- Scouts, Tomboys, and the History of Girls and Girlhood
In the past decades, scholars of women’s and gender history have fashioned the new subfield of girls’ history. Influenced by the parallel and often intersecting development within women’s and gender studies, historians of girls and girlhood have embraced interdisciplinary approaches and feminist theoretical frameworks, infusing history with feminist analyses and bringing historical inquiry to bear on the lives of contemporary girls. This review includes four texts that reflect the vibrancy and diversity of girls’ history: Miriam Forman-Brunell and Leslie Paris’s two-volume Girls’ History and Culture Reader; and two monographs which approach the histories of particular girls and girlhoods in distinctive ways: Scouting for Girls by Tammy M. Proctor, and Tomboys by Michelle Ann Abate.
The Girls’ History and Culture Reader is a boon to colleagues and students in girls’ studies, the history of women and gender, and the history of children and youth, as it helps to correct some of the blind spots particular to each of these fields. Girls’ studies has focused predominantly on the contemporary period in which girls are active cultural producers and consumers, but less so on the earlier years which are highlighted in the nineteenth-century volume of the Reader. While historians of women and gender have written quite a bit about adolescents and young women, they rarely investigate the experiences of children or use age as a category of [End Page 172] analysis. For historians of children and youth, age is a central category of analysis, while gender and other feminist approaches are more peripheral. The Reader, in contrast, “aims to set the strengths of these various modes of inquiry into conversation with one another: demonstrating how age matters as a category of analysis for gender history, offering interdisciplinary approaches to girlhood, and providing materials for more historically grounded girls’ studies scholarship in associated fields” (5–6).
Both volumes successfully highlight the productive tension between girls’ daily lives, experiences, and identities on the one hand, and discourse, symbolism, and representation of girlhood on the other. They begin with an introduction that orients the reader to the field of girls’ history and identifies themes specific to the nineteenth or twentieth centuries, and include such groundbreaking essays that influenced the development of girls’ history as Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s “The Female World of Love and Ritual,” Deborah Gray White’s “The Life Cycle of the Female Slave,” and Christine Stansell’s “Women on the Town: Sexual Exchange and Prostitution” (in the nineteenth-century volume); and Kathy Peiss’s “Putting on Style,” Mary Odem’s “Single Mothers, Delinquent Daughters,” Judy Yung’s “First Steps,” and Vicki Ruiz’s “Star Struck” (in the twentieth-century volume). The most current work is located in the second volume, reflecting the twentieth-century leanings of the field. While the first volume includes only one essay published after 2000, six of the thirteen chapters in the second volume came out in the twenty-first century. Thus on the whole, the essays were not conceived as part of a common intellectual conversation about girls’ history; the result is a series of excellent chapters with themes that relate only loosely and with the help of a strong editorial introduction.
Thematic clusters cross the two volumes and present exciting possibilities for classroom use. They include girls’ literature and writing practices...