Spring 2020 American Girls & American Girlhood Course: Keywords and Popular Culture Blog Posts

Post #1 must be completed by Friday, February 7th
Post #2 must be completed by Friday, April 10th

This is a course in which the realm of literary studies and cultural studies merge.  Over the course of the semester, we’ll make important connections between our assigned readings and popular culture past and present.  I encourage you to make your own connections to popular culture throughout the semester, from your own encounters with things related to American Girls and American Girlhood in popular culture and their potential connection to our class’ readings and discussions.

This informal writing assignment asks you write a blog post in which you use your understanding of any single term from the Keywords for Children’s Literature assigned readings in order to compare some aspect of American Girlhood in any of our other course readings (i.e., the fictional stories we’re reading, whether American Girl books, short stories, or novels) to some “Cool Thing” (a video clip, an image, a news story, a song, an advertisement, whatever) from popular culture today.  (See the following page for details on how to access and post on our course blog.)

During lecture and section discussions, we’ll discuss our keywords readings and we’ll make use of our shared understanding of these terms as we discuss our other course readings.  I’ll also provide some examples of how one might put contemporary Cool Things into conversation with our other course readings.

You will write two blog posts for this course.  You must choose a different keyword for each post, and you must choose a different course reading and Cool Thing to compare for each post.  While you must complete one blog post by the midway point of the semester and your second by the end of the semester, (see exact dates above), please feel free to post earlier than this, whenever you find a Cool Thing that merits comparison with our keywords and one of our course readings. This will allow class members to comment on blog posts throughout the semester, as well.

Your analysis should include a thesis statement that expresses your main point of comparison (e.g., “In Text A, the idea of “keyword” is represented as doing X, while in Cool Thing B, “keyword” is represented as doing Y” or “Both Text A and Text B focus on representations of “keyword” in a way that shows XYZ.” You don’t have to follow these formulas exactly, but your post should contain these elements.) *See Professor Fielder’s example posts for reference on what posts might look like.

Each blog post should be about a paragraph long, or ½ a single-spaced typewritten page.

* For extra credit, during both the first and second half of the semester, you may comment on your classmates’ blog posts, adding to the conversations they’ve started. (Comments will be worth one point each, up to 5 extra points on the midterm and final exam, respectively). Comments can be brief, even just one or two sentences, but these should be substantive. That is, they should make their own specific argument or addition to the conversation, beyond mere agreement or disagreement with the original post. Your professor and teaching assistant will provide some examples of comments, as well.

4 thoughts on “Spring 2020 American Girls & American Girlhood Course: Keywords and Popular Culture Blog Posts”

  1. In Jacqueline Reid-Walsh’s Keywords for Children’s Literature, she discusses the popular, yet arbitrary term, “girlhood.” There are many factors that contribute to the term girlhood such as numerical age, sex, state of mind, and level of innocence. A girl’s state of mind can vary completely depending on the girl herself and her environment. Some girls mature faster than others, some think being a girl is a negative thing, but no matter how they interpret the word, they are always thinking about girlhood and what it means to be a girl, even if it’s subconsciously.
    Attached to the word girlhood sometimes comes a derogatory connotation and an idea of being less than or weak. A commercial that went viral during the Superbowl in 2015 was groundbreaking for girls and women. The feminine hygiene product company, Always®, came up with the famous #LikeAGirl commercial. In the commercial there were boys and girls of various ages and each were asked to do different actions “like a girl”. One set of subjects, older teenagers, acted out the actions in a prissy manner, and some even laughed when the interviewer said “fight like a girl”. However, when they asked young girls to “run like a girl” and “fight like a girl” they ran as fast as they could and fought as hard as they could possibly fight. The commercial asks “when did doing something ‘like a girl’ become an insult?” A girl’s self esteem plummets during puberty because of all the negative feelings surrounding the word girl.
    Culture and society play a large role in determining who is and who is not considered a girl. If society thinks of a girl in a negative way, girls are most likely going to then think of themselves in a negative way and grow up thinking they are not worthy. In some of the books we have discussed in class, the girls in the stories are mainly taught to do housework and be good participating members of their family. They are not necessarily given the freedom to explore themselves. However, Walsh notes that in the 1930s, books finally started to give girls more action packed books which led way for a change in the depiction of girlhood. This Always® commercial deems to promote strength rather than weakness in girls and encourage them to not hold back or be afraid to show who they are to the world.


  2. In simple terms, “girlhood” is a state or time of being a girl. This definition forces one to consider/question the markers that label someone as a “girl.” Throughout Jacqueline Reid-Walsh’s Keywords essay and throughout the in-class discussions, the following were considered as possible ways to classify someone as a “girl”: chronological age, biological sex, gender identification, a phase of psychological development, a state of mind, participation in “girl” culture, legal status, a state of youthful “innocence,” the absence of sexual activity, etc. In her essay, Reid-Walsh demonstrates that the definition and ideology of “girlhood” is quite complex and quite variable when considering cultural influence. In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie, the idea of “girlhood” is represented as a state of youthful innocence, while in Pixar’s The Incredibles 2, the idea of “girlhood” is represented as a stage of psychological development.

    In Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls is portrayed as stereotypical innocent young girl. Throughout the book, Wilder tells the story of her family moving West through her own perspective. As the family’s journey progresses, Laura notices that the racists acts of her family and white settlers, in general, are negatively affecting the Native people. Although she is not completely naive, she is still considered innocent based on the fact that she cannot fully grasp this concept. This is especially shown towards the end of the book when she is completely infatuated with the Native baby.

    In The Incredibles 2, Violet Parr, a major character, is portrayed as a stereotypical emotional adolescent girl—representing a time of psychological development. To give some background, Violet is the eldest child and only daughter of Bob and Helen Parr and the older sister of two younger brothers—Dash and Jack-Jack. As a child of supers, Violet also has her own unique powers. However, due to laws that restrict the use of the family’s powers, life between her parents and siblings is somewhat tense. Throughout the first film, Violet is depicted as a gloomy, uncertain, shy, socially withdrawn girl with self-esteem issues. However, throughout the second film, Violet is pushed beyond her comfort level and gains more confidence in who she is. By the end of the film, Violet develops a sense of maturity and appreciation for herself and each one of her family members and even a sense of humor.

    Like I mentioned when introducing the topic of “girlhood,” the ideology spreads far beyond the simple definition. Both Laura Ingalls and Violet Parr are just two examples of the numerous ways to describe “girlhood.” I think it important to notice that these stereotypical representations may do not hold true for all people who identify as “girl.”


  3. When discussing the term “girlhood”, many people connotate it with weakness and being submissive. For years, a phrase going around has been to do something ‘like a girl’ which typically has a connotation of doing something half-heartedly or weakly. The company Always released a campaign showing these stereotypes portrayed by teens but additionally showed a counter when young girls gave a completely different answer to the same questions the teens were asked. Both the Keywords essay for “girlhood” and Always’ campaign #LikeAGirl focuses on a toxic view of girlhood, but #LikeAGirl disputes the stereotype by showing that young girls reject this view and have a much more positive outlook on girlhood and the strength of girls.
    The association of girlhood with being second-rate and innocent has been in place for hundreds of years. In the “Girlhood” excerpt from Keywords for Children’s Literature, author Jacqueline Reid-Walsh included a quote from 1762 by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau which shows his view of girls. Rousseau observes a girl playing and says “look at the little girl, busy with her doll all day long… She is absorbed in the doll and her coquetry is expressed through it” (Reid-Walsh 2011). By referencing a girl’s flirtatiousness and wording it to seem like it is an innate quality of girls, this can lead an audience to believe that a girl just worries about her looks and has limited unique qualities.
    This then ties to the #LikeAGirl campaign. When the older boys and girls were asked to demonstrate what it means to, for example, run and throw like a girl, they performed the actions half-heartedly, mimed fixing their hair, and talked in high pitched voices. All the qualities they displayed imitated negative stereotypes of girls and continued the narrative of girls being weak and unable to perform active tasks like running and throwing a ball. The ad then flips the narrative and asks young girls to perform the same tasks ‘like a girl’ and they performed them with as much effort and toughness as they could muster. The ad sought to show us that not everyone falls back onto these stereotypes and hints that this stereotype could change in the future if a young generation views girlhood as something that is strong and rejects the current stereotypes.

    Work Cited
    Reid-Walsh, J. (2011). Girlhood. In Keywords for Children’s Literature (pp. 92-95). Retrieved February 14, 2019.

  4. Claire Williams
    April 29th, 2019

    Both sources, the “Gender” essay, and the youtube channel and social media influencer “James Charles” focuses on the keyword “Gender” which shows how the definition of gender can be performative and shift depending on culture, race, class, and more. However, the definition of gender is vastly different than what James Charles represents as a brand.
    In the keyword essay “Gender,” it states how “There seems to be no doubt that in the Stratemeyer universe that male bodies should exhibit masculine traits and female bodies experience feminine traits” (Hatley) This is so significant because it highlights how the definition is so one-sided and how it has just recently become more fluid. This rigid idea that women act feminine and subordinate and males should be powerful is a concept that does not always ring true in the world we live in today.
    Having said this, James Charles and his brand on social media and youtube has proven how someone can be a biological male but embody and embrace the feminine stereotypes. Just like James Charles, the story of “His Heart’s Desire” shows how a male can want more feminine things. The story focuses on Andy longs for a doll and wants to play with one. Despite this being seen as “girly,” it doesn’t stop him from wanting one when he grows up. Adding on to this, James wears makeup and dresses more fluid than a real “man” that we see in society today. His gender is intersectional with his culture around him, and because he has such a big following, over sixteen million on Instagram alone, it allows him to embrace his gender identity more and more. He doesn’t let the genders of the performative roles are supposed to represent in our world shy him away from who he is.

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