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.

11 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.

  5. In Berstien’s Children’s Books, Dolls, and the Performance of Race; or, The Possibility of Children’s Literature, the Keyword “Childhood” stuck out to me as he brought it to life by connecting reading and playing as linked acts. Both of these acts are often connotated with childhood, especially playing. This made me realize that so much of the playing I did as a child was modeled after books read, as I modeled culture after the material. Berstien even provided some more disturbing examples, including children taking scenes from Uncle Tom’s Cabin and bringing them into dolls play by whipping their dolls. Not all of this “scripting” however, is negative. Bernstien believes that children are the producers of culture, and since children are more racially conscious than people tend to give them credit for, it is important to educate them about equality so that they can “script” appropriate play. The word “Childhood” and more specifically “Children’s Literature” depends entirely upon who falls into the category of children. The Keyword “Childhood” also stuck out to me in the Audi 2020 Superbowl commercial featuring Game of Thrones star, Masie Williams. The commercial featured Williams channeling her inner Elsa and singing “Let it Go” as she drove around in her brand new Audi. She’s taking a message a “popular” children’s movie about doing whatever one wants and modeling the feeling of buying a new car off it in real life. Williams was seen as a child in Game of Thrones, but now that she’s driving she seems older, and she is pushing culture along by encouraging young people to buy nice cars. Since the whole nation was watching the Superbowl this is a powerful message to all viewers about how “Childhood” goes quickly and these kids will soon be the producers and decision makers. Both this Audi commercial and Bernstiens article show the importance the literature and movies children see at a young age because they will take the messages from them into real life, and they are the most influential people in pushing culture forward.


  6. In the text, “1854 Meet Kirsten: An American Girl” the idea of girlhood is strongly represented where girls have a certain exception; in addition, it can all be connected to daily commercials we see on TV, like a Swiffer commercial. Kirsten is a prime example of girlhood. Back in those times, girls were expected to wear a dress, have proper manners, and help around the house. She obeys her father when she is told to do something like when Papa tells her to carry her things and put Sari in the trunk. Although she may have not wanted to listen to her father, there is no question. In comparison to our world today, I think about how I do not disobey my parents. I observe that my dad is the main provider in my family, while my mom was a stay at home mom. She would be there to make meals for us and clean the house. Kirsten’s father and mother seem to be the same in that way. Kirsten’s father provided for the family, while her mom helped around the house. The idea of girlhood for me and having the expectation to help around the house and obey my parents was similar to Kirsten’s. Looking at commercials in today’s world, not much has changed with the idea of women being the house helpers. It is exemplified in a Swiffer commercial where a woman is promoting a cleaning product because it makes cleaning the house easier. It can be easily seen that the main intention of the audience is for women. The female voice and actions in the commercial echo out to woman. All in all, girlhood has expectations that have been carried throughout literature and real life.


    1. Alexa,
      I can also relate to having a family structure similar to Kirstin’s. My father is the. main provider, while my mom stays at home and teaches me to be obedient to the. family. Girlhood is an expectation that has been a huge part in my life. However, in. the future I hope to have a business marketing job and be a provider for my family. I will teach my daughter obidence if I have daughters, but I will not make them obey the strict Girlhood definition that I and may other girls have had two follow. I also think commercials need to do a better job and stop enforcing these gender roles.

  7. The keyword essay for the term “education” explores the historical methods of education which vary greatly from how we perceive education today. Gruner emphasizes that education in the past was based primarily on vocational and religious studies, as well as the gaining of an understanding of morals through personal interactions and experiences. When liberal education was brought into the picture, the primary focus was on educating through literature. However, the main goal of education, as stated in the text, focuses on “the formation of individuals to benefit society.” This has been, and is still currently the case in our society today. The history of education has evolved from then to now, however, as we can see through the story “Kirsten Learns a Lesson.” Kirsten attended a school that was for students of all ages and there was only one teacher for everybody. The way they were educated was based on different levels of books, however because of these different levels much of the knowledge was self-inflicted. Oftentimes boys would end their education early to begin work with their fathers’ to help support their family. This form of teaching is very different than what we are familiar with because in our current society, students are expected to complete a primary education from around the age of four to eighteen years old. Furthermore, many are expected to continue this education at colleges and universities. This can be seen through commercials on television, such as ads for schools in the Big 10. These universities are trying to lure in students to attend their schools. Aside from ads like this, there are also a lot of commercials circulating that are advertising universities and colleges that offer an online education. It is clear that society’s view of education in popular culture today is immensely different than how it was in the past. While the ways of teaching and the core values of education have evolved overtime, the goal of education has always been the same: to help prepare children for a future in which they contribute to society.

  8. For many, the word childhood rings with nostalgia. It draws to mind the antics of movies like The Sandlot and Matilda and calls us to remember a time in which we were innocent and joyful. But a closer look at both of these films reveals a less-discussed facet of childhood: the darkness and mystery that abound in a time when we are constantly moving from innocence into reality. As children, we all have moments when we learn dark truths: adults are not all amicable and righteous. What lies beyond that fence may be a kind old man, but it could also be a rabid animal. Each childhood is shaped by moments in which the harsh realities of the world color the white canvas of our innocence. Indeed, in her keywords essay on childhood, Karen Sanchez-Eppler works less to define childhood as a time of purity and more to emphasize the vastly varied kinds of youth we all experience. She writes of childhood: “…it’s contours and meanings are deeply circumstantial formed by the particulars of each historical and social situation…” (Sanchez-Eppler 36). The extremes of these particulars are especially useful for shifting our understanding of childhood from a period of universal innocence to a period in which innocence is, to varying and sometimes mindblowing degrees, shattered. Nowhere are these extremes more easily seen than in the popular true crime podcast My Favorite Murder. Here, hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark regale listeners with tales of murder, mystery, and all things macabre. Often, the tales’ protagonists are children. In episode 141, Georgia Hardstark tells the story of Cinnamon Brown, a preteen whose older sister and stepfather brainwashed her into killing her stepmother. Her father, David Brown, allowed Cinnamon to take the fall and spend her youth in prison. While admittedly darker than any youth most of us can fathom, Cinnamon’s girlhood serves as a valuable teacher: childhood innocence is far more complex than we think. Our innocence as children is not always benign, nor is it the definition of what it is to be a child. Innocence leaves us vulnerable, malleable to the manipulations of our elders. Innocence can be broken in a single night. The stories of dark childhoods are hard for us to read, but they’re essential to our contemplation of what it means to be a child. Perhaps it doesn’t mean pure innocence. Perhaps it represents, instead, the complex and often painful process of moving from youthful innocence to a mature understanding of the world we inhabit.

    1. Sydney,

      I agree that childhood innocence is more complex than we realize. Children loose different parts of their innocence at different times. Their is the innocence they loose when they stop believing in Santa, and there is a whole different innocence lost when they learn about sex and drugs. However, children are a lot more conscious than they get credit for and I believe they loose innocence younger than adults realize, especially in this age of social media. That is why it is essential to educate and inform children because they are very aware and have the power to make important decisions on many not so innocent topics.

  9. Sydney Seufer
    Discussion Post #1
    Keyword: Girlhood

    Jacqueline Reid-Walsh’s Keywords essay on “Girlhood” explores the ambiguous and contradictory meanings that the word has been connected to over hundreds of years. These meanings include, but are not limited to: one’s biological sex and age, performance of gender associated with femininity, groups of girls, and participation in the culture of girlness. In Mountain Wolf Woman: A Ho-Chunk Girlhood, “girlhood” is represented as the gendered activities and norms that biologically female children must subscribe to, while in the film Girlhood (2014), the keyword is represented as the sisterhood of girls that the main character joins.

    In the book Mountain Wolf Woman: A Ho-Chunk Girlhood, by Diane Young Holliday, Mountain Wolf Woman’s “girlhood” is largely defined by her role within her clan that is pre-decided by her gender. All children in the Ho-Chunk tribe are expected to help with the tasks for survival, including hunting, gathering, weaving, and preserving food. However, there were very specific roles decided depending on your sex. For example, girls were expected to learn from their mothers and other women in the clan. These chores included gardening, gathering plants for food, cooking, and building home materials. On the other hand, hunting was considered “men’s work” (pg 42). Furthermore, “girlhood” for Mountain Wolf Woman means that her older brother makes big life decisions for her, such as going to a state school to learn English and whom she must marry.

    French director Celine Sciamma’s 2014 coming-of-age film Girlhood tells the story of a young Black girl in the housing projects of suburban Paris. Sciamma plays with the audience’s perception of “girlhood” in a variety of ways. First, “girlhood” is seen in the sisterhood of the girl gang that the protagonist Vic joins. (The French title is Bande de Filles, which translates to “Group of Girls”.) The collective entity of teen girls banding together gives Vic a sense of purpose and escape from her abusive and overwhelming home life. The girls sing together, dance, shoplift, and fight other girls. Throughout the film, Sciamma shows several instances of sexual harassment against the teenage girls, a very gendered experience.

    Although Mountain Wolf Woman and Girlhood (2014) have very different settings and things to say about the concept of “girlhood”, they both show the common societal expectations of what a girl should become- a wife and mother. Ultimately, Vic denies her boyfriend’s proposal to become a “decent girl” by marrying him and eventually mothering his children. On the other hand, Mountain Wolf Woman is forced by her brother to marry a man against her will.

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