The Girlhood of the Traveling Ho-Chunk
Who gets to decide girlhood? Is it the scholars who study it? The writers of technical definitions? For most of us, those explanations are too vague and ambiguous. An easier way for us to understand the keyword “girlhood” is to look to the people who experience it. For example, in the 2005 film The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants based on the book by Ann Brashares, one of the main characters, Bridget, leaves her hometown for the summer to go to a soccer camp. Her intentions and excitement towards leaving suggest she is becoming more adult; she uses the magic pants to fulfil her goal of being with a man–making her more of a woman instead of a girl in that sense. We can assume that Bridget came to know this solution from suggestions on television, books, and media around he based on the text stating stories “serve as fictive conduct manuals for girls” (Keywords 94) She finds herself yearning to leave that perception of being stuck in an innocent-like girlhood state when she does this. For her, she chronologically needed to escape girlhood during her mid-teens to prove herself as an adult and as someone who is stronger than they appear. The implication of weakness that comes with being a “girl” motivated Bridget in that sense.
In Mountain Wolf Woman, girlhood isn’t as present in Mountain Wolf Woman’s life. It clearly states that her childhood is spent tending to the chores and responsibilities her mother and other female tribe members taught her until later she attends school for a little period of time. For her, girlhood isnt a time for innocence or weakness, but it is a time of learning. There is no need for her to break out of some stigma, because her circumstances and life timeline are not as complicated as a girl’s life as now. To be a girl in Mountain Wolf Woman’s days consisted of traditional values of what it meant to be “female” and decisions were typically made by someone else (usually a man). The text says “Mountain Wolf Woman had to do what her family said”(Holiday 62) Her understanding of what it means to undergo “girlhood” is completely different. Mountain Wolf Woman wouldn’t know a time where there was a limbo of sorts between childhood and adulthood like Bridget. For Mountain Wolf Woman, once she turned of certain age, she was to be married and considered an adult to her peers and tribe. Girlhood was of no issue or significance to her because she understood and accepted the expectations given to her.
So, the question of who decides girlhood is a sticky one. I believe that girlhood can only be determined on a case-by-case basis only by the people who experience it. In The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, the idea of “Girlhood” is represented as something to defy, while in Mountain Wolf Woman, “Girlhood” is underrepresented because it is culturally insignificant in her life. Girlhood isn’t a time period where we experience the same things, but as a state of self-identification in that stage of life, whether we are old enough to realize it or not. There always comes a time where we enter it and exit it, and our circumstances determine what that time means to us. Girlhood is up for our own definitions.