CFP: “Girls’ Culture & Girls’ Studies: Surviving, Reviving, Celebrating Girlhood”

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From the FLP mailbox, this invitation for proposals on interdisciplinary scholarly and creative work to be presented at the 18th Annual Women’s Studies Conference at Southern Connecticut State University, October 17-18, 2008:

The 18th Annual Women’s Studies Conference at Southern Connecticut State University explores girlhood. What does it mean to be a girl? Who defines girlhood in an age when puberty and sexualization are happening at younger ages? How do girls assert their own identity in an increasingly medicated and consumerist culture which targets girls as a prime audience? Why are U.S. girls preoccupied with perfection? What challenges do girls across races, classes, religions, nations, and cultures face in an ever more globalized world? What is the relationship between girls and feminism? What effect can feminism have on constructions of boyhood and masculinity and how in turn can this affect girls? In the 18th annual SCSU Women’s Studies conference, we will take a close look at girls’ culture and girls’ studies, among the most vibrant areas in women’s studies. The Conference Committee invites individuals, groups, scholars, feminists, activists, girls and all to submit proposals that address topics related to all aspects of girlhood.

More information is available here.

When I read this call for participation, I couldn’t help but think of Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards’ trenchant critique of “girls’ empowerment” programs:

If you go back to the genesis … you’ll probably find a woman who is revisiting the ghosts of her childhood. This movement is not just led by adult women…it is, in many ways, for adult women. Tangled in the Second Wave’s dedication to the girls’ the harsh fact that the shelf life of older women is short, many years shorter than that of men. Feminist women, therefore, may be masking their ambitions – which are considered unseemly or aggressive or threatening by a gynephobic society – by filtering them through girls. They also employ this tactic as an excuse to overlook the young women who are making strides right beside them.

(Manifesta, 185-186; emphasis in the original). Baumgardner and Richards were not describing “Girls’ Studies” per se, but I wonder if their critiques would apply equally to an academic (semi-academic?) conference with the subtitle “Surviving, Reviving, Celebrating Girlhood.” The invitation extends to “girls and all,” but how many girls are going to go to the SCSU Women’s Studies Conference? October 17 is a school day after all. And if we blame “Girls’ Studies” on second-wave feminists, then what explains enrollment in classes that makes the field supposedly “one of the most vibrant areas in women’s studies”? Perhaps college-age women also “mask[] their ambitions” with the label. A student of “Girls’ Studies” seems far less threatening (read: less likely to be dismissed as a lesbian) than a “Women’s Studies” major. Better to study those who have no body hair than to consort with those whom might braid theirs? My guess this is far more complicated than the “Second Wave vs. Third Wave” refrain suggests.

-Bridget Crawford

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