University of Wisconsin–Madison

Girlhood

Jacqueline Reid-Walsh’s piece in Keywords for Children’s Literature attempts to provide clarity to the ambiguous term, “girlhood.” Here, Walsh notes, in addition to the varying ages at which girlhood ends, geography, culture, and race also determine who is included and who is excluded from this perception of “girlhood.” For example, a young-female in Sub-Saharan Africa who spends her childhood ultimately taking on the role of a mother, does not align to the Western World’s recognition of “girlhood”, making it hard to define just what exactly this concept entails. At the other extreme, across the globe, the age cutoff for what constitutes as a “girl” differs tremendously; rising to middle-aged women in places like the United Nations. Illustrating these complexities centered around defining what girlhood is, goes to show that the term goes way beyond being associated with the female sex.

Interestingly enough, the intricacy of this term can be seen in various popular culture outlets, one being the 2015 Super Bowl commercial produced by Always known as the #LikeAGirl campaign. The ad displays the differences in how young women, boys, and young girls perceive what it means to act “like a girl.” Similar to Walsh’s explanation, through this ad we can see even today the term “girl” or “girlhood” has a different meaning or connotation depending on who you ask. On the other hand, in the text, “The Choctaw Girl”, girlhood is represented through the main character, Tewah-Hokay, growing up in a poor family who is unable to attend school due to a previous back injury. The text notes, Tewah-Hokay “never complained and was willing to suffer all that her heavenly Father chose to appoint to her.”

By looking at both the recent Super Bowl commercial and the text of “The Choctaw Girl”, we can compare and contrast various depictions of girlhood. The commercial is often recognized as an empowering message for what it means to be a girl by featuring the bold and fearless attitudes from girls themselves despite the judgements surrounding them. Where I perceived Tewah-Hokay’s girlhood very differently, and more complacent as she was awaiting and accepting her death. Although the portrayals amongst these two channels take separate approaches to representing what girlhood encompasses and means in terms of a perspective, it further highlights one of Walsh’s main arguments: “different denotations and connotations make for a fuzziness of meaning surrounding an apparently simple term.”

2 thoughts on “Girlhood”

  1. I think this is so interesting how something from so long ago, “the Choctaw girl,” can be connected to something that just happened last week. It shows how girlhood has grown throughout the years, and it exemplifies how we have progressed as women. Now the women in the world are fighting for their rights and showing their power when they used to be subservient in previous times. This blog post does a good of proving that point with these examples.

  2. I love the Like A Girl commercial! It really makes you think about how much our perspectives change while growing up and how different the term “girl” is viewed by different groups of people. Great connection to the keyword essay!

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