The Meaning of Girlhood

As described by Jacqueline Reid-Walsh in her writings on “Girlhood” in Keywords for Children’s Literature, the term “girlhood” can be interpreted in numerous ways, depending on your perspective or the context in which it is being used. In one way, girlhood can refer to the physical stages of age, maturity, and cerebral development that occurs during the growth of a female individual. Additionally, girlhood can also refer to the cultural constructs imposed by society that dictate what it means to be a girl. Growing up in today’s age, many aspects of our culture and society have influenced us to form a general idea of modern day American girlhood; however, the constructs surrounding girlhood can vary among cultures, contexts, and throughout time. We can see how girlhood has its own meaning in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie as the girls in the story are all expected to behave a certain way and perform specific tasks based on their gender. For example, throughout the story, Mary, Laura, and Ma are seen doing dishes, making beds, stacking firewood, and generally cleaning up around the house. This lifestyle of obedience and gender-based labor encompasses the meaning of girlhood in this specific context. Though this specific narrative assumes this sense of girlhood as the norm, there are some examples of modern day pop culture that chose to portray this norm of girlhood being challenged. My favorite example of this is the Disney film Moana. In this animated movie, the main character, Moana, is raised on an island in a village with a set mold of what it means to be a girl. Every villager on the island has an assigned role tailored to their abilities and women are generally portrayed performing the less physically demanding roles such as weaving baskets, cooking, and collecting crops. However, Moana refuses to stay within the confines of typical girlhood and decides to set out on a dangerous voyage across the ocean to save her people. Here we can see how in one context, the meaning of girlhood can be quite limited, as seen in Little House on the Prairie while in another context, the meaning of girlhood can be fluid and redefined throughout the story.

2 thoughts on “The Meaning of Girlhood”

  1. I completely agree with your argument! The idea that “girlhood” must mean and be one specific way of life is an unjust societal norm. However, it is important to note that modern day movies and TV have begun to make movies such as Moana, Aladdin, and so many more that show women breaking away from the historical meaning of the word “girlhood”.

  2. This is a very interesting example! I also find it interesting how this very new children’s movie is showing young girls that it is acceptable to pave your own path and stray from the norms. Roles like this are only recently starting to become popular, and I think this is in parallel to the evolving views for young girls.

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