GIRLHOOD: THEN VS NOW

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.

5 thoughts on “GIRLHOOD: THEN VS NOW”

  1. I think the point you bring up about being much more open-minded about our views of girls is very true about today’s standards. Similar to the example you proposed about Captain Tania, the first female coach to coach in the Superbowl, Katie Sowers, is paving the way for young girls to hold traditionally unconventional positions.

  2. I like that you tied in other perspectives giving more of a worldly view. I also agree that we are becoming more of an openminded society. However, that is not the case for all places like you stated. I can see how these books were used as guides even if not explicity stated as one. I think this relates to other social constructs that have acted as guideline in girlhood.

  3. This post goes hand in hand with what we discussed in class concerning Little Women. Louisa Mae Alcott was commissioned to write the book as literature for girls that would teach them morals and provide respectable role models for them. It is interesting to think about the book’s original purpose and then analyze the way in which we read it today. Instead of looking up to these women I find myself feeling sorry for them and the cages of social standards they are forced to be confined in.

  4. I like the direction that you took with this key term, “girlhood”. The idea of girlhood today is very different from what it used to be because girls are no longer following social norms, they are breaking out of the box that they are meant to conform to. In most of the readings that we have, a girl must do domestic work around the house and their main job was only to be care takers. However, today, girls are being whatever they want to be and doing what they want to do. Along with that, they are inspiring the younger generation to do the same.

  5. I like how you compared Kirsten’s girlhood as being kind of predestined, like what she was going to do with her life was already decided as soon as she was born because of societal and cultural norms at the time. It is so exciting to see how different that is from today. While cultural norms definitely still persist, more girls all over the world are challenging these and deciding what they want their own lives to be, no matter what the “norms” are.

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