Welcome to Girl Museum’s 10th Anniversary year. We have many exciting projects for our community, including this new blog series, Why We Need Girls’ Studies. Each month we will feature an interview with a scholar in the field to get insights about what we are all doing in this space to further our understanding of girlhood and its experiences.
Our eleventh interview is with Dr. Anuppiriya Sriskandarajah, Assistant Professor of Humanities, at York University.
Let’s begin with defining our terms, especially since Girls’ Studies is a relatively new academic area. Can you tell our readers what your field of expertise is and how you see it within Girls’ Studies?
My area of research is mainly grounded in the examination of racial, gendered, and socio-economic inequalities. Those are my guiding directives. What this looks like, the specifics of it, takes many forms. For example, I have done research about refugees, diasporas, gender, spacialization of race and socio-economic inequalities. All of these experiences I bring informs my understandings of Girls’ Studies. For example, most recently I am working on research around Indigenous girlhoods and water rights in the context of international development.
Why do you think we need Girl Studies?
We need Girl Studies because both Childhood Studies and Feminist Studies have not adequately addressed the unique realities of Girls. Childhood Studies often focus on the child as devoid of gender. Feminist studies focus on women and often views girls as simply women in training as opposed to viewing them as agents contending with their own realities.
There are vast disparities globally in girls’ situations, with incremental improvements in some areas and serious steps backwards in others. From your work in Girls’ Studies, what are some positives you take away from the academic interest in girls and girlhood? What changes can it lead to?
I think the benefit of Girls’ Studies is that it recognizes that global disparities among and between girls is not simply due to cultural differences in the understandings of the role of girls in society. Rather, Girls’ Studies allows for examining how girls’ lives are situated within complex, interwoven global realities of capitalism, geo-politics, and cultural discourses that inform their lives. Girls play a vital role in these functionings. They are not mere by-standers or victims of these wider processes. Recognizing this leads to an important take away. Girls and the academic interest in girls and girlhoods allow for examining the many ways girls resists, subvert, and make changes to both their own lives, and those around them. A fine example of this is the ‘girling of development’ research, where you see a concerted focus on girls in the international development context. In certain instances, the pendulum has swung so far that girls are now seen as sole architects of their own existence or at least of their own ability to escape poverty and ‘underdevelopment’.
What are the biggest challenges now and going forward for Girls Studies in an academic world? Do you see Girls’ Studies programs being a reality?
I think the biggest challenge now and going forward for Girls Studies, is a challenge we see right across the social sciences and humanities. There is a widespread adoration for anti-intellectualism. There is a general distrust of public institutions and unfortunately, academia has been lumped in with this as well. Much of this of course is also connected to the pervasive entrancement of neo-liberal policies that systematically reduced investments in academia, has centered the individual at the expense of seeking out collective truths and goods. However, this has also reinvigorated academia to realize our short fallings. The fires of anti-intellectualism have been partially flamed because of academia’s traditional hesitancy to engage the public in a meaningful way. We are seeing this now change dramatically, which is encouraging. In this context, I believe Girl’s Studies programs can be come and are becoming a reality. Because the need is becoming more pressing, and harder to deny.
We have an ongoing research question we ask everyone we interview: Do you think the Internet is a safe place for girls and why?
I think like all spaces, the internet has both many dangers and positive possibilities for girls. Do we need more regulation, of course? I believe this is where the work must continue.
To find out more about Dr. Sriskandarajah, click here.
Join us next month for our final interview of this series, Girlhood Studies scholar Dr. Kristine Moruzi of Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia.
Thanks for reading!
-Ashley E. Remer
Girl Museum Inc.