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Girls on Paper 

Nicoletta Mandolini (Universidade do Minho) 
New Cover Girls. Feminism, Girlhood and the Graphic Novel

As sites of intersection, incorporating intersecting genres, editorial formats, targets and markets, graphic narratives closely mirror the historical complexity of their times (Chute 2016; Earl 2020). Graphic life narratives represent a flourishing production, with image-text memoirs, diaries, biographies, autobiographies, autofictions and Bildungsroman progressively increasing since the consolidation of the graphic novel through the ‘80s in the international comics milieu (Baetens and Frey 2015: 10-13; Calabrese and Zagaglia 2017). These graphic novels often engage with feminist issues and debates (Chute 2010; Mandolini 2021) and they do so by taking up the risk of representing problematic aspects of girls’ and young women’s development. 

This paper will depart from these general observations to suggest that the medium-genre intersection of graphic narratives and female coming of age, that is to say graphic novels focussing on girls’ experiences of growth and approximation to womanhood, can open up a productive space for the critical discussion and popularisation of contested feminist categories and concepts (e.g., abjection, queerness, gender violence, victim/survivor). This will be done by proposing a series of close readings of graphic novels produced in the Italian, Hispanophone and Lusophone contexts. 

Michelle Smith (Monash University)
Girlhood in Contemporary Young Adult Gothic Fiction

This paper examines how Young Adult Gothic fiction tends to reinforce conservative patriarchal norms of gender and sexuality for implied girl readers in the twenty-first century. I consider how the genre remains preoccupied with the patriarchal threat posed to young women through two sub-genres. First, in vampire novels with girl narrators, romantic encounters and sexuality are at the forefront, distinguishing them from those of male narrators, whose romantic desires coexist with lofty ambitions to change the world. Second, in Young Adult Gothic fairy-tale retellings, narratives of captivity, fear, and abuse are formulaic aspects of the romance script. These novels do not mirror historical Gothic and fairy-tale narratives in which escape from male threat is paramount, but instead depict terrifying encounters with men as the precursor to romantic relationships for girls, a surprisingly troubling belief in the #MeToo era.

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

Download guidance on participating in an online event (pdf) 


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.