In Keywords for Children’s Literature, Jacqueline Reid-Welsh’s defines girlhood as “the state of being a girl; the time of life during which one is a girl. Also: girls collectively” (Reid-Welsh 92). Which then specifically can be separated to age and psychological development or a cultural construction. It raises a question of “who is a girl”, going more in depth than just chronological age and gender. It raises another question of “who is included and who is excluded from being a girl?” This looks at geography, culture, race, development, and experiences. Personally, culture and experiences stand out to me the most. How is the way a girl is raised, the way a girl is dressed, or the way a girl acts make her more or less of a girl? There is a general understanding that girls are meant to be girly, wearing dresses and playing with dolls, and growing up to fulfill a domestic role. However, the times are changing, and societal norms are breaking; being a girl is no longer held down to specific characteristics.  

For example, in Janet Shaw’s Kirsten Learns a Lesson, Kirsten befriends a Native American girl, Singing Bird. Kirsten has blonde hair, fair skin, and blue eyes, and she wears dresses, an apron, and boots. While Singing Bird has dark hair, darker skin, black eyes, and she wears deerskin, leggings, beaded necklaces, and moccasins. The appearance of both girls differs, however, they both acknowledge their differences and appreciate them at the same time. This is seen when Singing Bird first approaches Kirsten and is fascinated by her yellow hair in braids and the apron Kirsten wore (Shaw 28). This is also seen when Kirsten visits Singing Bird’s tepee and wishes she could live there and wear the same clothes Singing Bird wear (Shaw 43-44). Singing Bird is native to the land while Kirsten is an immigrant. Kirsten is literate and can speak English while Singing Bird cannot. Both girls have different responsibilities, challenges, and wishes. Even though they are different physically and mentally, they are just as much of a girl as the other. They don’t separate themselves from one other, and right from the start, they treat each other with kindness and as equals. The message here is you can be different and be accepted for who you are.  

Furthermore, a pop singer and actress, Hailee Steinfeld took a more modern take on this concept, releasing a song called “Most Girls”. In this song she spreads female empowerment. She sings about how girls can wear what they want and do what they want. That girls have the capacity to do more than what society holds them accountable to. She also sings about wanting to be like most girls, playing off of the phrase, “you’re not like most girls”. She kind of responds to this phrase like “what’s wrong with being like most girls because most girls are ‘smart, strong, and beautiful’”. Steinfeld took the characteristics that separates girls such as looks and aspirations and joined them together, making it acceptable to be different individually and collectively the same. 

1 thought on ““Girlhood””

  1. I think you did a really nice job describing how girls are still girls even if they do not fit under the normal criteria of “what it means to be a girl.” When I was young, I spent a lot of time with my cousins, and most of them are boys. Therefore, when I would play with them, we would play with cars and legos, as opposed to dolls. Since I had a lot of exposure to “boy toys,” I ended up preferring to play with cars and legos than with dolls and barbies. Just because my interests fit under the common interests of young boys, I, nor my family, ever considered myself to be a boy. I find it disheartening that parents force their children to play with toys that are assigned to their gender, even when the kids do not want to. A persons interests evolve throughout their entire lifetime, and they should be allowed to explore whatever they wish, even if their desires range outside of their gendered norm.

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