Taking centre stage? Girlhood and the contradictions of femininity across three generations

Kehily, Mary Jane (2008). Taking centre stage? Girlhood and the contradictions of femininity across three generations. Girlhood Studies, 1(2) pp. 51–71.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3167/ghs.2008.010204

URL: http://berghahn.publisher.ingentaconnect.com/conte...


New femininities suggest that young women are moving from the margins to the centre. No longer content with subordinate status in the bedroom or on the periphery of youth cultures, young women appear to have found their voice as the ‘can do’ girls of neo-liberalism. This paper charts the social change that has had a dramatic impact upon gender relations in the West and particularly the emergence of new femininities that mark growing up girl as a distinctly different experience for young women in the contemporary period. Familiar tropes of new femininities position young women as agentic, goal-oriented, pleasure seeking individuals adept at reading the new world order and finding their place within it. Has femininity finally found a skin that fits or are there cracks in this unparalleled success story? The paper examines this question intergenerationally by looking at young women’s experience across time. Specifically, the paper will trace the condition of girlhood as documented by feminist scholarship from the 1960s to the present and contrast this with the experience of being a girl as articulated by three generations of women. Based on interviews with an intergenerational chain of women in the same family – grandmother, mother, daughter - the paper will examine the divergent accounts of girlhood experience from women who came of age in the 1950s, the 1970s and the present 2000 – 2005. Analysis of these accounts provide an insightful commentary on social change and feminine subjectivity, highlighting continuity and change while pointing to the ever present contradictions of femininity that may be reshaped and reconfigured over generations.

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