A Report from the Inaugural International Girls Studies Conference

This April, I attended the first International Girls Studies Association Conference (IGSA) in Norwich, UK. Having immersed myself in Girls Studies for the past several years as part of my dissertation research, this conference felt like academic paradise.

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The conference opened with a keynote by Catherine Driscoll, a leading scholar in the field who authored the book Girls: Feminine Adolescence in Popular Culture and Cultural Theory. In her keynote “The Girl: Dynamics of Anxiety and Reassurance,” she discussed how the girl is both “fantasy” and “fact.” She noted how anxieties about girls are fixed within historical and cultural contexts. For example, she argued how she believes the current fourth-wave of feminism is nearly “an exclusively digital event.” Quite interestingly, Driscoll returned to Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex as a lens for re-thinking girlhood. What I was most excited to hear in Driscoll’s talk was her emphasis that “leaving the figure of the girl open to anxious irresolution may be more productive than….proliferating attempts to formulate reassuringly certain answers.”

In her talk, Driscoll also critiqued terms that are often employed in Girls Studies like neoliberalism and post-feminism, arguing that these words have simply come to mean something “bad” that “we don’t like” and that they have lost their specificity through overuse.  Of course, this comment resonated throughout the conference—and anyone who had used the words post-feminism or neoliberalism in their paper (or in some cases, their title) felt the need to defend or acknowledge the term. (I have to admit, I was glad to find neither of these words in my own paper when I went to check).

Although I attended three conferences in a month, the IGSA Conference was the only one I attended for the entire duration, due partially to a Richard Beaupre Hope & Heritage Fund grant and a travel grant from the Graduate Assistants Union. Over the course of the three-day conference, I went from panel to panel, hearing dozens of papers.

Some highlights included:


Melinda Luisa de Jesús in her paper “Re/Constructing girlhood: Transgender girls in girls studies” posed the question, “What would a trans-inclusive non-binary girls’ studies look like?” She referenced several of her own students’ work making handmade ‘zines, which is something I will definitely be using in future classes. The link to her presentation is online (including some of the ‘zine samples) at http://prezi.com/ozfkvyqfxxlc/

New York school teacher Ileana Jimenez (feministteacher.com) spoke as part of the Plenary Session “Pedagogies of Girlhood: Schools, Feminism, and Media” calling the conference a “historic” moment, not only because of how it has brought together girl studies scholars, but how it integrated the conversation with university scholars with feminist educators of girls, like herself.

Since as Driscoll had noted girls are both ‘fantasy’ and ‘reality’, both real girls and imagined girls were the subject of conference presentations. Media scholar Sarah Projansky presented her paper “Finding gender in media franchising,” in which she investigated what trends emerge by looking closely at the highest grossing franchise films between 1990 and 2015, while Rosemary Carlton, from the University of Montreal, presented her paper “Failing to self-protect: Responsibilsation for risk in child protection practice with sexually abused teenage girls,” which outlined some of the complexities of agency and coercion emerging from her conversations with sexually abused girls who live under the government’s child’s protection laws in Canada.

meek 3Several scholars pondered how media and merchandising specifically affects girls, like Halliday’s paper “My anaconda feminism: Nicki Minaj, consumption and Twitter/Instagram (re)production”; Jessalynn Keller’s “#CropTopDay: Girls’ media activism as a challenge to normative girlhoods”; and Emily Aguilo-Perez’s “I hated her, she loved her! Barbie in intergenerational Puerto Rican girlhoods and familial relationships.”Aria 


Others looked at girls’ production or critiques of media. Fiona Handyside, Danielle Hipkins and Alexandra Allan from the University of Exeter presented on a joint panel “What it feels like for a girl: Filming, girlhood and emotion,” in which they reported on their experiences encouraging girls to create their own media. They raised several important points, like the way that girlhood is “intensely local” while media is “transnational,” and key questions, 

such as, what should we do when we feel girls are making their films not for themselves 

One of my favorite presentations was “The (Un-) Making of a feminist cool girl: A cross-generational dialogue,” a conversation between feminist scholar Annalie Branstrom-Ohman from Umeå University, Sweden and her fashion model/writer daughter Amanda 

Brohman. In their dialogue, mother and daughter presented their own unique views on what it means to be the ‘cool’ girl both in their own worlds—academia and fashion. Although their talk provided no pat answers, they raised crucial questions about if or how one can embody feminist choice.but for us? And Kirsten Pike in her paper “Complicating Second-Wave Feminist Media Histories: Girl writers and activists” looked closely at the diaries from 1968 to 1980 of feminist activist Trina Porte to show how we might sometimes overlook how girls are not only consumers but more consciously critics than we might suspect.


And then, of course, there was my own paper, “A Dangerous Girl or a Girl in Danger?: Shifting Sexual Agency of the ‘Long Island Lolita’” in which I look at the media narratives that emerged in the early 1990s about Amy Fisher, the seventeen-year-old girl who shot the wife of her lover Joey Buttafuoco. In the presentation, I show how narratives of the “dangerous girl” perpetrator or the “girl in danger” victim oversimplify the complexities of desire, consent and coercion embedded in Fisher’s story.

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Certainly one of the highlights for me was meeting Mary Celeste Kearney, author of the book Girls Make Media, and having the opportunity to hear her review the impact of her book and where we go from here in her closing keynote “Girls Make Media: Then, Now, and So What?” Kearney’s talk highlighted how technological changes have offered new opportunities for girls to make and distribute their own media, while acknowledging that there still exists a dearth of women and girl filmmakers in both mainstream and independent cinema. Certainly, for me, it felt like a call to action, and I was glad that I already have another film in post-production and have been helping my nine-year-old daughter to make her own media as well.

For more information about the International Girls Studies Association, visit www.girls-studies.org.

  Author Michele Meek’s most recent film Imagine Kolle 37 (www.kolle37.com) is in post-production, and she is finishing her dissertation Consent Puzzles: Locating Girls’ Sexual Agency in Narrative Ambiguities of Literature and Film of the 1990s. For more information about her, visit www.michelemeek.com.

Letter from the Editor: Spring 2016

During the frantic last week of the semester, as we’re all trying to meet our deadlines for grading and term papers, we over here at the blog wanted to take a moment to remind everyone how incredible this semester has been. Our department has had some amazing ups, and some heartbreaking downs, but we’ve made it through together.

I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who has contributed to the blog this semester. From student spotlights, to write-ups on some of the impressive and riveting speakers who have presented on campus, to covering the department’s exciting events, your contributions are what make this blog happen.

Just because the Spring semester is over, doesn’t mean the fun has ended! The department and university have a number of exciting events during the summer months, and the blog will continue to update content, so don’t forget to check back to see what’s happening!

A big congratulations goes out to those students who are graduating! We wish you the best in all your future endeavors.

Sarah Kruse

Rose Keefe

Becky Greene

Katie Burton

Barnaby McLaughlin

Brittany Hirth

John Renzi (M.A.)

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Finally, it would be impossible to look back on this semester without remembering our dear friend Kara. Always ready with a smile or joke, Kara was an integral and beloved part of our department and she will be sorely missed. A GoFundMe has been started in order to honor Kara’s memory with a bench behind Swan Hall (you can donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/karasmemorial) and a scholarship to benefit LGBTQ students has been established in her name so that we can give back to others in the same way Kara gave so much to us (donations can be made here: https://www.gofundme.com/2xxnfghg).

Have a wonderful summer and we look forward to seeing everyone in the Fall.

Weathering: Reading the Snell Family Meteorological Journal in the Long Days of the Anthropocene

On April 11, Marta Werner presented the URI community with a glimpse into the Amherst College Archives in an inspiring talk titled “Weathering: Reading the Snell Family Meteorological Journal in the Long Days of the Anthropocene.” The Snell family journals are a multivolume collection of weather recordings written by Ebenezer Snell and Sabra Snell from 1835 until 1902. Werner’s talk meditated on the value of contemplating the hourly and daily functions of the weather, but she also asked her audience to consider what else these journals might have to say. The journals collectively are a scientific effort to document the climate of Amherst over a period of time. But Werner suggested that we also look at them as a project of shared authorship between father and daughter – a project started by a father and continued by a daughter for a quarter century after his death. As Werner pointed out, the journals survive them; they are what the Snells have left behind.

Today, the journals exist in the archives as a historical document. Werner’s talk interrogated the term “historical document” and invited us to contemplate what it means. “What is a document?” she asked a room full of students, staff, and faculty members. She pressed the question further, considering the various associations we might have with this particular word. Often, it’s a word associated with proof and evidence, but Werner suggested that much of what a document has to offer its readers remains unsettled. A document doesn’t have clearly defined beginnings and endings as some might assume.

The same may be said for what is found in the archives. It’s a common misconception that the archives are a place of order, organization, and completeness. Instead, Werner’s experiences working there have led her to understand the archive as a place with indistinct boundaries between author and reader, between past and present, between what we write and what is being written. Her work insightfully questions its seemingly arbitrary nature, asking, “Why do some documents speak to us while others we leave behind?”

In response to this question, Werner considers working in the archives as occupying a space of chance meetings. When someone enters this space, there is no telling what may be found. Some documents speak to us; others seem to have nothing more to say. As Werner understands it, the archive is a place of accidental meetings between the present moment and a moment from the past. She recognizes that all historical documents outlive those who have written them, and her work has allowed her a space to make connections between the living and the dead. In this sense, Werner considers the Snell meteorological journals as a “living archive,” a message that still speaks: “If you keep looking, even the most unpromising thing can be luminous.”