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Girls' Studies and Women's Studies

The following discussion of the relationship between "Girls' Studies"
and "Women's Studies" and whether Girls' Studies should be a separate
discipline took place on WMST-L in December 2001, with a followup in
January 2002.  For more WMST-L files available on the Web, see the
WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Fri, 21 Dec 2001 22:29:56 -0500
From: Ilana Nash <inash @ BGNET.BGSU.EDU>
Subject: Girls' Studies and Women's Studies
Hello folks,

I have a question to toss out before you, which I would appreciate some help
in thinking about.  This has to do with how Women's Studies as a discipline
imagines its missions vis-a-vis the topics of our scholarship.

I am a scholar of Girls' Culture, or Girls' Studies; I don't think it has a
formal name yet, as it's rather new (less than a full decade). It's an
interdisciplinary field.  There is a good body of work growing in the Soc.
Sci. fields of sociology and psychology (think of Mary Pipher's _Reviving
Ophelia_). On the Humanities side, much of the work being done is sort of an
amalgam of history and popular culture and/or media (think of Sherrie Inness
' anthology _Delinquents & Debutantes_).

I work in the popular-culture channel, with a historical slant.  At my home
institution, I've found nothing but positive support for my work within the
community of feminist scholars and teachers -- but then again, my institution
is the only university in the entire US that has a Department of Popular
Culture. A media-studies emphasis is also a very important part of the
American Culture Studies Program (my home).  So it's not surprising that
many people on this campus are friendly to Girls' Studies.

But I've been hearing little squibs of information coming to me from other
corners of academe here and there, and this trickle of info goes something
like this:  Girls' Studies is a hard sell to Women's Studies academics
(profs., departments, conferences, publishers).  The reason I've heard so
far, is that W.S. still sees its mission (in many places, at least) as one
of addressing the serious political and economic barriers to women's equity.
Girls' studies, however, in the branch that deals with mass culture /
popular culture/ material culture, is not as serious -- that is, it doesn't
seem to have the same kind of political/economic mission that informs the
W.S. field, as an overall project.

Here are two examples, from Girls Studies colleagues of mine who have found
themselves hitting some brick walls.  One says she's heard the argument:
"but girls are included when we say 'women,' of courseà you don't need a
separate field for that." Another friend who has had some trouble getting
support for her work, characterizes it as a split between 2nd-wave and
3rd-wave sensibilities, which I find an intriguing idea.  (One of my thesis
advisors refers to what she calls the "sensible shoes" scholarship of
feminism -- the stuff about politics, economics, etc. -- whereas the stuff I
do might seem, from that perspective, to be more "dancing slippers"
scholarship -- too frivolous, and hence distracting of attention and
resources from the "real" work of feminist academics).

To my mind, in some abstract, ideal (and hence possibly nanve) sense, any
project is legitimately and properly feminist, if its concern is furthering
the visibility, the respect, and the fair treatment of females in society.
I would like to get a better sense, from you folks, of why some established
feminist academics don't agree with that, at least in the case of
culture-oriented Girls' Studies. Is the 2nd wave/3rd wave conflict a
plausible explanation?  How can a junior scholar in Girls' Studies, like
myself, bridge those gaps between "sides"?

I should say that the "sides" aren't terribly entrenched. This isn't a war,
but it does come up fairly often as an issue for people who work in my
field.  I'd like, if possible, to start a dialogue about how the topics we
study relate to the mission(s) of W.S.,  about how to address this
girls-vs.-women gap, and whether or not I've accurately characterized what
might be the points at issue there (I'm hoping some of you are the ones who
take the dimmer view of GS, and will tell me in better detail what the
points of contention really are).  I'd like this to be an open dialogue if
possible, but if Joan thinks it's more appropriate as a private discussion,
you can email me off-list at inash  @  bgnet.bgsu.edu

Thanks for any light you can shed.

Ilana Nash
American Culture Studies
Bowling Green State University
Date: Sat, 22 Dec 2001 09:05:07 -0500
From: Meryl Altman <maltman @ DEPAUW.EDU>
Subject: Re: Girls' Studies and Women's Studies
I think you are right -- these issues are very important to study and understand
both for teaching and scholarship. Another area of connection you didn't mention
is the literature on teaching science, projects to involve and empower more
girls and early, so that science and tech fields will ultimately include more
women ... and of course there are all the food and eating issues, which start in
adolescence but have a tremendous impact on adult women as well.  And the
question of sex education (as raised for instance in Sharon Thompson's work) ...
These are certainly equity issues to my mind, and none of what you describe
seems at all frivolous. Feminist activism of all sorts requires intervention on
cultural terrain, intervention requires understanding. Oh, and work done by
linguists and others about whether girls talk, play games etc., differently
(Marjorie Goodwin, etc) has a lot of theoretical purchase on difference as such.

The more I think about this, the more it interests me as a useful nexus for many
kinds of thinking.. Has there been an interdisciplinary conference, or a
collection, of work with this focus? Has anybody taught a course? It would be
great for first-year students especially maybe. I'm sure there's a tremendous
amount I'm not aware of.

Good thread.

Meryl Altman
Date: Sat, 22 Dec 2001 07:04:03 -1000
From: Kathy Ferguson <kferguso @ HAWAII.EDU>
Subject: Re: Girls' Studies and Women's Studies
A couple more links:  girls and sports (legal issues about funding
and participation, but also important issues about how girls inhabit
their bodies and whether athletics gives girls a "way to be in the
world" in which size and strength are good things instead of bad
things; girls and crime (patterns of "crime" in girls are often
reflections of incest and domestic violence (runaways)). My
colleague Meda Chesney-Lind does fascinating research in Hawai`i on
girls and gangs, and finds very different patterns than are found
among boys and gang activity.

Kathy Ferguson
Professor and Director
Women's Studies Program
University of Hawai`i
Date: Sat, 22 Dec 2001 21:31:12 -0500
From: "Donna M. Bickford" <dbi6066u @ POSTOFFICE.URI.EDU>
Subject: Re: Girls' Studies and Women's Studies
I was so interested to see Ilana's post on the girl's studies/women's
studies debate.  I have taught several sections of our Introduction to
Women's Studies course for several years now.  It continues to challenge me
that my students (mostly, but not exclusively, traditional college age
women) will assert two contradictory things:

1.  Progress has been made; everything has changed; all women can do
whatever they want unless they are incompetent; there is no discrimination
in politics, employment, and/or relationships; AND

2.  Information about women's/girl's experiences (eating disorders,
detrimental effects of media imagery, continuing racism, homophobia in
society and in schools, incest/violence against young women, the existence
of the wage gap, disproportionate division of labor in the household,
ineffective "enforcement" of Title IX) should be taught in elementary and
high school locations because if they (my students) had had this
information earlier they would have (a) done things differently and/or (b)
been more prepared when they faced these discriminatory and potentially
harmful situations.

My students often have to be pushed to see what they seem to be saying when
they assert these two arguments simultaneously.

Donna M. Bickford, Ph.D.
dbi6066u  @  postoffice.uri.edu
University of Rhode Island
Women's Studies Program
Roosevelt Hall, #315
Kingston, RI 02881
Date: Sun, 23 Dec 2001 06:05:57 -0500
From: "Lana Thompson, M.A." <Vesalius @ worldnet.att.net>
Subject: Re: Girls' Studies and Women's Studies
This is in response to D. Bickford's comment about her students'
attitudes: "Progress has been made; everything has changed; all women
can do whatever they want unless they are incompetent; there is no
discrimination in politics, employment, and/or relationships."

I have heard the same from professors who teach Women's Studies and
Social Anthropology. I think that a requirement to teach Women's Studies
should be either a "CLEP" history of participation in consciousness
raising from the grassroots days or the completion of a Women's Studies
certificate. There are too many people teaching courses who do not know
about the subject at all.

In one "human sexuality" course that I took, the professor stated that
"the experience of rape as reported by most women was equivalent to a
root canal." He did not say what study or how many respondents there
were. He stated that the boundaries between the term "sex" and "gender"
were now blurred and that students could use them interchangably.

I also think that the trend to call "Women's Studies" "Gender Studies"
is not correct. They are two different areas of study.

Lana Thompson
Vesalius  @  worldnet.att.net
Date: Sun, 23 Dec 2001 10:21:43 -0500
From: Marc Sacks <msacks @ WORLD.STD.COM>
Subject: Re: Girls' Studies and Women's Studies
Kathy Ferguson wrote:

>A couple more links:  girls and sports (legal issues about funding
>and participation, but also important issues about how girls inhabit
>their bodies and whether athletics gives girls a "way to be in the
>world" in which size and strength are good things instead of bad
>things;. . .

Strength, maybe; about size, I'm not sure. "Bigger is better" may make
sense in football or rugby, but I don't have the sense that female
soccer players are especially large. And I wish someone would explain to
me why female gymnasts and figure skaters need to be miniaturized while
their male counterparts are often tall and muscular. I never liked the
sexism in those sports, anyway, much as I have admired the athletes who
excel at them.

Marc Sacks
msacks  @  world.std.com
Date: Sun, 23 Dec 2001 12:29:49 -0500
From: Ilana Nash <inash @ BGNET.BGSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: Girls' Studies and Women's Studies
I've been interested to see others' replies to this thread, in which they
talk about other areas in academe that work with girls' issues.  But my
original question has not yet been addressed, and that is:  why the conflict
between WS and Girls' Studies?  As several of you have pointed out, there
are scientific and social-scientific fields that actually are addressing the
"sensible shoes" concerns re. girls in the world -- their health, their
equity, etc. -- so, are you saying that *this* sort of GS work is NOT
getting pooh-poohed by WS scholars?  Is it, then, not a split between girls
and women (as it sometimes feels like), but actually a split between
"academics who respect the study of popular culture, and those who don't?"
OR.... are you saying that some anti-GS attitudes apply EVEN to those more
"real life" aspects of study?

Again, to re-focus:  what I'm really looking for is an explanation of *why*
academic feminists so frequently do not take GS seriously, and how that
might be addressed and (hopefully) solved.

Ilana Nash
inash  @  bgnet.bgsu.edu
Date: Sun, 23 Dec 2001 15:05:27 -0500
From: Sandra Shattuck <shattuck @ UMBC.EDU>
Subject: Re: Girls' Studies and Women's Studies
Ilana writes:
"Again, to re-focus:  what I'm really looking for is an explanation of
*why* academic feminists so frequently do not take GS seriously, and how
that might be addressed and (hopefully) solved."

Many academic feminists are no more exempt from the ideology of elitism
within the university than other folks. That's my short answer.

For the harder part: how to address such elitist practices and possibly
solve them -
1) seek out and participate in projects between community colleges, high
schools, middle and elementary schools and your own institution;
2) if no such collaboration exists at your institution, find a project at
one of the schools and ask to be on a board, to participate in some way,
offer your expertise;
3) build such a project in full collaboration with the experts in girls'
4) enter into such projects with humility - acknowledge that you have some
expertise but not all of it, that you have a lot to learn from teachers
who do not participate in the university system;
5) do your homework - find the literature relevant to the age group
targeted in the project and read it; talk about it with the experts.

My two cents for the holidays. It might be nice to hear from folks who
have experiences with these kinds of collaborations. Some practical

Sandra D. Shattuck
shattuck  @  umbc.edu
Date: Sun, 23 Dec 2001 12:06:44 -0800
From: Jessica Fields <jfields @ SFSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: Girls' Studies and Women's Studies

I'm glad to see the interest in girls' studies and women's studies. My
research is on sexuality education, with special concern for girls of
color. While I was a graduate student at UNC-CH, the chair of WS invited me
to develop a seminar for upper-level students. I developed "Studies in
Girlhood and Adolescence." The course was amazingly popular and was one of
the best teaching experiences I've ever had. Twenty women students and I
discussed the construction of girlhood and girls' experiences of their
bodies, as well as gender, race, sexuality, schooling, families, and other
social institutions. The students and I learned from one another, and we
established an intelelctual community unlike any I've seen in other
classes. The WS chair consistently cited the course as one of the program's
more successful offerings. I got nothing but support and enthusiasm from
her for my teaching and research program.

Now I'm an assistant professor, and I'm able to develop more new courses.
When I was on the job market, the girlhood course was one of the items in
my teaching portfolio that most excited the departments interviewing me.
There's still enthusiasm for the course here at SFSU, but there seems also
to be some nervousness--where are the boys? why not teach a course on
"adolescence"? why the separatism? Interestingly, these obstacles sound
much like those early women's studies instructors faced as they asserted
the legitimacy of studying women's lives not in tandem with men's.

As I finish this e-mail, I'm struck that WS scholars and administrators
have been supportive of my work on girls. However, I also have to note that
the successes WS has had in establishing "women" as a field of study do not
translate into the same for "girls." Perhaps this is another form of
support that WS scholars could offer--recognizing that the term "women"
does not necessarily include girls and that, unless feminist scholars and
instructors actively assert the importance of studying girls, they are at
risk of being lost in our discussions.

Thanks for the provocative discussion,

Jessica Fields

Assistant Professor
Sociology Department
San Francisco State University
1600 Holloway Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94132

jfields  @  sfsu.edu
Date: Sun, 23 Dec 2001 17:40:26 -0500
From: "J. Korenman" <korenman @ UMBC.EDU>
Subject: Re: Girls' Studies and Women's Studies
I am posting the following message for WMST-L member Rebecca
Scheckler, who is having trouble sending messages to the list.
Joan Korenman

I am a post-doc and  i do lots of research on women and technology.
I frequently work with girls as young as elementary school. there
are certainly issues that are particular to younger women (girls).
What is striking to me about this thread is that:
1. childhood is a socially constructed category which some attribute
to a desire to disenfranchise and disempower the young by keeping
them out of the job market and dependant upon adults.
2. the distinction between girls studies and women's studies seems
fairly artificial. what are the criteria for being a girl? sexual
immaturity - where do middle school and high school students fit
into this scheme. should we then also have a field of study for
those women who are post-menopausal (perhaps there is one)
This is not to say that the needs of girls are not genuine but that
they merge with the needs of women and that I find it very hard to
say where this boundary should be.
3. I think someone already mentioned this  and I enthusiastically
agree that an edited volume on girls studies would be a fascinating
addition to the literature. Anyone want to co-edit one with me? i
could see it covering the problematizing of the need for such a
distinction and then looking at its application to the fields of
health, sports, education, technology, etc.

Rebecca Scheckler
Wright Ed Bldg, 2206 Indiana University
201 N. Rose Ave Center for Research on Learning & Technology
Bloomington, IN 47405 Research Associate, Inquiry Learning Forum
V: (812) 856-8229 rebecca  @  indiana.edu, rebecca  @  bev.net
F: (812) 856-8245
Date: Tue, 25 Dec 2001 01:09:45 +1100
From: Michele Ruyters <backfist @ NETLINK.COM.AU>
Subject: Re: Girls' Studies and Women's Studies
I am interested in the direction this discussion was headed in
relation to girls and sport. A thread of my current research is
examining possible explanations for many young women failing to
explore the physical potential of their bodies and a general
reluctance to manifest physical aggression in sporting contexts.
An example is basketball, which admittedly in Australia is
probably regarded as a secondary sport and the difference between
the abilities of girls as opposed to boys may not be as marked in
other countries.The difference between the number of boys,
regardless of the level they play at, and the number of girls of 
the same age or even older, who can demonstrate basic skills in this
sport appears to be heavily weighted in favour of boys, at least
in my country.  This difference appears to widen as girls move
through their teens although from my observations, this appears
often to be due to girls accepting and even expecting that they
should not be perceived to be acting outside the boundaries of
what their peers regard as appropriate feminine behaviour. =20

Are the differences in playing ability due to inherent
phsyical/spacial attributes etc, boys more likely to practice their
skills in school yards , backyards etc ( again an issue of
inherent differences .v. socialised differences), an acceptance of
socialised differences between the playing styles of boys and
girls? In this respect, I have followed previous discussions on
the list in relation to the sex/gender debate with much interest.

Are the attitudes of these girls due, in part, to a form of regressive =
feminism?  I teach self defence to teenage girls as part of my
research and I have noticed disturbing trends in their attitudes ,
that appear to me to set the cause of feminism back four decades
so I am interested to know if anyone has experienced anything
similar. For example, I have noticed that some of the girls I
teach appear to be repulsed by my musculature , which is by no
means of the body building kind, or at least regard it as a
negative attribute for a female- any muscle definition is regarded
as unfeminine and unattractive. Participation in sport is mainly
regarded as a means of burning calories and skilled participation
is really only for the elite few. In short, they appear to have
adopted social definitions of male/female roles that would would
not be out of place in the 1950's. How does this mesh with third
wave feminism?

Michele Ruyters
backfist  @  netlink.com.au
Date: Tue, 25 Dec 2001 06:19:00 EST
From: SophieatSGII @ AOL.COM
Subject: girls studies
I can't respond to Ilana's concern about some women's studies scholars' lack
of interest in girls studies, because I am not aware of such lack of
interest.  I do want to respond to the question of whether girls studies
should be a separate studies area.  I think it should not.  I see no problem
with girls studies being a focus within women's studies.  In fact, I see no
problem with older/elder/aging women as another focus within women's studies.
 This is an issue of inclusion:  age is another dimension, along with gender,
race, class, that has been used in society to divide women and girls from men
and boys of all races and classes and sexual identities.  If we want women's
studies to be inclusive of liberatory perspectives shaped by gender, race,
class, and age, then we need scholars and activists, activist scholars,
working in each of these areas and sharing among the different areas.  We
learn from one another toward the goal of making women's studies as inclusive
as possible of critical and liberatory perspectives.

At Georgia State University, our colleague and friend in anthropology,
Valerie Fennell, was forever reminding us, because most of us were forever
forgetful, that we should consider age in the mix of interlocking dimensions
of oppression and unjust privilege.  I have to credit her with first raising
my consciousness on this issue, though it has taken time for me to begin to
practice it, and I am still not fully into the swing of it.  When I set out
to design a course (that in the end was not offered because of lack of
enrollment, in an online degree program on women and aging and public policy)
on women and aging with an emphasis on older/elder women, I found a great
lack of attention to aging in the women's studies literature, though I did
find some.  So I would applaud and encourage those who are interested to
pursue studies along the aging dimension, keeping the larger goal of
inclusivity according to race and class and sexual identity also in play.

Great question, Ilana.

Diane L. Fowlkes
Professor Emerita of Political Science and
Founding Director (Retired), Women's Studies Institute
Georgia State University
sophieatsgii  @  aol.com
snail mailing address:  P. O. Box 3806, Ocala, FL 34478
Date: Wed, 26 Dec 2001 15:34:46 EST
From: GNesmith @ AOL.COM
Subject: Re: Girls' Studies and Women's Studies
<< And I wish someone would explain to
me why female gymnasts and figure skaters need to be miniaturized while
their male counterparts are often tall and muscular. >>

My suspicion is that it has to do with latent pedophile voyeurism, especially
in gymnastics. More and more the female gymnasts are pre-pubescent (or look
that way).  Nobody, of course, will ever admit to that. I wonder if anyone
has done any research into that element?

Georgia NeSmith
gnesmith  @  aol.com
Rochester, NY
Date: Wed, 26 Dec 2001 18:48:37 -0500
From: "Lana Thompson, M.A." <Vesalius @ worldnet.att.net>
Subject: Re: Girls' Studies and Women's Studies
Here's one explanation that my gymnastic teacher told me. Up until about
13-14, a young girl's body is straight and the center of gravity high.
So is a young boy's. When the girl begins to mature and put on weight
and fat, her center of gravity changes and it is difficult for her to
maintain her equilibrium in many of the exercises. Her center of gravity
lowers. After about 14, unless the girl genetically has a very straight
body with broader shoulders than hips, she will have a problem with

Perhaps someone who is an exercise physiologist can comment on this and
critique the rationality of the explanation.

Lana Thompson
Vesalius  @  worldnet.att.net
Date: Wed, 26 Dec 2001 23:58:17 -0000
From: Judy Evans <jae29 @ BTINTERNET.COM>
Subject: Re: Girls' Studies and Women's Studies
It would be worth looking at the physiology of the
women gymnasts
who were in the USSR Olympic team (I think one
of the older ones was in the team up to and
during the year when Olga Korbut became

I didn't teach women, girls and sport but I did
use Iris Young's "Throwing Like a Girl" and
her related essays.  She has written later ones
on sport, too.
Judy Evans, Cardiff, Wales
jae29  @  btinternet.com
February 28, 2002 is International RSI Awareness Day
Work shouldn't harm, maim, mutilate
Date: Wed, 26 Dec 2001 19:51:46 -0500
From: Ilana Nash <inash @ BGNET.BGSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: Girls' Studies and Women's Studies
Pedophilic voyeurism? You bet. One of my abiding interests (and part of my
work) is this very question. We very frequently define "desirable" as
"little" when the subject is young females.  There is a constant fetishizing
of tininess and youth as sexual turn-ons.  The most obvious example is that
branch of pornography that deals with teenage girls... even though the
models have to be 18 to be legally photographed, they often *look* much
younger. And of course, many porn outlets are not legal, and thus use girls
of any age they want.

I find that many people are not only reluctant but outright angry when asked
to consider how this branch of porn is merely an exaggeration of what the
rest of society does.  We love to roll our eyes and call it "abnormal", but
it isn't -- it's entirely normal, and that's the problem.  The same
representational processes occur in our TV commercials, magazine ads, and
even domestic sitcoms "for the whole family."  America likes seeing "little"
girls (either young, or physically immature, or both) dispalyed as objects
of beauty.  There are mothers who encourage it -- one woman I know enrolls
all her little daughters in beauty pageants.  She says it "boosts their self

One of my agendas as a scholar is to spread awareness that American culture
at large does the same thing to pubescent and adolescent girls that
pornography does -- just without the nudity.  As to whether this has been
theorized:  I posted a query on this list many months ago asking for
citations to articles that discuss the fetishizing of smallness as a sexual
asset in women/girls.  I got very few responses, and as I recall, none were
perfectly on-point.  The only book I've found so far that addresses the
"small and sexy" nexus is Valerie Walkerdine's _Daddy's Girl_.  She also has
articles in anthologies on the same topics.

Ilana Nash
inash  @  bgnet.bgsu.edu
Date: Thu, 27 Dec 2001 23:23:05 +0000
From: "pauline b. bart" <pbart @ UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: Girls' Studies and Women's Studies
There is a book on the pedophilic quality of the ice skaters' training. Its
called something like Little Girls in Pretty Boxes or Pretty Girls in
Little Boxes and came out several years ago.
Best, Pauline pbart  @  ucla.edu
Date: Wed, 23 Jan 2002 16:32:54 -0500
From: Ilana Nash <inash @ BGNET.BGSU.EDU>
Subject: Girls Studies' announcements & query list
 Several weeks ago I posted some ruminations here about the fledgling field
of Girls' Studies, and was pleasantly surprised to see (from on-list and
off-list replies) how many folks here are engaged in some kind of work on
girls.  I have started a list for announcements and queries for Girls'
Studies scholars, in any academic discipline (humanities, social sciences,
etc.) and would like to invite interested parties to join.

I'm using a web-based List service, "Yahoo! Groups," because they're free
and offer many benefits that make the list easier to manage-- for example,
members can choose either to receive emails or to read the posts only at the
website.  This is a welcome option for people who dislike getting lots of
email messages.  To join the group, you must first register with Yahoo! to
get a user-name and password.  Some first-time users find this a bit
complicated, but it's easy once you know what you're doing, and I'll be glad
to help anyone who runs into difficulty.

The website for joining the list (and signing up for your username and
password) is http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Girls_Studies/join

For more information, or for help with registering, contact me off-list at
inash  @  bgnet.bgsu.edu

Hope to see some of you there.

Ilana Nash
American Culture Studies
Bowling Green State University

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