Collective Girlhood

Scene from Spike Lee’s “Crooklyn”

In Jacqueline Reid-Walsh’s Keywords for Children’s Literature essay, “Girlhood”, she examines the nuisances of the term as it can describe a girl’s state of physical development, psychological development, age, state of being, in addition to portrayals of girlhood being culturally constructed. An earlier definition of “girlhood” also denotes it as a concept that is tied to “girls collectively”. Although girls across many different walks of life may experience “girlhood” in many distinct ways, it is drawing on the notion that many aspects of being a girl is shared in a collective sense of understanding. These ideas are conveyed in conventional norms of ways in which girls are intended to behave or interact with the world around them.

In the movie clip above from Spike Lee’s film, Crooklyn, one can see existence of the collective aspect of girlhood. The girls are sitting on the stoop engaging in collective laughter, chatter, and teasing one another about their appearances. They have this common understanding of how their hair should appear as a girl, whether they are “cute” or not, in addition to what it means to defend oneself. The scene helps illustrate the girls’ understanding of conventional qualities that girls in their environment should have such as certain grooming qualities or hairstyles. However, we do see in their culturally constructed context it is also normative for girls to defend oneself which is not traditionally upheld in “mainstream society”. Even so, shortly after their chatter began the girls quickly change the subject and proceed to be “youthful” and play jump rope. In this sense, they are again partaking in collective girlhood through participation in a activity that seems to instantly help unite the girls in that environment.

In the American Girls Collection story, Meet Kirsten, the reader is also able to see shared notions of collective girlhood through Kirsten playing with her two cousins (Lisbeth and Anna). Lisbeth and Anna introduces Kirsten to their secret fort where they go to play with their dolls and hide from boys. Kirsten’s cousins introduce her to the rules of the fort especially pressing the idea that it is only for girls. In this sense they are inducting her into their shared norms of activities that girls (and not boys) should partake in while in that certain environment. Kirsten is quick to learn the rules and feel invited into this shared space where she could bond with her cousins over doll play. It is interesting to notice how in this instance of both learned and shared girlhood Kirsten starts to finally feel “at home” after moving to the United States.

1 thought on “Collective Girlhood”

  1. Imani –
    I love this choice of media to compare the the Keyword essay as well as the short story, “Meet Kirsten.” I think the choice of choosing a film based on the intersection of being African American as well as a girl, provides a lot of further discussion. What I find to be unique is that though the essay describes being a girl as a collective thought and way of life, I think that is oversimplifying girlhood, especially seen in this clip. I do agree with the essay that girlhood has many similar characteristics, I think that by simplifying it to one general idea much of what girlhood actually is becomes lost. Perhaps this definition is based on past ones where it was much easier to simplify, whereas now we are so much more aware of these intersections and the impact of them.

    -Sarah

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