Things I learned at the Reimagining Girlhood Conference

I was at lovely SUNY Cortland over the weekend, co-chairing a panel with Kristen about Girls Rock Camp. We met some awesome scholars/activists from fourteen different countries, shook hands with enthusiastic coordinator Caroline Kaltefleiter, heard some great papers and talks on a variety of subjects, made contacts with several GRC organizers (including our roommate, who runs Girls Rock Denver and is working on her PhD in Communication Studies at Michigan), did an interview with a PhD student at OSU, and have lists of things we need to read. Here are just a few things I learned.

1. There’s a world of difference between youth organizing and organizing youth. We should strive for the former. This is a difficult process, but listening is of the utmost importance. Thinking of girls as agents of change is another.

2. My former thesis adviser Mary Kearney was present, as was keynote speaker Sharon Mazzarella. Kearney participated in the plenary and presented new research on how to fix the dropout rate amongst female production students. She managed to ask at least one transformative question in each panel we both attended. She also made several smart comments in the plenary, calling out the normalization of students’ upper-class backgrounds in the academy and hoping that the field of girls studies never achieves total legitimacy in the academy so that groundbreaking work can continue to happen outside the top-tier schools and across disciplines. Mazzarella stressed the strength of girls’ studies emphasis on an interdisciplinary approach as well. I want to be these women when I grow up.

3. Marilee Salvator’s “Moo Goes the Cow” was featured at the “Girl” exhibit that coincided with the conference. It was a series of embroidery loops with silk-screened images of anatomical diagrams of genitalia, needlepoint, cartoons, and menstrual blood serving as a commentary of recalling repressed memories of child abuse. It blew my mind.

4. I made contact with someone who works at the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke University. Their holdings look amazing, particularly their zine collections.

5. Brock University’s Shauna Pomerantz and Rebecca Raby presented work they’ve done on nerdy girls, bridging representations with ethnographies. I’m interested in how this work will evolve, and hope they continue to challenge the racial dimension of female nerds, speak to girls who fit the profile of the nerd but don’t always make straight As, and address nerdy girls who engage in delinquent behavior.

6. The wave metaphor alienates many feminists and womanists of color, many of whom were excluded from its formations. White feminists should move away from using it. Also, speaking for myself, it’s always seemed like a problematic construct that doesn’t speak much to me as a feminist.

7. Regrettably, I could not attend Sunday’s film screening, which featured girl-made projects that came out of a workshop Kearney co-facilitated with Cortland’s Cynthia Sarver. I wish I had, though, as we should always include actual girls in girls’ studies conferences. We regret being unable to get girls to speak at our panel. We put out a call on the GRC listserv, but imagine that financial and parental concerns speak to their absence. As always, something to work on.

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