Girls Studies Conference at SCSU

The past two days I attended the 18th annual Women’s Studies conference at Southern CT State University, the topic of which was “Girls’ Culture & Girls’ Studies: Surviving, Reviving, Celebrating Girlhood.” Some interesting resources and papers I learned about included:

Leandra Preston teaches a course on girls’ studies and  has a fascinating virtual center for Girls Studies at the University of Central Florida.  She teaches the course on girls studies partly online — they meet every other week and in between the students are supposed to blog.  She had some interesting points to make about blogging as a form of social activism and media resistance.  I thought her paper was a nice counterpoint to one I heard earlier in the day, which hauled out the generational myth about “digital natives”  and warned that shows like “Hannah Montana” are way worse for girls than the “Partridge Family” and the “Monkees” were for our generation.  [for some excellent debunking of this myth, see Siva Vaidhyanathan’s and Thomas Benton’s recent articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education]

Sarah Projansky from University of Illinois gave an interesting paper on feminist girls’ studies.  She argued that we need to look not just at representations of girls in the media, but also how girls produce media. She too deflated the assumption that the dominant media opresses girls and that it’s worse than ever before. She said this assumption is based on the myth of an innocent, pre-media girl who needs to be protected. She traced this imagined child back to the early twentieth century and discussions of pulp novels, romance magazines, and early film — I would go back even further, perhaps even to the eighteenth century novels like “Charlotte Temple.”  Her main point is that girls, past and present, have often worked against the media aimed at them — mainly through humor and satire.  She mentioned the book Girls Make Media, by Mary Celeste Kearney, which I will have to take a look at if/when I get the time.  For now, I’ll just have to make do with her blog.

Miriam Forman-Brunell presented her work on the website, Children and Youth in History, one of the latest digital projects by the Center for New Media.  The project looks great.  I hope I can pull off something similar — although she warned me it was really hard to get the NEH to fund anything that had “girls” or “women” in the title, hence the words children and youth.  Guess they won’t go for a project on our Gender Equity Collection which has all sorts of GLBT stuff in it!

The last panel, and perhaps the coolest, I attended was one on “Girls in the Library: Documenting Third Wave Feminist Activism through Zines.”  Both Barnard and Duke have huge collections of these zines (numbering in the thousands).  Kelly Wooten from the Sallie Bingham Center at Duke talked about how zines fit within the longer history of girls’ literature as well as feminist theory and activism. In some ways they are etiquette manuals for the underground — i.e. how-tos on how not to conform. According to Kate Eichhorn, zine-making continues and some zine-sters are trying to write a history of Riot Grrls and similar zine scenes.  She made an interesting point about the problems of writing an “official” history of a movement that was polyvocal, and suspicious of authority and linear narrative.  I asked why not have a hypertext history, or a wiki, to which Jenna Freedman warned that zines should not be confused with blogs [see her article on this at the Barnard website.] I think she missed my point — I understand the importance of the material objects, but new media can address many of the concerns about multiple voices and experiments in language that Eichhorn raised.

Anyway, I left the conference energized but also exhausted.  I’m always envious when I go down to SCSU because their program is much bigger, much better funded, and in general much more respected than ours is.  If only I could get that level of participation on my campus!

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