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Girlhood from History to the Screen 

Frances Smith (Sussex) 
Girlhood and the Voiceover in British Youth Television

In this presentation, I explore the effects and affects of one of the most common, yet under-explored elements of teen film and television, namely the voiceover, which, I argue, has become a near-ubiquitous signifier of teen film and television. Focusing on recent British series, Derry Girls (Channel 4, 2018 – present) and My Mad Fat Diary (E4 2013-2015) I demonstrate the ways in which voiceover is connected both with the generic modes and expectations of youth film and television but is also implicated in the series’ imbrications with female authorship. Written by Lisa McGee and Rae Earl respectively, the voiceover in Derry Girls and My Mad Fat Diary has the function of grounding the series’ comedic elements with personal experience. Yet the voiceover, in the form of a girl reading from her own (or a purloined) diary also serves to place the series in a particular time. In both cases, that is the 1990s, focusing on the tail end of the Troubles in Derry, or, on the prosaic Lincolnshire suburbs where Rae’s fragile mental state offers the space of conflict. The personal experiences refracted in these series thus connect them to an ‘intimate public’ of those who experienced the same era (Berlant 2009). 
This presentation draws from existing work on British youth television (for instance Woods 2016; Lury 2000) as well as scholarship on teen cinema to unpack the place of the voiceover and female authorship in the construction of girlhood on screen. 

Lashon Daley (San Diego State University)
Black/Girlhood Imagery 

Amid the popularity of representations of Black girls in U.S. films in recent years, I explore Girlhood (2014), The Fits (2015), The Hate U Give (2018), and See You Yesterday (2019) in order to chart how these movies have helped shape our cultural understanding of what it means to be young, Black, and female. I pinpoint how these films, alongside movie posters, a book cover, and casting and music choices, demonstrate how Black girls become raged upon by their communities, experience emotional rage as an affective response to violence and trauma, and are promoted as all-the-rage icons. I assert that Black girls do not come of age but rather come of (r)age. As evidence, I define four articulations of rage: to become raged upon, to rage against, to become all the rage, and to become enraged. This framework troubles existing notions about the maturation processes of Black girls by highlighting rage as an integral part of their survival as they transition into Black women. By identifying coming of (r)age as a new genre for contemporary films about Black girlhood, I provide new language and ground-breaking knowledge to dismantle the images that pin Black girls as culturally deviant. In doing so, coming of (r)age provides scholars with the necessary framework for dismantling mediated representations of the “Black-girl attitude” and the “angry-Black woman” tropes. Through coming of (r)age, mediated representations of Black girls can now be seen as not only culturally relevant, but also culturally vital.

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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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.