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When I entered graduate school in 1990, Girls' Studies did not exist. No professors taught classes specifically related to female youth, and no one organized conference panels or workshops to promote and expand girl-centered research. Scholars committed to analyzing girls had to cobble together theory from a number of different disciplines in order to make sense of their objects of study. Despite the publication of several groundbreaking girl-centered studies during the 1970s and 1980s (for example, Campbell 1981; Chesney-Lind 1974; Fine 1988; Griffin 1985; Lees 1986; White 1985), much research at that time which involved female youth was focused on understanding women more than girls. Only a handful of scholars--particularly Angela McRobbie (McRobbie 1980, 1982, 1988, 1991; McRobbie and Garber 1976; McRobbie and McCabe 1981; McRobbie and Nava 1984)--demonstrated a consistent commitment to researching girlhood and girls' culture as unique social formations. With such minimal attention from academics, female youth remained enigmatic well into the late twentieth century--a situation that did not bode well for parents, teachers, youth organizers, social workers, and medical professionals, much less girls themselves, who were attempting to negotiate the conflicting messages they received from different social institutions about their identities and experiences.
We've come a long way, sister. In the past two decades, numerous scholars from a variety of academic disciplines and institutions have created a solid foundation of girl-centered research upon which other studies of, as well as work with, female youth are now building. (1) As a result, Girls' Studies is coalescing as a unique and significant area of critical inquiry. Clear evidence of this phenomenon can be seen in the dramatic increase in the number of books on girls, girlhood, and girls' culture published since the early 1990s. In fact, in the first five years of the twenty-first century, academic presses virtually doubled the number of girl-specific monographs and anthologies that were published in the previous decade. Girls' Studies scholarship has appeared also in numerous refereed journals, particularly those associated with youth research, such as Youth & Society and the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, and, to a greater extent, feminist scholarship, such as Gender & Society and the NWSA Journal. At least seven feminist journals--Women's Health Issues (1994), Fireweed (1997), Signs (1998), Women's Studies Journal (1999), Canadian Woman Studies (2001), FemSpec (2004), and Feminism & Psychology (2004)--have devoted entire issues to girl-specific themes. More significantly, the first girl-centered academic periodical--Girlhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal--was launched in 2008, finally providing Girls' Studies scholars with a journal of their own. Meanwhile, two girl-centered encyclopedias, Girlhood in America (Forlnan-Brunell 2001) and Girl Culture (Mitchell and Reid-Walsh 2008), have been published.
Evidence of the growth of Girls' Studies can be seen outside the realm of publishing also. For example, at least four conferences devoted specifically to girl-centered research have been organized since the early 1990s: Alice in Wonderland, (2) held in the Netherlands in 1992; A New Girl Order? Young Women and The Future of Feminist Inquiry, held in England in 2001; Transforming Spaces: Girlhood, Agency and Power, held in Canada in 2003; and Girls' Culture & Girls' Studies: Surviving, Reviving, Celebrating Girlhood, held in the United States in 2008. In addition, the first online listserv for girl-centered researchers, Yahoo! Groups Girls Studies, was launched in 2002, and the U.S. National Women's Studies Association (NWSA) introduced its Girls' Studies Interest Group in 2005.3 In the meantime, the number of girl-centered courses has increased substantially, and in 2007, the Women's and Gender Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City received approval to offer the first undergraduate certificate in Girls' Studies.
The phenomenal development of Girls' Studies in recent years is certainly cause for celebration. Yet, it is important to be mindful of the lengthy amount of time it took to get to this point. Substantial barriers to girl-centered research prevented its expansion before the end of the twentieth century, just as significant transformations both within and outside the academy contributed to its rapid growth since the early 1990s. This article analyzes both of these contexts to facilitate a better understanding of the development of Girls' Studies as an academic field which in turn can inspire new approaches that will sustain and diversify this field as well as contribute to broader public awareness of and respect for girls, girlhood, and girls' culture.
One caveat: Although scholars in many different countries are engaged girl-centered research today, this essay focuses primarily on the development of Girls' Studies within the United States. It is my hope that scholars in other countries where such research is flourishing, particularly Canada, Australia, and Great Britain, will analyze the evolution of this field within their own national contexts, thus contributing to Girls' Studies written history while also charting possible avenues for its future.
"But What about the Girl?":
The Historical Marginalization of Girls in Youth Research4
In the mid-1960s, Bruno Bettelheim remarked:
What strikes the psychologist forcefully when he [sic] surveys the available literature on adolescence and youth is that, if the amount of discussion were indicative, then all or nearly all problems of youth would appear to be those of the adolescent male. True, the more serious authors nod in the direction of female adolescence and recognize that it creates problems, too. But having done so, they turn so exclusively to the problems of the male adolescent that the net impression remains: female adolescence, if it exists at all, does not create problems equally worthy of the sociologist's or the psychologist's interest. (1965, 76)
Unfortunately, Bettelheim's observation seemed to fall on deaf ears, for girls remained marginalized within youth-based research until the 1990s, and sex and gender issues continue to be understudied in the field except by feminists.
In part, this phenomenon results from the different social status of boys and girls for much of history. Until the late twentieth century, girls' primary location was within the domestic sphere, a situation that posed considerable difficulty for researchers, especially those who were men. In contrast, boys have had significant public presence and thus access by scholars, not only because of their involvement in school and nonfamilial work, but also as a result of their leisure practices, which traditionally have been nondomestic and occurred outdoors. Thus, as Joseph Hawes argues, "[t]he main reason why historians and social scientists have neglected female adolescents is because their capacity to threaten the dominant males of society was much more limited than that of their brothers" (1985, 51). With this in mind, it is interesting to note that many of the girls studied prior to the late twentieth century were accessible to researchers because of their public institutionalization in prisons and reform schools.
Girls' increased presence in the public sphere since World War II did not lead to a concurrent rise in research on girlhood and girls' culture, however, thus problematizing the hypothesis that previous generations of scholars failed to study female youth simply because of their domestic confinement. Moreover, researchers' minimal access to real girls for much of academic history cannot explain their nonengagement with representations of female youth in art, literature, and the media, not to mention girls' diaries, letters, and various forms of cultural production. Indeed, the argument of access is applicable only to scholars who focus on contemporary material bodies, such as sociologists.
Clearly, then, other factors are at stake in the historical marginalization of girls within youth studies. In particular, we might consider how the reproduction of patriarchal ideologies via the historical male dominance of academia contributed to the persistent construction of males as normative in all forms of research, including those that were youth-based. It was not until the 1970s that a large wave of women scholars challenged the traditional gender dynamics of the academy. A significant number of those women were feminist and called attention to the patriarchy and sexism that informed previous research in their fields. With regard to youth-centered research, Jean Baker Miller (1976), Nancy Chodorow (1978), and Carol Gilligan (1982) demonstrated that theories of psychology traditionally constructed male experience as normative and thus precluded a full exploration of female development. Feminist sociologists, like Meda Chesney-Lind (1974), also began to call attention to how sexism impacted the academic analysis and construction of girls' social experiences.
Meanwhile, from within the burgeoning field of British subcultural theory, Angela McRobbie and Jenny Garber (1976) argued that "[v]ery little seems to have been written about the role of girls in youth cultural groupings in general." When girls do appear in youth research, they argued, either "they are fleetingly and marginally presented," or they are constructed "in ways which uncritically reinforce the stereotypical image of women with which we are now so familiar ..." (209). A decade later, fellow Briton Christine Griffin broadened this criticism to youth research in general:
The prominent focus on young men has rendered young women either totally invisible or at best marginal to theoretical analysis. Young men's experiences have been presented as the norm against which young women must be judged. This has had two unfortunate consequences: most youth studies have developed gender (i.e. male) specific theories which have been presented as universally relevant to all young people; and many researchers have struggled with considerable difficulty to "fit" young women's experiences into inappropriate and unsatisfactory models which have been developed from a male perspective. (1988, 24)
Unfortunately, despite these feminist critiques, the relationship of sex and gender to age and generation received little attention by most scholars studying youth during the 1970 and 1980s, a situation that left the gender dynamics of boys, boyhood, and boys' culture (the primary objects of study for youth researchers at that time) largely uninterrogated. Meanwhile, scholars interested in sex and gender focused primarily on females, albeit with little attention to age and generation, thus contributing to the popular conflation of feminist scholarship with women.
As a result of the structural biases of youth research and feminist scholarship, researchers interested in girls--that is, those wanting to explore age and generation alongside sex and gender--were left with a dilemma as to academic affiliation. Most scholars studying girls chose to identify primarily with feminist research, however, because of their sense that biases within youth studies were naturalized and thus more difficult to surmount. As McRobbie argued at the time, as long as the patriarchal assumptions of youth scholars went unaddressed, "[q]uestions about girls, sexual relations and femininity in youth will continue to be defused or marginalised in the ghetto of Women's Studies" (1980, 38). And, indeed, they were. But developing a place for girl-centered research within the larger realm of feminist scholarship was not as easy as McRobbie made it sound.
Identifications and Disidentifications: Girls, Women Reformers, and Feminist Activists
Considering the broad influence of feminist …