In the Keywords essay, Jacqueline Reid-Walsh chronologically explores the origin of the word “girlhood” and the distinctive connotations associated with the word. The three main meanings that she presents are “the state of being a girl”, “the time of life during which one is a girl” and a group of girls. Reid-Walsh indicates the fact that “girlhood”, as a state of being a girl, varies depending upon geography, race and culture. She gives an example of a girl in Sub-Saharan Africa who has the responsibility of looking after her younger siblings, may have a contrasting idea of “girlhood” than a girl in the West.
An interesting thing that Reid-Walsh points out during the latter half of the essay is that when there was a rise in children’s literature directed towards girls in the United States, many of these books had similar themes. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, these books were in a sense guides that taught “morality and behavior” to girls. One of these books was “Meet Kirsten: An American Girl” where Kirsten is portrayed as an obedient girl who is expected to behave in a way that a girl was supposed to behave during that time. This same theme is carried through in “Kirsten Learns a Lesson” where she is taught by the teacher to speak politely and with respect.
However, the idea of “girlhood” in today’s context is much different from what it used to be. As a society, we have become more open-minded and accepting of our views on girls. Recently, Captain Tania Shergill became the first female officer to lead an all-male contingent at a parade in India. Shergill, who is a fourth-generation army officer in her family, always knew from a young age that she would pursue a career in the military. In India, she is looked up as an inspiration by many young girls and strives to spread the message that girls can grow up and become whatever they want to be.