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.

7 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.

  3. I never really thought of the significance to girlhood in Moana and the idea of creating your own path at such a young age. I feel as though this because I am older watching the movie and have already had an idea of what I want to do. But in many movies for children, like Mulan, Pochanatas and other famous Disney movies, they depict young girls breaking social norms and making their own destiny which has a very powerful impact on the young girls watching it and wanting to be just like that princess.

  4. I really liked your comparison from Little House on the Praire to Moana. I do agree that throughout history women were portrayed as “weaker” than a man in regards to many things such as jobs they are able to do and the ability they may have. However, in recent years I feel like this stereotype is slowly dying down as there is a new sense of normal created. This is occurring through many different platforms especially for kids to see. I think Disney does a good job of making this happen, creating an increasing amount of shows/movies that portray a strong female protagonist defying odds, just like the example you gave of Moana!

  5. I like your comparison of Moana, I really did not see this as something that I thought about immediately. I like thinking about how big companies are breaking social norms and it makes me feel happy about how things are changing.

  6. I love your comparison of Little House on the Prairie and Moana! I always liked how Moana didn’t need a love interest to make the story interesting. I think this is another difference is how girls are being portrayed in modern-day forms of entertainment. In works such as Little House on the Prairie, girls are being trained to fulfill their future duties as mothers and wives. In Moana, we see a strong female character who doesn’t need a male to come “save” her or become her romantic interest.

  7. I love that you used the movie, Moana, as an example of how girls can alter the “norms” of girlhood. Although the majority women are involved in significant amounts of domestic work, they are not limited to only that. Moana’s rebellious attitude and actions sets her apart from the other girls that she is surrounded by, as she goes on a treacherous adventure across the ocean. Even though this is an animated movie, Moana is an idol for girls that are trying to redefine themselves, and stand out. Since it is a relatively new film, the ideology that women can do more than domestic work is not uncommon in modern times. When “The Little House on the Prairie” was written, women were confined to partaking in domestic work, and that only. The evolution of women’s capabilities is exciting, and hopefully will continue to progress with time.

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