Sunday, September 7, 2008

What is Girls Studies? Why is Girls Studies?

What initially sparked my interest in Girls Studies was that it is a brand new field; the girl is a subject that is just recently getting specific attention. In past psychological research, girls have often been cast to the side and under emphasized; in exchange, we have "universal" theories of psychological development as stated by such theorists as Erikson and Freud. As a psychology major, I know these theories well and also know too well the extent that the theories, though supposedly "universal," use a white, middle class male as their primary subject.

After completing the readings for this week, I learned that this lack of intersectionality has not only been a problem in the field of psychology but in the Girls Studies movement too. The controlling image of girlhood, as stated on page 5 of Young Femininity, is a "white, middle-class, heterosexual, and able-bodied" female. Obviously, this presents a problem, since to truly understand girlhood, we need to recognize the economic, racial, ethnic, and sexual differences of girls and how these differences affect their unique experiences.

On another note, out of everything I have learned in the past two weeks, one chilling phenomenon stands out to me: the silencing of young girls. In the introduction of All About the Girl, it is stated that "...girls lose their resistant and authentic voices when they engage with cultural requirements to shape their identities in line with dominant femininities." Who are these dominant femininities? As I search for some celebrity icon to fill the empty space on the dominant femininity pedestal, I realize that this forming of a feminine identity is more than just copying a celebrity (I recall the adolescence stage in Erikson's developmental theory where copying icons or celebrities can be one solution to a teenage identity crisis). For girls, shaping a dominant feminine identity means complying with the patriarchal notion that women are subordinate and should not say too much or take up too much space, but they should be nice, smile, and look sexy- but not be sexual. This notion of silent sexiness is reinforced by the media, most notably the fashion industry, whose magazine advertisements much too often feature photographs of skinny women in passive positions, sometimes with their mouths covered but always with their bodies turned into sexual objects.

The fact that this is the dominant image of women that girls see is a problem. However, as we discussed in class, the media cannot be ordered to clean up their act, for their only job is to sell a product, and their product sells only when girls and women are made to feel bad about themselves. Ultimately, the main solution would be to give young girls a different, more positive image of women to look up to- preferably while they are young and have not yet been corrupted by the media (I am thinking now of that dove ad that we watched in class...that little girl, a blank slate just waiting for someone to tell her who or what to be). I am grateful that we have the Young Women's Leaders Program here at UCF. I can't wait to be a big sister next semester! I really think the program saves girls lives. In turn, this semester in class I hope to learn how to help girls challenge the negativity that surrounds them.

See you all Wednesday,

Ariel

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