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Following the international success of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend tetralogy (2011–2014) and the HBO series inspired by it, attention has intensified in the new media on the topic of girlhood and coming-of-age stories. At the same time, the #metoo campaign introduced aspects of feminist discourse into the mainstream, with girls becoming especially sensitised to the issues raised.  

This seminar series offers a fresh focus on girlhood and asks how we might understand it today. Understood first as a liminal concept – a connection between childhood and womanhood –, girlhood gained more space and autonomy with the rising of mass society and thanks to specific trends of consumption and the recent introduction of social media. The debate around girlhood involves questions of gender, identity and representation which continue to evolve, and which demand renewed scrutiny. The social changes that occurred in the seventies in Western society invited us to rethink the very idea of ‘womanhood’, but how the concept of ‘girlhood’ evolved is yet to be fully addressed. 

The topic of girlhood in academia started to gain popularity in the 1990’s thanks to Angela McRobbie’s work, with a specific look at girls’ culture as a subculture in the international context (McRobbie 1991; McRobbie and Garber 1993). Studies on girls’ culture and the representation of girlhood related to magazines and new media such as Susan Driver’s Queer Girls and Popular Culture: Reading, Resisting, and Creating Media (2007), paved the way for a more developed analysis of the relationship between female youth, queer and feminist theories. Paola Bonifazio, Nicoletta Marini-Maio and Ellen Nerenberg published a very relevant study on the topic in the open access journal Gender/Sexuality/Italy in 2017, shedding light for the first time on girl cultures in Italy from early modern to late capitalism. Today Girlhood Studies are experiencing a productive and lively revival, as girlhood emerges as an autonomous field worthy of recognition. 

The cycle of seminars will explore the construction of the notion of ‘girlhood’ from a transnational and transmedial perspective, charting its development across contemporary Western culture. Building upon recent scholarship on genders as a cultural phenomenon, the series aims to isolate ‘divergent representations of girlhood’ (Hopkins, 2017) in history, literature, society and media. Each seminar brings into conversation scholars, researchers and practitioners working variously in the fields of literary, cultural, and publishing studies, the history of education, and gender and sexuality.

Introduction to the seminar series: “What a Girl wants: Framing Girlhood in Historical Perspective”
Dr Campofreda, Dr Coluzzi

Girlhood from Society to the Screen 

Prof. Danielle Hipkins (Exeter); Prof. Romana Andò (Sapienza University of Rome)
A Girl's Eye-view. Exploring media representations of girlhood through the lens of Italian female adolescence 

In recent years we have observed a significant shift in representations of girlhood compared to similar content in the nineties and early 2000s. In the last few years, the OTT (Over the Top Television) services, in particular Netflix, have released many TV series which show teens for whom sex, sexuality, and gender are not taboo subjects.  This trend has been promptly appropriated by Italian TV networks and the Italian cinema industry.  These TV shows question many crucial issues with respect to girlhood studies: at a general level they stress the representation of female adolescence within media culture and the multiple possibilities of appropriation open to young people as their personalities evolve; they also emphasize the actualization of girl friendship as a postfeminist idea of sisterhood (Winch 2013).  Not only do they put the issues of sex and sexualisation in the spotlight, but more generally they lead us to reflect on the aesthetic pleasures and pleasurable experience of teen film (Colling 2017). At the same time, they speak to more recent work that tries to show how teen television expresses ‘affective dissonances’ with regard to ideals of postfeminist girlhood (Dobson and Kanai, 2018).

The aim of this paper is to present the first insights of a research project, ‘A Girls' Eye-view: Girlhood on the Italian Screen since the 1950s’ funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in the UK. Thanks to the participation of six Italian high schools from different cities (small and large) and regions (from north to south), we have collected over 70 interviews with girls aged between 14 and 19 years old and coordinated a series of focus groups (1 or 2 for each school).  Our results demonstrate that TV shows and films such as Baby, Skam Italia, Anni da cane (Dog Years), 18 regali (18 presents), Mare fuori etc. particularly provide female adolescents with many different points of temporary attachment or points of suture within media discourses. In other words, they can select and combine different kinds of female role models creating a sort of bricolage of personalities that is strongly consistent with the idea of an identity under construction, tentative, contradictory, but open, productive and definitely experimental. 

All are welcome to attend this free event, which will be held online via Zoom at 18:00 BST. You will need to register in advance to receive the online joining link. Please click on the Book Now button at the top of the page to register.

6 October – Seminar 1
Girlhood from Society to the Screen
13 October – Seminar 2
Girlhood from History to the Screen
20 October – Seminar 3
Girls on Paper
27 October – Seminar 4
Queering Girlhood
10 November – Seminar 5
Writing as a Girl: Language, Generation and Trends
17 November – Seminar 6
Shaping the Girl-self on (Social) Media
24 November – Seminar 7
Girls Beyond the Western Canon
5 December – Seminar 8
Girlhood Studies: New Perspectives

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