshon expanded on the theme of the commodification of girls’ identity by discussing the American Girl dolls. As high-value and high-status toys, the American Girl dolls encourage both mothers and daughters to see themselves as part of a community, united through shared consumption of the products and ideals promoted by the company.
This is just a selection of the themes that were discussed during a day of informative presentations and debates, which provided a broad overview of the topic within a warm and friendly environment.
Anne Burns, Loughborough University