Dr. Marnina Gonick is a Professor of Education and Women & Gender Studies at Mount St Vincent University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Her research interests are in the areas of girl studies, identity, visual culture, feminist cultural studies, gender and schooling, feminist pedagogies, feminist post-structural theory and feminist qualitative research. She is the author of “Between Femininities: Ambivalence, Identity and the Education of Girls” (SUNY Press, 2003) and “Young Femininity: Girlhood, Power and Social Change” (Palgrave Press, 2005). In 2020, she was awarded the Fulbright Canada Research Chair at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, for the winter 2021 term.
How would you define ‘girlhood’? Do you have any anecdotes which you believe summarise girlhood?
My definition of girlhood would be to resist any singular definition. Definitions can be dangerous, because to define is to create borders around an idea. As a result, there are always exclusions. I think girlhood should be seen as an expansive category with porous boundaries. Instead of defining girlhood as a biological or temporal feature, I think it is necessary to understand it as a cultural and social phenomenon that is constantly in flux. We need to use an intersectional analysis, that is one that takes into account how gender and age intersect with other social markers such as race, class, nationality, ability, sexuality etc. Girlhood is an “idea” that has material effects on how childhood is understood and lived, how gender is created and experienced and how identities are fashioned. Each of these (childhood, gender and identity) are a relationship to the “idea” of girl, which is never fully achievable.
Why do you consider it important to study girlhood?
It’s important to study girlhood because it is a social phenomenon that shapes our existence. It is also really important to reference the gendered aspects of childhood and youth. Youth Studies and Childhood Studies are fields that pre-exist girlhood studies. However, for the most part gender isn’t a major feature of analysis. As a result, childhood and youth tend to be imagined as white, male and middle class.The field of girlhood studies is a constant reminder that childhood and youth are not gender free and that any analysis should include gender and its intersections with race, ethnicity, disability, sexuality etc.
How, and when, did you become involved/interested in girlhood studies?
I became interested in girlhood as an area of research in the early 1990s, as a graduate student. It was a time where there were a lot of popular books coming out about girls and feminists were realizing that girls had been left out of most feminist research. I began reading in the area and much of what I read resonated with me as important areas to study.
How do you think globalization has affected how we define girlhood?
I think there are two contradictory movements involved in the relationship between globalization and girlhood. On the one hand, globalization has allowed us to see how the concept of girlhood varies in different social and geographic locations. This gives weight to the idea of girlhood as something that is socially constructed in alignment with economic, cultural and regional factors. On the other hand, globalization has also brought a homogenizing factor to notions of girlhood. With the circulation of American popular culture, through TV, movies and music there is an increasingly narrowing of discourses around girlhood which puts limitations on how the concept is understood and lived.
Would you describe girlhood as a construct (social or other)? Please explain.
Yes, as my answers above indicate – I think girlhood is a construct with real material effects. This idea comes from a broader field of study of the theoretical body of work that suggests that all identities are created within social contexts that shape the meanings of these identities.
To what extent is the definition of girlhood constructed through inclusivity and plurality?
I think it depends on the context. In some contexts there has been a lot of progress in expanding representations of girlhood. While in others, the dominant version of white, middle class, heterosexual, cis gendered girlhood is still firmly implanted. I also see that progress is not linear. Where there are advancements there are also retreats. This is an issue that requires on-going work and effort.
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?
In the early 1990s the field was focused on girls and girlhood as a problem. It tended to be focused mainly on white, middle class and heterosexual girls. Particular attention was on how education systems and schools disadvantaged girls because of the curriculum, the way teachers treated boys and girls differently and school cultures were organized around dominant forms of masculinity and heterosexuality. The field has expanded from there to include a full range of issues, as well as looking outside the North American and European contexts to include Indigenous girls, as well as girls living in the Global South.