Welcome to Girl Museum’s interview series, Why We Need Girls’ Studies, for 2024. We have many exciting interviews this year with important scholars in the field to get insights about what we are all doing in this space to further our understanding of girlhood and girls’ experiences.

This month’s interview is with Kristen Hatch, an Associate Professor and Graduate Director in the Department of Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Shirley Temple and the Performance of Girlhood (Rutgers University Press, 2015) and is currently developing a book manuscript on childhood, sexuality, and American popular culture in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Why do you consider it important to study girlhood?

In The Politics and Poetics of Transgression, Peter Stallybrass and Allon White note that groups that have very little social or political power often have a great deal of symbolic power. This is what interests me about girlhood. While actual girls have little to no voice in shaping their worlds, the ideal of white girlhood has played an outsized role in political debates in the US, especially debates around race, gender, and sexuality. And, in turn, these political debates in which girls are both central and voiceless, have shaped girls’ lives. 

For example, right now I’m looking at the role of girlhood in the debates arising from mid-twentieth-century social movements (feminism, gay rights, civil rights, etc.). I’m particularly interested in the ways in which perceived threats to white girlhood were used to mobilize the backlash against these movements and how this was played out in popular culture.

Girlhood studies is a relatively new field, yet is rapidly changing. What are the biggest opportunities for those interested in studying girlhood?

One of the exciting things about working in girlhood studies is that it is interdisciplinary. My PhD is in Film and Media Studies, and I work in a Film and Media Studies department.  My research in girlhood studies has brought me into conversation with a range of scholarship outside my discipline. Also, girlhood studies is a relatively small field, which means that people tend to be welcoming and open to exchanging ideas.

What is the biggest challenge facing girlhood studies? Do you have ideas on how we can address it?

Like girls themselves, girlhood studies is marginalized, and the downside of interdisciplinarity is that universities are organized around disciplines. In the humanities, this means that there isn’t a lot of demand for girlhood studies scholars. Therefore, it’s necessary to position research and teaching on girlhood in relationship to other fields (histories of popular culture, in my case).

Finally, please feel free to plug any current projects or publications that you want to highlight.

My most recent publication in girlhood studies is on Brooke Shields, “A Woman’s Face and a Child’s Body: Brooke Shields and Child Sexuality” in Celebrity Studies https://doi.org/10.1080/19392397.2022.2109305. It’s behind a paywall, but here’s the abstract. I’m happy to share it if folks want to email me for a copy (KHatch@uci.edu):

Abstract: In the 1970s, child actress and model Brooke Shields became a flashpoint for the crisis over child sexuality and paedophilia. Shields’s disturbing marriage of a child’s body with a womanly face disrupted the iconography of childhood that had flourished since the Enlightenment and pointed towards a new paradigm that has become more prominent in the decades since. This article examines how child liberationist views that children are sexual beings helped to shape Shields’s public image as an object of adult male desire, even as her celebrity became a vector for the emerging feminist argument that children must be protected from adult desire. Through discourse about Shields, artists, journalists, and others articulated opposing logics for understanding the newly sexualised child and helped lay the foundation for contemporary debates about children in visual culture.

Pin It on Pinterest