Girlhood: Redefining the Limits

Girlhood: Redefining the Limits

By Andrea Belcham

A review of Girlhood: Redefining The Limits by Edited By Yasmin Jiwani Et Al.

Published on October 1, 2006

Girlhood: Redefining The Limits
Edited By Yasmin Jiwani Et Al.

Black Rose Books
$26.99
paper
264pp
1-55164-276-X

This book begins with the prefatory observation that girls “often have been spoken for and about as a homogenized group.” It aims to make amends by offering glimpses, via essays and research projects, of what it really means to be a Canadian girl in the new millennium. The contributors, scholars and grassroots activists alike, provide shifting visions of girlhood that penetrate beyond the girl-as-victim/girl-as-coquette stereotypes currently circulating in the mass media. By exploring the intertwining influence of factors like race, class, sexuality, and technology on the girlhood experience, the authors consider how acts of empowerment are both challenged and enabled in girls’ everyday lives.

Understandably, the digital world features prominently in the collection. In “From The Curse To The Rag,” for instance, Michele Polak examines girls’ use of online spaces to converse about menstruation without embarrassment or fear of censorship; such dialogue, she posits, constitutes a “rewriting [of] the familiar menstruation narrative” cultivated by “the feminine hygiene industry and perpetuated by mothers [and] grandmothers” and by the norms of consumerism. Sophie Wertheimer’s essay “Pretty in Panties” addresses preteens’ involvement with modelling websites. Avoiding outright condemnation, Wertheimer looks at how these sites might be equally construed as furthering the “eroticization of the girl-child” and as providing an arena in which girls can test adult roles.

Popular culture also appears as an important component of girls’ lives. Michele Byers’ “I Am (A) Canadien(ne)” analyzes the Degrassi franchise and other television shows for their successes and failures in reflecting real-life youth issues. “Did You See What She Was Wearing?” is Shauna Pomerantz’s exercise in decoding schoolgirl style. A girl’s style or her perceived lack thereof may be used to foster or undermine her peer popularity. Dawn H. Currie and Deirdre M. Kelly pick up on this in their contribution, “I’m Going To Crush You Like A Bug,” which focuses on meanness as an oft-condoned type of relational aggression between girls, one that perpetuates “a heterosexist gender hierarchy and the sexual competition of mainstream culture.” Yasmin Jiwani links violence to ethnicity and gender. In her study, girls of colour are invited to speak, through interviews and focus groups, about external and internalized sources of oppression. And in “Sugar and Spice and Something More Than Nice?” Marnina Gonick asks readers to contemplate whether queer girls can feasibly be called “girls.”

In a book that presents girlhood mediated through the age and experience of the researches/activists – none of the compiled texts are actually written by girls – it seems crucial that the authors’ research methods be diverse and extensive if the voices of youth are to be heard. The writers are certainly aware of their powerful positions as translators, and to their credit acknowledge the limitations of their own perspectives. “Survivor Stories, Surviving Narratives,” for example, is a fascinating tapestry of two researchers’ and their subjects’ memories of their separate girlhoods; Tatiana Fraser and Sarah Mangle’s essay, “POWER Camp National/Filles d’Action,” examines, among other topics, the outreach program facilitator’s efforts at entering girls’ headspaces; and in her piece, Wertheimer admits to having wrestled with her own preconceptions regarding the acceptable display of girls’ bodies: “While my discussion has attempted to re-place a modicum of agency into the models’ hands,” she says, “I remain uneasy with these websites and girls’ participations in them…I have often wondered how I would react should my own hypothetical daughter want to participate in them.”

Truly, the range of issues tackled in Girlhood is too vast to cover in a review of this length, and that is probably how the editors felt in restricting their collection to only 15 works. Consider this book an excellent sampler, then, of the work being accomplished with girls and in girlhood studies today. mRb

Andrea Belcham lives in Saint-Lazare, where many of her best neighbours are trees.

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