Comp Lit 203-Archival Research Group Project

Group Members: Peri Yarosh, Anna Shabelman, Megan Millard, Fahad Shaikh, Macy Wydeven


***Flawless by Beyonce ft. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Peri

The song “***Flawless” is a song by Beyonce that explores ideas about womanhood and girlhood, and confidence that came out in 2014. The song features a sample of a powerful monologue from a TED talk given by the Nigerian writer named Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In this monologue Adichie explores ideas about gender roles and expectations of women, specifically regarding marriage and the differences in how boys and girls are raised.  In order for someone to fully understand this song and more specifically the monologue, they would have to have a familiarity with the ideas of feminism and intersectionality and stereotypical roles of women. The entire song is singing about how “I woke up like this” promoting confidence in women. But when it comes to the monologue, the beat and vocals become more serious, allowing readers to fully focus on the words. Adichie almost has a satirical nature to her voice, making it seem like all of these things she’s saying are true when really, she is meaning to point out the problems with the ideas of women in society. This is significant because many of these ideas have been explored in our keywords about as well as many of the novels we’ve read. Adichie says in her monologue, “We raise girls to see each other as competitors. Not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing. But for the attention of men.” This is a common theme seen within the novel Little Women. The girls in the novel are often seeing each other as competitors. Specifically, Jo and Amy competing for the attention of Laurie. But it is also seen by Margaret when she is jealous of Sallie Gardiner and her beautiful dresses. I think this song is interesting because it is a piece of mainstream culture and it is so popular, but it is also talking about a lot of serious issues. I think maybe that is part of the reason it is so popular is because it is using music to spread a message. I wanted to share it with my classmates because I think it helps further the understanding of ideas of girlhood and womanhood and societal expectations. It is also interesting to compare the different stories of girlhood with the way it is being described in the song.

Full House (Anna)

I chose the television series Full House. This show aired from 1987-1995 and was centered around three young sisters who are being raised by their dad and two uncles after their mother’s death. The show starts with the youngest daughter, Michelle, as a baby, the middle daughter, Stephanie, in Kindergarten and DJ, the oldest daughter in fifth grade. It aired in 30-minute episodes and is described as a drama, comedy, and family show. This show aired for 8 seasons and was an extremely popular show. It continues to have traction today and a spin-off of the show, “Fuller House” premiered on Netflix in 2016. The first episodes are centered around the girls who have recently lost their mother and three men learning how to handle the household. 

This show has a particularly interesting demonstration of girlhood and adolescence. It demonstrates how three girls learn to grow up without a female figure in their lives. Domestic work becomes the responsibility of men which is seen as a comical aspect of this show. Throughout the series, the daughters face typical rights of passage of girlhood. First loves, first periods, elementary school, middle school, and high school. The narratives of transitioning from childhood to adolescence are present in this television show and connect to themes of growing up as a girl. This show demonstrates the perspective of a non-traditional family and the implications of this. I have chosen this show because it reminds me of watching this growing up and seeing how girls were being raised in a different time period. It was an important introduction to understanding differences in girlhood and adolescence based on what your family looks like. As we have seen in multiple readings about girlhood, girls are typically taught domestic work and behavior from their mothers and other female models. This sitcom, while meant to be a comedy, highlights on a non-typical family dynamic. The transferring of typical gender roles and thinking about how parental influences impact girlhood is a prominent theme in this television program.

Watch Full House (1987) Streaming Online | Hulu (Free Trial)

Commerical (Fahad)

This one-minute commercial shows brief snippets of a young girl at various stages of youth. With each jump in age, the viewer can hear and see the young girl’s passion for science deplete as her scientific mind is continuously shot down due to the simple fact that she’s a girl. It is clear that the girl had a natural interest in science from a young age, as she is seen collecting samples at the beach, then constructing an elaborate solar system model, and finally, attempting to operate a power drill. At every step in this process though, her parents can be heard saying, “that’s dirty,” or “this has gotten out of hand,” and, “why don’t you let your brother do that instead.” The delivery of the digs she hears from her parents obviously make an effect in the last scene when she gazes at the bulletin board with the science fair poster before deciding to use the glass covering the board as a mirror to re apply her lip gloss. As we have seen in the “girlhood” keyword essay by Jacqueline Reid-Walsh, children’s books in the nineteenth and twentieth century that were specifically directed towards girls, were in a sense guides that taught “morality and behavior”. However, the idea of “girlhood” in today’s context is much different from what it used to be and the commercial does justice in drawing attention to the growing issue of gender stereotypes, specifically in the workplace and with career choice.

Barbie Dolls (Megan)

The object I chose to analyze for this assignment is an image of Barbie dolls. Barbie is a figure that is often intertwined with and known to influence ideas of girlhood whether it be positively or negatively. The idea of Barbie itself is very broad since there are many types and versions of Barbie that have come out over the years. One interesting thing about Barbie is that these dolls are made by the same company as American Girl dolls (Mattel), but Barbie seems to take a less careful and considerate approach sometimes which has gotten them in trouble. I thought it would be interesting to do a quick google search of some controversial Barbies that could have possibly negatively influenced girlhood. The one I found most interesting were the two Barbies that were released partnering with the Oreo and Ritz cracker companies. Mattel released a white Oreo Barbie first who, for obvious reasons, debuted without any problems. But when Black Oreo Barbie was released, many people realized there was an issue. Oreo is a derogatory term used against Black people who are accused of “acting white.” Like an Oreo, they’re supposedly black on the outside and white on the inside. I’m sure you are able to see an issue with this right away. We talked a bit about appropriate terminology for both broad and specific titles of different groups of people of color. With that, we also talked about offensive or archaic terms that are unacceptable and should never be used. The keyword essay on African American details the shift of some of these terms (such as negro) from being viewed as acceptable to falling out of favor. This idea ties into this image because Oreo is not an acceptable label for any person of color and was never in favor. It is a derogatory slur that should never be used. Once Mattel understood their mistake they recalled the Black Oreo Barbie. However, they made a similar mistake a few years later by coming out with a white Ritz cracker Barbie. Though less people were upset, this mistake by Mattel with both Barbies shows the power of labels and the importance of using correct terminology. 

Memoirs of a Doll (Macy)

Memoirs of a Doll: Written by Herself : a New Year's Gift eBook ...

Memoirs of a Doll written in the 1850’s by Julie Gouraud and later interpreted into many languages is a book from the perspective of a doll and the events that occur in the doll’s “life”. The doll belongs to a young white girl dating back to before the civil war. The doll itself is a white doll and her family tells her or infers that her and the dolls’ relationships should be a motherly one. The girl is clearly instructed by socal scripts when playing with the doll, the books pictures of the girl playing music to the doll as if it were another person as an example of this. The young girl held the doll to a very high standard as she is also pictured and describes the girl holding the doll up as a prized possession, making this doll seemingly more important than other dolls. We can infer that based on the build of the doll and the way the child plays with it, that the doll was not meant for rough circumstances, and therefore is treated in a nicer regard as say a black doll would have been at this time from what we learned in class. We can also infer that since she is a white girl playing with a prized white doll, that the dolls purpose and placement was for white children of a certain socioeconomic class. What’s interesting about this book is since it gives stories from the dolls perspective with the narrator’s perspective, we get to see how the treatment of an inanimate object could be personified for a deeper understanding of what that would be like. A great way we can see the connection for this book and Complit 203 is the specific scripting of the doll in relation to girlhood or childhood and what those transitional periods expect. The way she is socially pushed to nurture the doll like a mother is teaching her that these are important social roles that women are expected to fill from a very young age. Her experience during girlhood and childhood is the practice of what is expected life as an adult for women-namingly taking care of the children as a high responsibility. Here domestic labor expectations are formed at a very young age. 

Reflection Essay:

The five items that we have chosen all demonstrate different aspects of girlhood and the expectations society holds for girls. The idea of innocence creates the need for young girls to adjust to preconceived notions of the way girls should act. The rigid mold for how girls should behave and what roles they should take on is exemplified in various forms of media. Spanning from toys, songs, television, books, and advertisements, these stereotypes are projected onto others. The way that expectations for transitions from girlhood to adolescence to adulthood exist in society sets rigid standards. All of our items reflect how gender roles affect the upbringing of young girls. From birth to adulthood, stereotypes have an impact on how girls and women behave. Overall, our five items demonstrate the complications of growing up as a girl and the unique experiences faced.

The song “***Flawless” by Beyonce exemplifies the way women are expected to aspire to marriage and always make sure they are second to their husbands. This is similar to how in Little Women, Jo was always expected to be ladylike and eventually marry even though she was adamant that was not what she wanted to do. The television show, “Full House” demonstrates girlhood at different periods in times in a non-traditional family. This show reflects topics discussed in Keywords articles for domestic and girlhood. The men in the show taking over domestic household roles is a major plot point throughout this sitcom. The transition of the three girls featured in this show from childhood to adolescence is demonstrated in the perspective of individuals with no mother figure. This unique viewpoint highlights the specifics of girlhood and domestic from a nonconventional family. Memoirs of Doll exemplifies expectations set during childhood. In our discussion on the keyword childhood, we talked about how different expectations are put on children from different backgrounds. In this case, a young white girl was taught that her childhood was time for training for life as a mother and was expected to treat the doll as such. People of other backgrounds might not have had these same expectations placed on them when it came to caring for the doll. Inspire Her Mind commercial by Verizon illustrates the expectations of girls that are set from childhood onwards. We have seen in the keyword essay on girlhood when literature specifically aimed at girls, were essentially guides that instructed girls on how to behave. This idea that girls are supposed to conform to societal norms is challenged by the advertisement and encourages the audience to do the same. The picture of the two Barbie dolls exemplifies ways that material culture can negatively influence childhood and girlhood. Barbie is a figure that is often intertwined with and known to influence ideas of girlhood in many ways. The idea of girlhood at play here is the idea of labels and the expectation of treating everyone equally. The girls who were given or saw these dolls may grow up not knowing that the labels tied to these dolls are derogatory, disrespectful, and should not be used. Barbie is not setting a good example. The keyword essay on African American details the shift of some of these terms (such as negro) from being viewed as acceptable to falling out of favor. This idea ties into this image because Oreo is not an acceptable label for any person of color and was never in favor. It is a derogatory slur that should never be used and girls, as well as everyone, should be taught and expected to never use these terms.

During our project, all of us separated to do different parts on our own, but we came to the same conclusions. We reached an agreement that we have either seen or experienced these expectations for ourselves. We decided that this was an important idea found in so much of idealized American Girlhood and our items exemplified those notions. Highlighting the bravery and hardship of breaking those “feminine” expectations is something we wanted to bring to light. It is important to recognize that not every situation can be glorified to fit gendered expectations. Showing girls being interested in science and defying beauty standards paves a way to allowing a broader view of what women and children can grow to be.

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