Professor Angharad N. Valdivia served as the Inaugural Head of the Media and Cinema Studies Department. As well, she served as the Interim Director of the Institute of Communications Research for five years, 2009-2014. Within communications research, Valdivia combines the areas of gender studies with ethnic studies and Latin American studies. She brings these together in the examination of contemporary mainstream popular culture in an approach that explores the tension between agency and structure within a transnational setting. She has conducted field research in Nicaragua, Peru and Chile. Current research projects include hybridity theory as it applies to Latina/o Studies, ambiguity as a strategy of ethnic representation and differentiation within Latinidad, and transnationalism as it applies to the discipline of Latina/o Studies.
How would you define ‘girlhood’? Do you have any anecdotes which you believe summarise girlhood?
This is a huge question. So much history and theory. At its core “girlhood” is a privilege, as very few people in the world have the luxury of living through a “girlhood.” It is a gendered category that is also age specific—somewhere after infancy through the end of adolescence. Clearly patriarchal cultures use the term “girl” to refer to a wide range of ages—sometimes even middle age or elderly women. Ideally, girlhood encompasses solidarity, mutuality, creativity, and learning to have agency in the world as a gendered, aged, racialized and classed subject. There are multiple and competing girlhoods. Anecdotally I can think of the girls and young women in Chile who bravely took to the streets to chant “El Violador eres tú” [the rapist is you!], calling out structural barriers to girls’ and women’s safety, sexuality, and full personhood. I can think of Greta Thurberg who becomes such a lightning rod of girl power and environmental messages, partly facilitated by her Northern European mystique and also by her refusal to abide by neoliberal and post feminist parameters. I can think of my sisters and me as we navigated multiple border crossings and faced so many otherings and marginalizations. And I am very protective of girls who have so much to offer and yet are seldom taken seriously.
Why do you consider it important to study girlhood?
It would be so lovely if all girls were treated well, with respect, without the threat of violence or dispossession. Girls are so incredibly creative and brilliant that it takes concerted effort to beat them down and discount their contributions. So the more we study girlhood, the better our ability to discern girls’ contributions and allow them a protected growing up period.
How, and when, did you become involved/interested in girlhood studies?
As a parent of girls and as a feminist scholar, I have been keenly interested in girls. Also, in terms of personal history, having attended an all-girl educational setting through sixth grade, I was dumbfounded by how disruptive boys were in school. This shock – about their disruption and the fact that they were no smarter but got so much more of the credit and resources—has driven me to study, document, and promote the contributions of girls.
Girls are the future.
How do you think globalization has affected how we define girlhood?
This is a weird question. Clearly the study of girlhood has to be specific. We cannot generalize from the US/Anglo situation to the rest of the world. Hopefully all girlhood scholars acknowledge this. Contemporarily there are such visible girls on the world arena—Malala, Greta, etc.—that we need to understand how it is that their visibility is being constructed. We also need to acknowledge that certain girls are rendered more visible than others. For example, many indigenous girls have been speaking for years about environmental degradation, yet Greta captures the global imagination. Issues of class, race and nation are important. “Globalization” means different things to different people. If we define it as the contemporary flow of people, culture, and goods across nations, we have to acknowledge uneven power distributions, enduring colonial vestiges, etc.
Would you describe girlhood as a construct (social or other)? Please explain.
Of course it’s a social construction—as is gender and this is gendered category. Nonetheless it bears actual political consequences, resource allocations, and explanatory power.
To what extent is the definition of girlhood constructed through inclusivity and plurality?
It all depends. There is no one definition. Undoubtedly, like so many other constructs, and as is Liberal Feminism, the bulk of attention has been on white, middle class, cis-gendered girls from the Global North. However there is also great productivity in inclusive research.
Please see below for some examples of inclusive scholarship.
Girlhood studies is a fairly new field, how do you believe it has changed since it was first established? How do you believe it will continue to evolve over the next few decades?
The study of girls is decades old, yet Girlhood Studies is more or less recent as a field. Definitely the journal Girlhood Studies represents the field cohering as a “thing.” The establishment of International Girls Studies Association (IGSA), its two conferences, and its ongoing struggle to achieve democratic representational structures represent another node of the field becoming institutionalized. Some universities teach Girls Studies courses.
I hope the field is becoming more intersectional and transnational. The journal is a great beacon of hope in that sense.
I fear that the contemporary global pandemic and resulting economic recession will slow down the growing field when it was just beginning to take off in terms of its institutionalization. Conferences were cohering, albeit embattled, events. As with all fields, conference participation discriminates against underfunded scholars and those from less wealthy nations and educational systems. So this pause should be used to reimagine inclusivity in conferences—perhaps through blended experiences as a way station to on site presence.
I am a Media Studies scholar, and I see so much great scholarship being produced in my field. I see the work of scholars such as Ruth Nicole Brown and Aria Halliday as utterly necessary and visionary. Black lives matter, and Brown and Halliday organically advance that truth. Scholars practitioners such as Stephanie Brown bring media and feminist theory together to train girls to produce media. Taking a critical look at Disney, Diana Leon-Boys blends analysis of ethnicity, nation, gender, and race towards extending our understanding of Girls Studies. There are so many amazing scholars such as Sarah Projansky, Sharon Mazzarella, Rebecca Hains, Gigi Durham, etc. who push us to consider racialized girls, new media, global media, and global differences as we continue to explore issues of girls and the media.