Sex, drugs and feminist theory?
Professor Lisa McDaid, University of Glasgow
Recent research of mine has highlighted a disconnect between men and women and their intimate relationships and am struck by how little has changed in the 20 years that I have been involved in sexual health research. We are not teaching young people any differently and in doing so we offer them narrow definitions of masculinity and femininity on which to draw from. I believe this leads to some of the issues and problems we see in how underprepared girls (and boys) can find themselves for relationships and the disconnect between men and women in adulthood. My talk will reflect on 20 years of sexual health research and consider what or how we must start to do things differently. It will look to examples of girls finding their own path as a potential way forward.
Resisting Girlhood? Theorizing Young Women’s Violence
Dr Susan Batchelor, University of Glasgow
This paper presents some of the theoretical perspectives which I have found useful when thinking about the issue of young women who have perpetrated violence. Drawing on feminist theory, it locates young women’s violence within the context of gender inequality, a context in which girlhood is denigrated and male violence against women and girls is legitimated. Psychosocial and post-structural analyses provide insights into to the relationships between power, subjectivity, and social practices, offering a means to make sense of the paradoxical continuities and contradictions in young women’s experiences as both victims and perpetrators, who simultaneously collude with and resist oppressive gender structures.
Untold Stories of Gypsy and Traveller Girls
Dr Geetha Marcus, University of Glasgow
My talk presents the untold stories of Gypsy and Traveller girls living in Scotland. Drawing on accounts of the girls’ lives and offering space for their voices to be heard, the author addresses contemporary and traditional stereotypes and racialised misconceptions of Gypsies and Travellers. I explore how the stubborn persistence of these negative views appears to contribute to policies and practices of neglect, inertia or intervention that often aim to ‘civilise’ and further assimilate these communities into the mainstream settled population. It is against this backdrop that my research exposes the girls’ racialised and gendered experiences, which impact on their struggles as young people to realise their potential and future prospects. Their narratives reveal the strengths of a distinct community, and the complexity of their silence and agency within the patriarchal structures that pervade the private spaces of home and the public spaces of education. The study also invites us to reflect on how the experiences of Gypsy and Traveller girls compares with young women from other social backgrounds, and questions if there is more that binds us than divides us as women in the modern world.
Creative Feminist Research Methods: An interactive session
Mindy Ptolomey, University of Glasgow
Reflecting on 3 Decades of Girlhood Studies
Professor Angela McRobbie, Goldsmiths
This presentation will undertake three things: A) Re-consider the 4 early articles on girlhood completed at the Birmingham CCCS in the mid-1970s, these being Jackie Magazine, Girls and Subcultures, Working Class Girls and the Culture of Femininity and Settling the Accounts with Subcultures. In this section I would provide some context regarding the reception of and response to early feminism in the field of cultural studies and sociology. I would also undertake an auto-critique in regard to issues raised then and now. B) In the second part of the presentation I would reflect briefly on girlhood studies over the last 3 decades referring to some exemplary (often ethnographic) work as I literally ‘pull these volumes from my bookshelves’, then C, to bring things up to date I will draw attention to the intersections of new activism and the new feminist academy, to include discussion of ‘critique of empowerment’ (Banet-Weiser) ‘critique of Nike Girl culture as development discourse’ (Kalpana Wilson), and ‘critique of fashion and the body’ as feminist politics find themselves directly challenging the historically prescribed femininities of consumer culture, with what effect I ask?
Angela McRobbie The Aftermath of Feminism 2008, Feminism and the Politics of ‘Resilience’: Women, Media and the End of Welfare 2020.
‘Trying to grow publicly’: Lena Dunham and the Politics of Public Apology
Dr Wallis Seaton, Keele University
A significant part of Lena Dunham’s brand is her failings. This is foregrounded in the irony of self-reflections that permeates her HBO series Girls (2012-2017), in which her character Hannah Horvath sometimes dissects the real critiques of Dunham’s work for its ‘privilege’ and ‘stunted feminist ideas’ (Seaton 2017). Elsewhere, in her autobiographical books of essays Not That Kind of Girl (2014), Dunham ‘makes a fetish out of failure’ to invert familiar postfeminist narratives of self-help and -improvement (Gill 2017: 230). While this adds to her ‘affective ordinariness’, the supposed authenticity behind this intimacy and vulnerability has been questioned for its problematic blending of feminist politics, ephemera and ‘brand control’ (Murray 2017: 258).
A similar critique can also be extended to the raced and classed nature of Dunham’s engagements with digital publics, in so far as the apologies for her failings and imperfections are closely bound up with her ‘girl’ persona – which she suggests ‘careens between wisdom and ignorance’ (Dunham 2016). As I shall explore in this paper, Dunham’s celebrity status renders the labour of her feminist interactions and subsequent negotiations as intensely public. I ask to what extent her apologies, disseminated on social media, can provide productive opportunities for ‘teaching moments’, where the ‘personal and the messy’ work of feminist politics is given space to educate and to inform (Thelandersson 2014: 529). On the other hand, Dunham’s apologies – like her feminism – are, to some extent, performative, thus belying the authenticity and humanness that teaching moments are thought to imply. Further, the privilege afforded to Dunham by her platform allows her to continue to ‘grow publicly’ (in Bernstein 2017) and “learn” from her mistakes, while little changes the problematic dynamics underpinning public discourse. Lena Dunham and her feminist identity, then, continue to exemplify the tensions and nuances of celebrity feminism in a postfeminist media culture.
The Role of Femininity in Girls’ Lives
Dr Tori Cann, University of East Anglia
‘Femininity’ has long since been talked about in girls’ studies. The conflation between young femininities and girlhood studies is considerable. But as we shift towards increasingly fragmented understandings of the self, this conflation between femininity and girlhood becomes ever more untenable. Intersectional feminist theory and practice renders problematic any claim that there is ‘one unified girl experience’ and thus our understanding the relationship that girls have to femininity becomes complicated. Furthermore, theorisations of femininity are at best ‘loose’ and at worst completely unworkable. In this paper I want to think about how we can proceed in developing a useful theory of femininity that can be untied from female bodies but nevertheless contribute to a meaningful understanding of femininity as a concept, theory, and lived reality.
I draw on empirical research, which used ethnography, identity pages and focus groups to garner an understanding of young people’s cultural lives, to trouble any straightforward notions of what femininity is and what it can do. I work through my findings that demonstrate that when it comes to girls’ lives, the relationship they have to femininity is fraught and contested. While femininity is seen to provide the ideal subject position for girls, it ultimately seems to offer them largely dissatisfying possibilities. I think about this in more depth, to consider how the dissatisfyingness of femininity becomes heightened when thought of in relation to class, race and disability. Turning back to theory, I draw on existing work from Ros Gill and emerging work from Carrie Paetcher to discuss the (im)possibilities of hegemonic femininity under patriarchy. I also draw on the work of Sarah Banet-Weiser and Catherine Rottenberg to consider how popular misogyny also manifests in the devaluation of the feminine. I therefore raise questions of how under patriarchal neoliberalism, it is femininity that becomes the target – impacting folks of all genders. It is in the raising of these questions that this paper encourages scholars to undertake a new theory of critical femininity.
When Girlhood is Motherhood: Towards New Looking and Being: The Desiring and Creative Gazes of Working Class Single Mothers.
Dr Linda Aloysius, University of East London and Central Saint Martins
This paper draws from Jessica Ringrose and Rebecca Coleman’s analysis (2013) of the transformative potential of girls’ looking as a way to “resist and fight back against the fixing of the body through looking” (ibid. p. 130). The paper examines what happens to this potential when the perceived boundaries of girlhood and motherhood overlap and become embodied by subjects categorised as working class single mothers.
Drawing from my lived experiences as a working class single mother artist, my experiences of teaching Fine Art practice to working class single mothers (at University of East London) and my doctoral research into historically “pathologised” (Harding, 1998, p. 116)working class single mothers and their gazes, the paper argues that the “politics of looking” (Coleman and Ringrose, 2013) brought to working class single mothers obstructs the potential of their looking, constituting their longstanding, systemic oppression and forcibly outlawing their right to assert equal, desiring and creative gazes. This prohibits the possibility of their contribution to the construction of new, transformative relations, in which morphological looking is key.
The paper argues this prohibition is engendered through the complex, interweaving technologies of oppression in which the gaze and looking are crucial, including:
(i) The media’s routine, strategic association of working class single mothers and their gazes with delinquency and depravity.
(ii) The longstanding institutional exclusion of the gazes of working class single mother artists from cultural production.
(iii) The deflecting of the gaze from the unpaid work carried out by working class single mothers, to render their work as a form of invisible labour.
The paper proposes that art practice have a crucial role to play in combatting this situation, by drawing new attention to the gazes of working class single mother artists in ways that generate new understanding of the overlap of the perceived parameters of girlhood and motherhood as positively and morphologically structured and, as such, constitutive one of many “unknown spaces for movement”(Coleman and Ringrose, 2013, p. 130).
Disabled and Cute: Locating the Disabled Girl in Feminist Media Studies
Dr Sarah Hill, Newcastle University
As Rosemarie Garland Thomson has argued, feminist disability studies has sought tooffer a corrective to feminist theory, which ‘sometimes ignores, misrepresents, or conflicts with the concerns of women with disabilities’ (2001: 5) (my emphasis). Girls are notably absent here, which is indicative of the ways in which the intersections of girlhood and disability have frequently been overlooked (Stienstra, 2015).
Disabled girls are also largely absent from the growing body of work on girls’ online self-representation practices (Hill, 2017). This paper will explore how disabled girls represent themselves online through an analysis of the Twitter hashtag Disabled and Cute as part of a politics of visibility. #DisabledandCute was created in 2017 by Keah Brown, who wanted to create an ‘act of self-love in the disability community’ that challenges common perceptions of disability (Brown, 2017). #DisabledandCute is also notably gendered, with the majority of selfies posted by girls and young women.
This case study will identify and analyse some of the key characteristics of #DisabledandCute in order to explore how disabled girls navigate the contemporary postfeminist ‘mediascape’ (Ringrose, 2013), particularly the increased emphasis on self-esteem and body confidence.
Sexy dancing and make-up tutorials: Performing gender while ‘playing YouTube’
Elizabeth L. Nelson
Participatory media sites are heralded as exciting spaces of possibility for young people (Jenkins, Ito and boyd, 2015). Millions of hours of videos are watched by children and young people across the world and this media feeds their creative play. Drawing on preliminary findings from my PhD project, this paper looks at how children are ‘playing YouTube’, with a specific focus on the gendered aspect of that play.
Performances of gendered activities are a common sight on YouTube, from dance videos to make-up tutorials. While there are those who are subverting gender ‘norms’, much of the content is aimed at certain ages and genders. In my study, the students watched and discussed a number of YouTube videos and then created their own videos, acting as ‘produsers’ (producers and users) (Bruns, 2009). The children naturally mimicked the style of the popular channels they watched, both in their language and activities.
This paper will draw on theories by Goffman and Butler to read two videos created by female participants. Each video shows a young girl playing a role they have seen older female YouTubers perform. The tropes, the mistakes, the innocence and the knowledge demonstrated in these videos provides a small insight into how youth digital cultures move into the playground, affecting how gender is performed across spaces of play by young girls today.
Growing up after Hurricane Katrina: How Social Class Intersects with Girlhood, Genders and Sexualities
Dr Lisa Overton, Middlesex University
This paper presents findings from empirical fieldwork about young women growing up in Post-Katrina New Orleans. Most of the participants can be broadly defined as middle-class and all were aged 13 to 35 at the time of Katrina. Two distinct themes emerged within this intersection that highlights girlhood cannot be homogenised and where social class intersects with different stages of ‘growing up’, distinct experiences are produced post-disaster. For girls who were teenagers and under the age 18-21, the findings show that this sub-cohort experienced a relative position of advantage compared to young women participants who were over the ages of 18-21 at the time of Katrina due to high levels of protection provided by family. However protection came at other costs so that the young women struggled with feelings of powerlessness and feeling invisible. Young women over the age of 18-21 were afforded more freedom than their younger counterparts meaning that they could take control of their lives in evacuation, return and relationships. However, their age and ‘middle-classness’ often positioned this cohort of young women precariously in terms of employment, access to healthcare and overall recovery, particularly decision-making. Overall, the paper highlights that growing up post-disaster is highly complex for young women and teenage girls and that more research is needed to understand their experiences. The paper highlights why it is important to pay attention to the temporality of girlhood-lifecourse in the context of social class and how this intersects further with sexualities, genders and race to produce a range of girlhoods.
Girls Doing Digital Feminist Activisms
Professor Jessica Ringrose, UCL
The paper investigates how young people engage with a range of social media platforms to develop digital activist practices and create queer, feminist affective, digital intimate, counter publics and pedagogies. The digital spaces and platform affordances of social media are understood to create the conditions for “online counter publics” (Salter, 2013) through mediated connectivities and visibilities. This paper demonstrates how digital mediation is materializing queer and feminist consciousness raising (Mendes et al., 2019).
Methodologically, the paper draws upon combined findings from eight years of studying teen feminism and LGBTQ networks and diversity clubs across multiple schooling sites in UK, USA and Canada (Ringrose and Renold, 2016). Data includes focus groups, individual interviews, survey responses, mobile phone scroll-back screen captures, online observations and social media diaries. This data is analyzed to explore the trans-ferring and remediation of gender activisms across digital platforms. I also discuss the need for better social media digital literacy through consideration of what is “NotSafeForSchool”, borrowing from the ‘NotSafeForWork’ social media debates. I discuss the tensions around performing gendered and sexual political subjectivities in and around school, arguing such negotiated contestations are part of these youth’s development of and participation in what I call networked public pedagogies as digital citizens. I show the possibilities for resisting, and indeed transforming oppressive gender and sexuality norms in social media ecologies. Finally, via my discussion of some examples of how networked counter public pedagogies can clash with official school rules and cultures I make policy and practice recommendations for tools to better support young people’s social media gender activisms.