BJ Epstein (University of East Anglia)
The (Lack of) Pleasures of Girlhood: The Masturbating Queer Girl in Young Adult Literature
Who experiences pleasure? How does this reflect or reinforce societal views on sexuality? These are the questions I explore in this paper, using masturbation in queer young adult literature as my case study. I argue that societal discomfort with masturbation, female sexuality in general, and lesbian sexuality in particular combine to make queer female solitary sex an invisible and possibly taboo subject in young adult literature. Since literature can reflect society and show readers possibilities for their lives and futures, it is especially concerning that while young males – both heterosexual and queer – are depicted in English-language young adult novels as enjoying a wide range of sexual practices, including onanism, there are few explicit portrayals of young queer females exploring and appreciating their own bodies and their sexual responses. I argue that this lack does young queer women a disservice, teaching them shame and secrecy rather than healthy and confident sexuality.
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
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
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.