Jessica Willis

ISBN-13: 978-1-935987-41-3

# pages: 155


Suggested Retail: $49.95




Existing in the spaces in between, girls in the 21st-century U.S. have a great deal to teach us about social constructs of gender. Culturally and historically socialized to believe girls can do anything, female adolescents embrace a multitude of contradictory discourses. In an age of technological consumption and medical redemption for all kinds of physical “flaws,” girls are surprisingly optimistic about their social positions in the world.

Why Girls?

Girls are important subjects that need to be taken seriously by 21st-century thinkers. Their role as social players in changing notions of gender is perhaps one of the richest sites for understanding and mapping shifts in everyday gendered behaviors. Girls negotiate cultural discourses of “femininity” in their daily talk, dress, and self-presentation. At a symbolic level, cultural representations of girls discursively convey contemporary ideas about “femininity.” Girls are a culturally symbolic group because they are often situated as embodying contemporary cultural debates about gender and sex roles in the formal and informal organization of society.

Why Now?

Girlhood is an identity position often taken for granted in the social world. The ways that girls learn to construct normalized gender identities reveal important shifts in changing cultural ideas about social expectations for female adolescents. This book examines girlhood as a culturally constructed concept. It focuses on an exploration of the different ways that girls in the U.S. actively construct narratives of selfhood in relation to their readings of visual and literary discourses of “femininity.”

Table of Contents


Introduction 1
Why This Study? 3
Terms 5

Becoming a Girl 7
Previous Psychological Research on Girls 9
Literature Review 9
Theoretical Framework 12
Identity Construction in the Social World 13
Social Situations 14
Discourses of Femininity 15
Semiotics of the Body 16
Sexed Bodies 16
Experiences of Embodiment 17
A Continuum of Girlhood in Popular Texts 18
Postmodern- and Hybrid-girlhood 19
Discourses of Protection: A Conservative Approach
to the Notion of Girls in Crisis 20
Commodification of Girl-Power: Riot Grrls,
Spice Girls, Power-Puff Girls 22
Girlhood and the s-hero discourse 23
Cultural Semiotics of Girlhood:
Images of Female Youth in Film and Media,1985-2007 24
Visual Texts 25
Girls as Caricatures 26
Girls Using Texts 27
Girls Reading About Girlhood
in Contemporary Fiction 29
Agency as a Theoretical Framework 32
Agency in the Social World 33

A Feminist Study
of Girlhood Through
a Lens of Agency 36
Aims and Focus 37
Participants and Setting 38
Demographic Information 41
Interview Method 42
Data Analysis Method 45

Girls’ Negotiations of
Discourses of Femininity 47
Girls Constructing Identities 48
Theoretical Lenses 48
Themes 48
Girl as the Absent Signifier 50
Being a Girl Means
Not Being a Boy 50
Being a Girl is Derogated 51
Girls Are Like Boys 54
Conclusions 55
Virtual Liberation:
Agency in the Imaginary 56
Girls Engaging with the Social Imaginary 57
Imaginary Models
of Girlhood 58
Masculinity as a
Normative Standard 60
Strength in Subversive
Models of Girlhood 61
Reimagining Girlhood: New Technology, Old Frameworks 63
Agency in the Imaginary:
a Strategic Resource 65
Gender as Performance 67
Embodying Gender:
Discourse and Social Relations 67
Heteronormative Girlhood:
Girls’ Ggentive Negotiations 73
Downplaying Intelligence:
Gendered Performances
of the “Silly Girl” 76
Girls Can Do Anything, BUT… 79
Agency and American Discourses
of Femininity in the Early
21st Century 79
Girls’ Choices of Gendered Fields
of Employment 80
Girl-Power: What Does
It Really Mean? 82
Astronaut or Actress,
President or Pop star 83

Signatures of Girlhood 90
Hybrid-Girlhood 91
Contested Realms of Girlhood 93
Heteronormativity: A Cultural Signatureof Girlhood 95
Power in Mobilizations
of Girlhood 97
The Discourse of Girl-Power:
Sex and Consumption
in Girlhood 98
Virtual Liberation 102
Girls in the Institution
of Sports 103
Trivializing Girlhood:
Girls Just Want to Have Fun? 105

Conclusions 110
Interview Questions 115
Sample Interview Questions 115


Voluntary Family
Questionnaire 117

Study Methods 118

Participant Profiles 119
Ellie 119
Tamar 120
Zoe 121
Brodie 123
Chante 124
Hale 125
Janisa 127
Marin 128
Stephanie 130
Yvette 131
Kayo 134
Leigh 136
Myuko 137
Yasmeen 139
Zahra 141


About the Author(s): Jessica Willis

Jessica Willis grew up in California. She received a B.A. in Literature and Women’s Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz. In 1999, Willis completed an M.A. in Feminist Clinical Psychology at New College of California in San Francisco. In 2008, Willis was awarded a doctoral degree in Women’s and Gender Studies from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. She currently works as a faculty member in the Women’s and Gender Studies program at Eastern Washington University. Her research applies an interdisciplinary approach to understanding female adolescent identity development and socio-cultural constructions of agency in girls’ everyday lives. Her book, The Making of Modern Girlhood, investigates girls’ active contributions to re-imagining femininities, masculinities, sexualities, and consequences of gendered embodiment at the early part of the 21st century in the U.S.
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