Becoming Victim, Becoming Empowered, Becoming Girl:
Discourses of Girlhood in the U.S. at the Turn of the Millennium

Rosalind Sibielski
Bowling Green State University

"Adolescent girls are saplings in a hurricane. They are young and vulnerable trees that the winds blow with gale strength."
— Mary Pipher, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls

"[Girl Power] is a new attitude. Girls are taking control."
— Melanie Chisholm of The Spice Girls, qtd. in Girl Power!

"At a young age, I already knew the standards for a girl like me. As I become older, they become more obvious."
— Kiri Davis, "A Girl Like Me"

[1] The three quotations that begin this essay come from three reflections on contemporary girlhood that originate from different standpoints and are directed at different audiences. They also provide contrasting depictions of what it is and what it means to be a girl in the U.S. in the late twentieth/early twenty-first century. Mary Pipher's view of girls as "saplings in a hurricane," bombarded by the intersecting "winds" of adolescence, gender expectations, and socio-cultural forces, is indicative of the discourses of the "girl problem" circulating within U.S. culture during the last three decades. Drawn from her work as a clinical psychologist, this description of girlhood appears in her bestseller Reviving Ophelia, a book written primarily for "parents, educators, health and mental health professionals, policymakers, and anyone else who works for and with girls," in which Pipher speaks for and about girls in her examination of their experiences of girlhood (12).

[2] Melanie Chisholm's alternative view of contemporary girls "taking control" reflects the understanding of girlhood promoted within the discourses of girl power, which have likewise been circulating within U.S. culture from the 1990s through the present, and in which girlhood is positioned as a period of coming into power (however defined) for girls. A member of the British pop group The Spice Girls, who are generally credited with popularizing the girl power ethos, Chisholm's depiction of girls asserting their agency appears in the promotional book Girl Power!, which was marketed primarily to the group's teen and pre-teen fans. In Girl Power! the twenty-something Spice Girls speak for and to those fans in articulating what empowered girlhood is and how it can/should be exercised.

[3] Kiri Davis's acknowledgement of the ways in which cultural "standards for a girl like me" have shaped her self-perception is taken from the narration to her short film "A Girl Like Me," which Davis produced when she was sixteen years old, and in which she speaks back to dominant culture in her own voice about her experience of being a girl. Originating out of a school project in which she set out to "[construct]an anthology with a wide range of different stories that I believed reflected the black girl's experience," the seven-minute documentary is composed of interviews with Davis's classmates in which they discuss "the standards of beauty imposed on today's black girls and how this affects their self-image" ("Artists Statement"). While "A Girl Like Me" is both an examination of and a challenge to the discursive standards that determine cultural perceptions of African-American girls, the portion of the narration quoted above also points to the ways in which girls (like all cultural subjects) must continually negotiate between what hegemonic discourses tell them about their identities and the ways in which they conceive of and enact those identities.

[4] It is the intersections and contradictions between the conceptualizations of girlhood expressed in these quotes, as well as the extent to which those conceptualizations have come to shape cultural understandings of girlhood in contemporary U.S. society, that this essay takes as its starting point. Using guidance manuals, psychological studies, and popular books on girlhood, as well as recent media representations of teenage girls, this essay examines various articulations of girl problem and girl power discourse, the two predominant discourses surrounding girlhood in the U.S. at the current moment. It argues that both girl problem and girl power rhetoric construct girlhood as a site of subjectivity-in-progress, in which female adolescence is understood in terms of either becoming victim or becoming empowered, but in which girls themselves are understood as an endangered demographic in need of rescue—whether from society, their own adolescent female psyches, or each other. Because girlhood is thus positioned primarily as a site for adult intervention, with girls themselves accorded only a secondary role in the project of becoming girl, this essay concludes by examining selected YouTube videos made by teenage girls in order to interrogate the ways in which girls themselves navigate these discourses in their own enactments of girlhood.

[5] Before turning to my analysis, though, I want to make it clear that the focus of this essay is on the discursive processes through which girlhood is defined, normalized and contested in U.S. culture at the present moment. It is not concerned with questions of how actual girls enact their girlhood, and it is cultural understandings of girls, rather than girls themselves, that are the subject of the analysis that follows. I also want to make it clear that in conducting this analysis I am not making any claims about the truth or falsity of the models of girlhood articulated in the texts that are examined below. While these texts often provide contrasting views of girlhood, they can all be considered "true" accounts, in the sense that they all contribute to what we as a culture know—and therefore what we hold to be true—about being a girl. Ultimately, then, while both girl problem and girl power discourses are concerned with questions of girls' empowerment, and the analysis that follows will examine the various ways in which they conceive of that empowerment, the central concern of this essay is the cultural power that these discourse themselves have assumed in shaping how we as a culture understand girlhood in the U.S. at the present moment.

Defining Girl

[6] The term girl as a marker of identity refers to an ontological state determined by gender and age, but it is also a discursive category that delineates the criteria through which this state is defined, the interests, behaviors, character traits, etc. through which it expressed (and thus, through which one qualifies as a girl), and the cultural meanings that are attached to it. In spite of its appeal to ontological grounding, the designation girl is also not a fixed identity category, as discursive constructions and embodied enactments of girlhood not only vary between cultures and historical periods, but in the U.S. the label girl is also often applied to adult women as well as to females under the age of eighteen, the demographic group that is conventionally considered to be girls both biologically and culturally. Because the girl at the center of both girl problem and girl power discourses is most often figured as an adolescent (girls ages thirteen-eighteen), it is this category of girls that I will be referencing when I use this term in my analysis below unless otherwise specified.

[7] Even if it is limited in its application to females under the age of eighteen, however, there is still never one single enactment of girlhood at any given point in time, but always multiple enactments that are sometimes complimentary with, and sometimes contradictory to, one another. We thus come to recognize (and to classify) girls according to the discursive standards that delineate the subject category "girl" from other subject categories, as well as differentiate different types of girls from one another. It is in this way that discourses about girlhood produce girls as subjects, providing us as a culture with a set of normative criteria through which girls can be identified and made sense of, as well as providing girls themselves with models of behaviors and bodily stylizations through which to signify their identities as girls.

[8] Discussions of the influence of culture on identity formation inevitably struggle with questions of how and to what extent discourse and embodiment intersect in the constitution of subjectivity. It is difficult to pinpoint where cultural discourses end and the body begins in this enterprise, mainly because our bodily behaviors only become intelligible to us through discourses concerning those behaviors, and discourses about identity often shape not just how we understand the identities that we claim, but also how we enact them. One thus becomes a girl through processes of enculturation that instantiate particular ways of being that establish one as a girl, as well as enable one to be recognized as such. In this sense, much in the same way that Simone de Beauvoir argues in The Second Sex that one is not born a woman, but rather becomes one through the performance of actions, modes of appearance, and speech that mark one as a woman in cultural terms, so too one becomes a girl by embodying and enacting cultural markers of girlhood. "Girl" as a designation of identity might therefore be understood less as a state of being than a state of becoming, in which one continuously (and reiteratively) performs girlhood in order to assert one's identity as girl.

[9] This is not to suggest that discourse solely or absolutely determines how girls enact their girlhood, however. Actual girls very often defy or exceed discursive constructions of the subject category girl, embodying those constructions either in part, or, in some cases, not at all. However, if cultural discourses surrounding girlhood frequently have at their center an idealized version of the symbolic figure "girl," they also establish norms concerning who girls are and what they do through which actual girls gain meaning as girls, and against which their identities are measured—either positively or negatively—in relation to those norms.

[10] At the same time, while there may be multiple ways of being a girl, not all categories of girlhood have the same cultural visibility or receive the same level of cultural approval. The most dominant discourses surrounding girlhood are those that determine which behaviors constitute enactments of "normative" girlhood within the culture at large, as well as which girls are able to enact girlhood in ways that qualify as "normal." While both cultural understandings of girlhood and the performance of girlhood also always intersect with other categories of identity, including race, class, sexuality and dis/ability, in the most general terms, "normal" girls in the U.S. in the early twenty-first century are understood to be those girls who comply with hegemonic enactments of heterosexual femininity, closely conforming to the expectation that girls are those subjects that do and enjoy stereotypically "girlie" things. ("Normal" girls are also always and only biologically female in dominant cultural terms, a criterion that will be discussed further below.)

[11] In last three decades, ways of conceiving of and being girls in the U.S. have been inflected by the discourses of the girl problem and girl power, which because of their repeated circulation from a wide variety of discursive sites, have come to constitute the primary lenses through which cultural understandings of girlhood are currently filtered. Both discourses critique patriarchal models of girlhood, although in different ways. Both also give little consideration to aspects of girlhood outside of gender, thus making it seem as if gender is the primary characteristic through which girlhood is constituted and expressed, as well as the primary site of the psycho-social problems that these discourses insist contemporary girls face. To the extent, then, that girlhood is conceived of in both discourses in terms of the costs exacted from girls through their compliance with hegemonic gender roles, this has meant that in contemporary U.S. culture the process of becoming a girl has become virtually synonymous with girls' oppression, and girls themselves are understood primarily as victims—whether of society, their peers, or their own psychological despair.

Becoming Victim: The Discourses of the Girl Problem

[12] Cultural perceptions of girls as both causes and victims of social problems are nothing new. Indeed, the first "girl problem" to be so named emerged out of social anxieties surrounding reports of sexual trafficking and rises in illegitimate birth rates among working-class girls at the turn of the twentieth century. Almost a century later, the most recent iteration of the girl problem was inaugurated through a group of bestselling books published between 1992 and 2002 that examine a host of social and psychological challenges ostensibly threatening the successful development of contemporary (largely middle-class) girls into healthy, confident, emotionally well-adjusted women. Among the first of these was How Schools Shortchange Girls, the 1992 AAUW study on gender bias in U.S. classrooms, which argues that educational practices in U.S. schools place girls at a disadvantage by engendering learning environments in which they are routinely silenced or ignored by educators, underrepresented in curricular materials, and discouraged from pursuing higher-level studies. These claims were later expanded upon in Peggy Orenstein's Schoolgirls: Young Girls, Self-Esteem and the Confidence Gap, published in 1994, which examines girls' marginalization in U.S. classrooms through field observations conducted at two California middle schools.

[13] 1992 also saw the publication of Lyn Mikel Brown's and Carol Gilligan's highly influential Meeting at the Crossroads, which grew out of research conducted by the authors as part of the Harvard Project on Women's Psychology and Girls' Development. Investigating the reasons that girls purportedly "lose their vitality, their resilience, their immunity to depression, their sense of themselves and their character" at the onset of adolescence (2), Meeting at the Crossroads became the first study to cast the "girl problem" at the turn of the millennium in these terms, which were later reiterated in subsequent articulations of contemporary girlhood as "a social and developmental Bermuda Triangle" (Pipher 19). Chief among these is Reviving Ophelia, which was published two years later.

[14] Both Meeting at the Crossroads and Reviving Ophelia describe the passage into adolescence as a de facto passage through the gates of hell for contemporary girls, characterized by physical and sexual abuse, low self-esteem, depression, and engagement in a number of self-harming practices that include eating disorders, drug abuse, and suicide. This conception of girlhood as a time of acute crisis is central to girl problem discourse, with virtually all articulations of the girl problem that followed reiterating what the blurb on the front cover of Reviving Ophelia describes as "the everyday dangers of being young and female" at the turn of the millennium. While such investigations into the girl problem tend to be unanimous in their depiction of girlhood within these terms, girl problem discourse can be divided into three general categories based on how the "dangers" that girls ostensibly face are identified and where their causes are located.

[15] The first category, following Brown and Gilligan, argues that the loss of self attributed to girls at the onset of adolescence is the result of the pressures placed on girls during this period in their development to conform to hegemonic female gender roles, which necessitates that they stop asserting themselves, and instead become passive, self-abnegating, and accommodating—in short, to embody the ideal of the "perfectly nice and caring girl" that Brown and Gilligan associate with oppressive models of normative girlhood (39). Articulations of the girl problem that fall into this category thus also promote a view of childhood as an idealized, gender-free zone, in which female children are untouched by cultural pressures to conform to hegemonic gender roles until the onset of puberty, at which time they are crushed under the weight of those pressures. (A quick glance through contemporary guidance manuals for prepubescent girls such as The Big Book of Girl Stuff and The Girls' Book of Glamour provides a counterpoint to this position, with chapters such as "Boys," "Beauty," and "Food and Dieting" from the former, and "How to Look Beautiful for Free," "How to Have the Best Manners," and "How to Flatter a Friend" from the later, suggesting that gendered behaviors are monitored throughout childhood, and that U.S. girls face cultural pressures to conform to hegemonic gender roles long before they reach adolescence.)

[16] The second category of girl problem discourse, following Pipher, also attributes girls' ostensive loss of self at the onset of adolescence to their compliance with hegemonic gender roles, but argues that girls' subordinate status within patriarchal culture is also a factor, with negative cultural messages about girlhood, particularly in the form of media representations, creating a "girl poisoning culture" that "limits girls' development, truncates their wholeness and leaves many of them traumatized" (12). The third category, following the lead of Rachel Simmons's Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls and Rosalind Wiseman's Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence, both published in 2002, locates the source of the girl problem in girls themselves. Shifting the focus of debates about girls' wellbeing from the harm that our culture ostensibly does to girls to the harm that girls ostensibly do to one another, both books investigate the ways in which "girls use backbiting, exclusion, rumors, name-calling, and manipulation to inflict psychological pain" on other girls (Simmons 3).

[17] In asserting that girls routinely turn on one another during their teen years, both books establish the phenomenon of "relational aggression," a supposedly feminine-specific form of aggression in which anger is expressed indirectly through tactics such as "teasing, gossiping, and [damage to] reputations," rather than through direct verbal or physical confrontation (Wiseman 112). They also institute the discursive figure of the mean girl, who has haunted discussions of girlhood ever since. Both books insist that relational aggression is omnipresent and universal, painting a portrait of girlhood in the U.S. marked by psychological warfare, in which girls ruthlessly engage in campaigns of ridicule, gossip, ostracism, and public humiliation in order to establish themselves in dominant social positions.

[18] While the circulation of all of these books brought concerns about girls' development into a central position within the public sphere, with the exception of the AAUW report, they also psychologize the problems that they claim girls face in that development, locating the causes of these problems, as well as strategies for their remediation, in girls themselves rather than in the social and cultural structures under which they live their lives as girls. Thoughts, behaviors, and self-perceptions initially identified as symptomatic responses to girls' subordinate position under patriarchy are often conflated in these books with the biological fact of being a girl such that girlhood itself ultimately becomes pathologized, and the physical, emotional, and ideological effects of oppression are recast as psychologically inherent aspects of girlhood. In the process, a further slippage occurs in which the experiences of the girls who serve as case studies within their pages are positioned as reflective of a universal experience of girlhood at the turn of the millennium. This slippage is also repeated across subsequent articulations of the girl problem at other discursive sites, with the result that representations of "troubled" teenage girls in novels like Patricia McCormick's Cut, documentaries like Thin (Lauren Greenfield, 2006), fictional films like Kids (Larry Clark, 1995), Mad Love (Antonia Bird, 1995), Crazy/Beautiful (John Stockwell, 2001), Thirteen (Cathryn Hardwicke, 2003) and Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004), and even reality television series like High School Confidential, all function to reinforce the view that anguish, violence, and self-destructive behaviors are common features of contemporary girlhood.

[19] This tendency to universalize the girl problem within girl problem discourse becomes especially problematic when the small number of girls who make up the case studies in the books cited above is taken into consideration, not the least because they are so often referenced in subsequent articulations of the girl problem. Pipher's observations on contemporary girlhood are entirely based on the experiences of her patients, all of whom come from a single geographic area within Nebraska. Orenstein's book is based on her observation of two schools that are located within fifty miles of one another in Northern California. Brown's and Gilligan's research subjects are drawn from the 135-person student body of a single school in Ohio. Wiseman does not disclose the number of girls whose experiences are purportedly recounted in Queen Bees and Wannabes, and while she states that the anecdotes related in the book are drawn from her work conducting anti-bullying seminars in U.S. schools, the examples she provides are framed in a vague manner that makes it impossible to differentiate between hypothetical scenarios and observed behaviors. Even Odd Girl Out, which draws on the most comprehensive pool of research participants, limits the scope of its inquiry to ten schools located in three states. Even if taken together, then, the total number of girls whose experiences are represented in all of these books is still only a small percentage of the total number of girls in the U.S. at the time at which they were published, which is nonetheless presented as if it is indicative of the experiences of the majority of girls.

[20] At the same time, the depiction of the experiences of these small groups of girls as universal to most (if not all) girls is even more troubling when the lack of diversity among each group is also considered. No disabled girls are included as research participants in any of the studies that form the basis for these books. Transgender girls are also excluded, as all of these books only extend recognition as a girl to individuals who were born biologically female. Out of all of them, only one (Reviving Ophelia) includes any research participants who self-identify as lesbian, although then it is only one girl out of the forty-three who provide the case studies for the book. Moreover, while all of the books with the exception of Queen Bees and Wannabes do consider the ways in which race and class also affect girls' experiences of girlhood, it is often in ways that replicate, rather than interrogate, the doubly marginal status accorded to girls of color and working-class girls within U.S. society.

[21] For instance, Leah, one of three girls of color included in Pipher's case studies in Reviving Ophelia, appears to have been included principally in order to contrast her upbringing in Vietnam with those of her American counterparts, as Leah serves as the point of comparison for Jody, whose "appreciative and respectful attitude towards her parents . . . and her industriousness remind [Pipher] of Vietnamese girls like Leah" (92). In this way, Leah is positioned as the national and ethnic Other against whom white, American girls like Jody can be measured. This is also true in a different way of Charlotte, who is introduced at the beginning of the book to provide a template for the problem girl, as well as to serve as a point of contrast for Lori, who serves as the model for the well-adjusted girl. Not considered among all the differences noted between these two girls, both of whom are white, are the ways in which Lori's privileged, upper-middle-class, suburban upbringing might have contributed to her "strong inner focus and self-confidence" by providing her with institutional opportunities and support not available to Charlotte as a working-class girl growing up in a rural area (51).

[22] Indeed, among all of the books to initially investigate the girl problem, only Schoolgirls and Meeting at the Crossroads explicitly address the fact that discursive models of girlhood tend to be based on "the established story of a white, middle-class, heterosexual woman's life" (Brown and Gilligan 15). Schoolgirls is the only study, though, to offer a portrait of girlhood in which the numbers of girls from varying racial/ethnic and socio-economic groups is evenly balanced. Since only 20% of the research participants in Brown's and Gilligan's study are working-class, and only 14% are girls of color (5), the experiences of white, middle-class girls still predominate, and while this may be due to the demographic breakdown at the school at which their research was conducted, it still results in a portrait of girlhood in which girls of color and working-class girls have only a marginal presence, while lesbian girls, transgender girls, and disabled girls are entirely invisible.

[23] The other effect that the universalizing of the girl problem within these books has had is to make it seem as if it is also an inevitable aspect of being a girl in the U.S. at the current moment. This is emphasized by the language often used to discuss the girl problem, which positions it as both true of all contemporary girls and the destiny of all contemporary girls. This is most explicit in Brown's and Gilligan's assessment at the beginning of Meeting at the Crossroads that "for over a century the edge of adolescence has been identified as a time of heightened psychological risk for girls" (2), but it is also evident in the repeated insistence across all girl problem discourse that "girls" as an undifferentiated mass automatically "lose their resiliency and their optimism and become less curious and inclined to take risks" at the onset of their teen years (Pipher 19).

[24] Given this universal and inevitable status conferred upon the girl problem, it is perhaps not surprising that these books should take as their ultimate goal programs of intervention to "save the selves of adolescent girls" (to paraphrase Reviving Ophelia). However, because these books also tend to focus on the psychological effects of various forms of victimization on individual girls, rather than on the institutional structures in which girls' victimization is routinely ignored, dismissed, or sanctioned, it is ultimately girls themselves and not their subordinate status within patriarchal culture that become the sites for intervention. At the same time, while facilitating the transformation of girls from victimhood to empowerment is often central to these interventionist projects, it is adults who are most often charged with "saving" girls, while girls themselves are granted little to no active role in their own empowerment, nor are they included in the discussions of how that empowerment should be conceived or enacted.

[25] While girls' voices are included the articulations of the girl problem in all of the books discussed above, either through direct quotations or through summaries of interview comments, without exception their voices are filtered through the voices of the researchers/authors, who act as interpreters of girlhood for the culture at large. Likewise, while these books include girls as research participants, they are written to elucidate the "problems" that contemporary girls face for adults, primarily parents and educators, and not to provide girls themselves with strategies for negotiating those problems on their own. Even Reviving Ophelia, which states in the introduction that it "also written for girls," extends this inclusion of girls among its intended audience only as an afterthought, and it is still exclusively to adults that the book is addressed (12).

[26] At the same time, while all of these books focus on the alleviation of girls' suffering during adolescence, it is unclear if it is adolescent girls in the present that are actually the targets for intervention, or if instead it is the adult women that they will eventually become who these books are ultimately concerned with saving. Janie Victoria Ward and Beth Cooper Benjamin have argued that in "draw[ing] a connection between experiences in girls' psychosocial development and persistent issues in adult women's lives" these early books on the millennial girl problem encourage alliances between women and girls when it comes to resisting forms of oppression common to both groups as female subjects under patriarchy (16). In the process, though, these books also end up supporting a view of girlhood as a teleological progression towards womanhood, with the result that girlhood becomes a phase in women's development rather than a subject position in its own right, and the focus of intervention shifts from helping to empower girls in the present to helping them to develop into empowered women in the future. This is perhaps most clearly illustrated by the fact that all of the books cited above, ostensibly written to extend assistance to girls, begin and conclude with reflections on how the process of conducting research into contemporary girlhood has illuminated for their authors the ways in which their own girlhoods haunt their adult lives—from Pipher's realization that many of her adult female clients are still struggling with "the same problems as their teenage daughters" (25), to Wiseman's, Simmons's and Orenstein's disclosures that their research grew out of problems they themselves had encountered as girls, to the ruminations by the researchers and teachers in Meeting at the Crossroads concerning the insight into their own inculcation into hegemonic femininity as children gleaned from the data—all of which make clear the ways in which these adult women have benefited from this research, but beg the question of what the girls who are supposedly its intended beneficiaries have gained from their participation.

[27] Ultimately, then, the understanding of girlhood promoted through these articulations of the girl problem is the understanding of girlhood as a stage in the process of becoming woman, in which strategies for intervention into girls' individual and/or social disempowerment is undertaken to ensure the development of empowered women, not necessarily (or even primarily) to empower girls. In the instances in which girls are considered as something other than women-in-the-making, the emphasis on the myriad forms of victimization that they ostensibly face seemingly by virtue of being girls at the turn of the millennium results in a narrative of girlhood in which the story of becoming girl is a story of becoming either a victim or a potential victim. Thus, while the articulations of the girl problem examined in this section do insist on the need for girls' empowerment, even if it is only to ensure that they will become empowered women, the positioning of girls as incapable of affecting that empowerment on their own also prevents girls from being understood as anything other than disempowered. It is partly as counterpoint to this view, and partly as remediation to the girl problem, that the discourses of girl power first emerge in the U.S. concurrently with the emergence of girl problem discourse.

Becoming Empowered: The Discourses of Girl Power

[28] Whereas the discourses of the girl problem originate largely in sociological and psychological studies of girls aimed at adult audiences, the discourses of girl power originate in popular culture representations aimed primarily at girls themselves. In many ways, the songs, television programs, and films featuring "empowered" girls that flooded the U.S. media in the late-1990s and the early-2000s can be read as both the product of and an answer to the concerns about girls raised within girl problem discourse, with girl power figuring as one strategy for accomplishing the calls for the empowerment of girls originating within that discourse. Significantly, while the "power" girls do or should have access to differs widely depending on the articulation of girl power one examines, with girl power variously defined as everything from the power to hold political office and shape public policy (The Big Book of Girl Stuff) to the power to hold on to one's virginity until marriage (Girlology: A Girl's Guide to Stuff that Matters), within girl power discourse girls are frequently positioned as being powerful by virtue of being girls, and rather than exhorting adults to save them, girl power rhetoric encourages girls to empower themselves.

[29] The first articulations of girl power in the U.S. are generally located in popular music, with The Spice Girls and the Riot Grrrl subculture credited with providing the templates for both discursive constructions of girl power and its embodied enactments. Following the countercultural ethos of Riot Grrrl music, girl power as enacted by Riot Grrrls primarily took the form of refusals to conform to normative gender and heterosexual roles. In this way, girl power as conceptualized within the Riot Grrrl community intersects with articulations of the girl problem that draw connections between the passive, self-denying model of femininity championed by patriarchal culture and girls' disempowerment within that culture.

[30] This conceptualization of girl power is evident in "Riot Grrrl Is . . ." (often cited as the Riot Grrrl manifesto), which was authored by Bikini Kill band mates Kathleen Hannah and Toby Vail. In mapping out the reasons for "revolution grrrl-style now," Hannah and Vale also offer a model for what girl power looks like and how it can be enacted. They state that, among other things,

Riot Grrrl Is . . .
BECAUSE we are angry at a society that tells us Girl = Dumb, Girl = Bad, Girl = Weak.
BECAUSE we are unwilling to let our real and valid anger be diffused and/or turned against us via the internalization of sexism as witnessed in girl/girl jealousism and self defeating girltype behaviors (sic).
BECAUSE I believe with my wholeheartmindbody that girls constitute a revolutionary soul force that can, and will change the world for real. (44)

In this way, girl power as articulated by Riot Grrrl becomes tied to the rejection of patriarchal understandings of girls, in addition to refusals to enact femininity in/on patriarchal terms, both of which are deployed to "change the world for real" by providing an alternative way of conceptualizing and enacting girlhood outside of patriarchal norms.

[31] Girl power within Riot Grrrl is also tied to projects of girls fighting back against the victimization attributed to them within girl problem discourse, whether through grassroots political activism or through forms of DIY cultural production. There is a strong emphasis within Riot Grrrl on girls' empowerment taking the form of giving voice to—and thus fighting back against—their experiences of victimization by speaking back to power in their own words. This conceptualization of girl power in terms of girls fighting back also colors subsequent articulations of girl power at other discursive sites outside of Riot Grrrl, such as the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dark Angel, Kim Possible and The Powerpuff Girls. However, when reiterated from within dominant U.S. culture, the means of girls' empowerment within girl power discourse shifts from Riot Grrrl's emphasis on facilitating girls' refusal of victimization through acts of media production undertaken as a form of protest, to an emphasis on encouraging positive self-image through acts of media consumption, in which girls are provided with representations of fighting back against victimization rather than encouraged to create platforms from which to do so themselves.

[32] In this way, while these television shows borrow from the model of girl power articulated by Riot Grrrl, their own articulations of girl power are shaped by the program for girls' empowerment endorsed by The Spice Girls, who, in enacting their own version of girl power, position themselves as "positive role models for young girls and women" (57). Girl power as conceptualized by The Spice Girls is achieved primarily through girls' reception of affirmative messages concerning their identities as girls. In this sense, while The Spice Girls' version of girl power celebrates the pleasures and trappings of hegemonic girlhood rather than encouraging girls to reject them, in doing so girl power Spice Girls-style does encourage girls to reject the negative significations attached to girlhood within patriarchal culture. Accordingly, rather than seeing enactments of girlhood along hegemonic lines as disempowering in and of themselves, girl power rhetoric as articulated by The Spice Girls argues that it is patriarchal culture's contemptuous attitudes towards girls and all things "girlie" that is disempowering, and that therefore empowerment for girls comes from refusing to see themselves in these same terms. This position intersects in many ways with Pipher's argument concerning the role of the U.S.'s "girl poisoning culture" in the girl problem, as well as Riot Grrrl's equation of girl's empowerment with resistance to patriarchal models of girlhood. The difference is that where both Pipher and Riot Grrrl see the rejection of hegemonic enactments of girlhood as an essential component of girls' empowerment, girl power as advocated by The Spice Girls suggests that in order for them to be empowered it is essential that girls reclaim hegemonic girlhood on their own terms.

[33] This conceptualization of girl power can be seen in The Spice Girls' music, as well as their public personas, which together unapologetically celebrate and champion all things culturally-designated as "girlie." It can also be seen in their book Girl Power!, which functions in many ways as The Spice Girls' equivalent to Hannah's and Vale's "Riot Grrrl Is . . ." In Girl Power! The Spice Girls assert that, among other things, girl power is manifested in the following ways:

Girl power is when . . .
You help a guy with his bag.
You and your mates reply to wolf whistles by shouting 'get your arse out!'
You wear high heels and think on your feet.
You know you can do it and nothing's going to stop you.
You don't wait around for him to call.
You stick with your mates and they stick with you.
You're loud and proud even when you've broken out in spots.
You believe in yourself and control your own life. (6)

In this way, while the model of girl power endorsed by The Spice Girls counters the passive, self-effacing performance of girlhood encouraged within/by patriarchal culture, it also opens up a discursive space in which enactments of hegemonic femininity are not automatically antithetical to girls' empowerment. Moreover, in asserting that girl power is "just a nineties way of saying "—and doing—feminism, girl power as conceptualized by The Spice Girls suggests that enactments of hegemonic femininity also need not necessarily contradict support for feminist politics or impede feminist goals (qtd. in Whelehan 45).

[34] In this sense, the version of girl power promoted by The Spice Girls might be considered within the context of what Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards term "girlie feminism," the founding principle of which can be summed up as "[embracing] tabooed symbols of women's feminine enculturation . . . isn't shorthand for 'we've been duped,'" nor are the trappings of hegemonic femininity always and only "booby traps set by the patriarchy" (136). Where girl power Spice Girls-style becomes problematic from a feminist perspective, though, is in the fine line it treads between countering sexist attitudes towards hegemonic femininity and reproducing sexist models of girlhood. This is perhaps most clear in terms of The Spice Girls' championing of hegemonic female beauty and body ideals, as well as their location of girl power within girls' heterosexual desirability, both of which arguably do more to limit the exercise of girl power to girls' bodies and their sexuality than to counter patriarchal views of girls/women as sex objects.

[35] At the same time, while there seems to be a connection between the emphasis placed on girls' loss of self-esteem within girl problem discourse and The Spice Girls' emphasis on cultivating girl power through affirmative messages meant to boost girls' self-esteem, all of this focus on self-esteem has frequently resulted in the reduction of girls' oppression solely to their negative self-image within both discourses. This can be seen in other articulations of girl power that follow The Spice Girls in reclaiming aspects of hegemonic girlhood in order to make girls feel good about being girls, such as the films Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995) and Legally Blonde (Robert Luketic, 2001), which additionally also emphasize the power of female friendships as a form of girl power, perhaps in response to reports of the mean girls phenomenon within girl problem discourse. It can also be seen in articulations of girl power that equate empowerment with girls being true to or standing up for themselves, such as the television series Daria and Veronica Mars, which can be read as responses to reports of girls' loss of self at the onset of adolescence. In all of these articulations of girl power, though, the goal of making girls feel better about themselves by providing them with "positive" media representations of girlhood results in positive media representations becoming an end to girls' empowerment in and of themselves, rather than a starting point in a program of more widespread structural changes. It also ignores girls' institutional oppression, with the result that girls' negative self-image is positioned as the only obstacle they need to overcome in order to achieve greater social opportunities or power.

[36] It is also worth pointing out here that much in the same way that girl problem discourse purports to represent a universal experience of girlhood at the turn of the millennium, the girl power promoted in all of the texts cited in this section presumes to speak to all girls, and, as such, that all girls are included in its scope. And yet while girls of color, working-class girls, disabled girls, and lesbian and transgendered girls are all given varying levels of representation in the articulations of girl power discussed above, it is often in stereotypical and/or problematic ways, as, for example, Melanie Brown's designation as "Scary Spice" or the demeaning depiction of the character Enid as a lesbian separatist in Legally Blonde. Moreover, because these "other" types of girls only ever appear in pop culture girl power texts in supporting roles, the girl at the center of girl power discourse, like the girl at the center of girl problem discourse, is still almost uniformly conceived of as white, middle-class, heterosexual, feminine-identified, and able bodied, resulting in the impression that it is only the empowerment of girls who fit this paradigm that is being advocated within girl power discourse.

[37] Ultimately, then, while the narrative of girlhood constructed within girl power discourse is one of girls becoming empowered, conceptualizations of girls' empowerment under the banner of girl power are limited both in terms of how empowerment is conceived and who it is extended to. At the same time, in ostensibly seeking to provide girls with models for how to negotiate being a girl in a world in which they are devalued culturally and granted a subordinate social status, girl power discourse constitutes a particular way of empowering girls in the late twentieth/early twenty-first century, but not necessarily a way of being an empowered girl. Girl power rhetoric may emphasize the empowering potential of providing real-life girls with affirmative media role models, but it is only ever those fictional role models who are understood to be empowered, while their intended audiences are still understood to be in need of empowerment. Thus, while girl power discourse may position girlhood as a site of becoming empowered rather than becoming victim, that becoming is an indefinite process in which empowerment is still—as it is in girl problem discourse—a goal to be met somewhere in the future rather than achieved in the present. While girl power discourse may provide a different take on the girl problem, therefore, it does not actually provide an alternative way of conceptualizing girlhood. On a discursive level, the fine distinction in girl power rhetoric between girls as potentially powerful and actually powerful means that the understanding of girlhood being promoted within girl power discourse is still one that defines girls as essentially disempowered.

Negotiating Girlhood

[38] In the interstices between the portraits of girlhood suggested by girl problem and girl power discourses are girls themselves, who must negotiate what these discourses tell U.S. culture about girlhood in their own experiences of being a girl. This negotiation is reflected in the videos posted to YouTube by adolescent girls that are analyzed in this section, in which their creators ruminate on being a teenage girl at the turn of the millennium. My purpose in including girls' perspectives on girlhood here is not to provide an "authentic" account of contemporary girlhood to contrast with those accounts articulated through girl problem and girl power discourse, nor to separate "authentic" expressions of girlhood from discursive constructions of girlhood (as if such a thing were even possible). Instead, my intention is to examine the ways in which girls use, appropriate, and/or rework the discursive models of girlhood provided by girl problem and girl power rhetoric in performing their individual identities as girls.

[39] At the same time, I am also not suggesting that the views on girlhood expressed in these four videos, all of which were posted between 2007 and 2010, are in any way reflective of the experiences of all girls, or that they can be used to draw conclusions about the understandings of girlhood shared by anyone other than the girls who made them. These videos were chosen for analysis specifically because they illustrate intersections between the discursive figure of "girl" at the center of girl problem and girl power discourse and the performance of the subject position girl on the part of actual, embodied subjects. In this sense, the selection of these videos is admittedly biased towards the aims of this study. However, within the context of this study, they offer a starting point for considering the ways in which girl problem and girl power rhetoric have together inflected not just the ways that U.S. culture conceives of girlhood, but also the ways that individual girls understand and express themselves as girls.

[40] That these videos might also represent a desire on the part of the girls who made them to inject their own conceptualizations of girlhood into cultural debates surrounding the plight of girls at the turn of the millennium is suggested by the fact that they all take as their subject the topic of what it is like to be a girl. None of these videos explicitly invoke either girl problem or girl power discourse. However, discursive strands of both the girl problem and girl power run through the articulations of girlhood in all of the videos, making it possible to trace the ways in which they intersect with their creators' enactments of their subject positions as girls, as well as the ways in which these particular girls very often conceive of girlhood, the girl problem, and girl power in terms that differ from those used in the texts examined above.

[41] For example, in GracieLue2's "Charlie, this is teenage girls," seventeen year old Grace, who is white and who does not disclose her city of residence in her YouTube profile, directly addresses a teenage boy who posted a sexist video about girls titled "Understanding Teenage Girls." Calling him out on his sexism, and humorously admonishing him for his views on the opposite sex, she holds up a copy of Reviving Ophelia and suggests, "Charlie McDonald, if you want to understand teenage girls, you need to read this." She then continues, "You know what, I will send this to you. Charlie, if you have a PO box I will send you this book. I will send you a copy of this book so you will no longer post any videos saying that you don't understand females, 'cause you can't read this book and not understand them."

[42] While Grace is insistent in her claim that Reviving Ophelia provides an accurate explanation of what it is like to be a teenage girl, she does not embody the model of girlhood that Pipher describes in the book. For one thing, she doesn't respond passively when confronted with sexist comments in the original video, but instead posts a response in which she forcefully protests. For another thing, the confidence and assertiveness that Grace displays in her response are the very qualities that Pipher argues girls have either lost or relinquished by the time they reach her age. Indeed, although Grace does not in any way invoke girl power discourse, her performance of girlhood in this video carries inflections of that discourse, at least in terms of the manner in which she challenges Charlie's disparaging remarks about girls. Thus, while Grace's video affirms the validity of the narrative of girlhood endorsed within girl problem discourse, it also models an enactment of girlhood that supports (even if it does not directly reflect) the depiction of girls within girl power discourse, perhaps suggesting the extent to which both discourses have infiltrated contemporary performances of girlhood in addition to cultural understandings of girlhood.

[43] Similarly, "I Hate Being A Girl," in which the video's creator humorously examines the downsides to being a girl, explores girl problem content from a girl power perspective. Posted by twenty year old issaplease, who is a Pacific Islander living in the Philippines, and who does not disclose her given name on her profile page, this video takes the form of a vlog entry listing the six things that she hates most about being a girl, interspersed with comedic reenactments in which she demonstrates each one. Among her topics are PMS, the daily trials of figuring out what to wear, and "how girls are insecure about other girls." While "I Hate Being a Girl" thus address some of the aspects of being a girl associated with the girl problem, like Grace, issaplease does not identify herself as a problem girl, even as she recounts her experience of girlhood (at least partially) within the terms of girl problem discourse. Not only does she not portray herself as a "sapling in a hurricane," but her video is a parody that use a satirical tone to critique the cultural pressures and expectations placed on girls to conform to hegemonic gender roles. Additionally, it also provides a degree of political commentary on contemporary girlhood that is perhaps most explicit in her scathing denunciation of the way that U.S. girls are acculturated to be "scared to eat" unless they are "eating their feelings," an observation that carries currents of the defiant model of girlhood associated with girl power. Thus, while, like Grace's video, issaplease's video does not directly invoke girl power, it uses DIY cultural production to critique oppressive aspects of hegemonic girlhood in ways that recall the strategies for girls' empowerment promoted by the Riot Grrrl version of girl power.

[44] The defiant tone that links issaplease's video to girl power discourse is also evident in Tina Mahle's "FAT" and Julie Joyce's "I'm Not a Boy," both of which present culturally marginalized girls refusing to be classified as Other and questioning the hegemonic standards through which they are disqualified from identification as "normal" girls. In "FAT," Tina (age undisclosed), who is white and who lives in the San Francisco Bay area, examines the ways in which cultural standards for gender presentation and bodily norms affect how she is culturally perceived. Challenging negative social attitudes surrounding fat bodies, she also refuses to share in perceptions of her body as inferior, unattractive, or aberrant, stating in her voice-over

The list of my imperfections is never-ending according to our capitalist society. So I tore up that list and decided that my body is a gift and I will appreciate it unconditionally . . . I am healthy. I am happy. I am sexy. I can accomplish anything I put my mind to . . . I'm not afraid to eat in public, to dance, to wear a swimsuit, to have a voice, or to take up space. I'm not afraid to live.

In this way, although the social rejection that Tina describes experiencing as a fat girl might invite associations with girl problem discourse, her rejection of the negative cultural significations inscribed upon her body within hegemonic U.S. culture, together with her refusal to see herself in dominant cultural terms, equally invite associations with girl power discourse, particularly as articulated by Riot Grrrls.

[45] Likewise, in "I'm Not a Boy," Julie (age and ethnicity undisclosed), who is a girl of color, describes her experiences as a transgender girl living in New York City, including not only the pain of social rejection, but also the fear of becoming victim to the violence directed at transgender individuals in U.S. society. Although Julie, like Tina, might be considered a problem girl according to the terms of girl problem discourse, she is very clear in her insistence that while U.S. society may be troubled by her subversion of gender norms, she herself is not a "troubled" girl. Instead, she defiantly states, "I'm of a larger community of transgenders that is fed up with all that." Likewise, Julie also refuses cultural discourses that disqualify her as a "normal" girl because she was born biologically male. Describing the process through which she transitioned from male to female, she explains, "I became a lady. A woman. A girl," thereby asserting her identity as a girl. In this way, Julie too incorporates aspects of girl power into her performance of girlhood, both in her bodily self-presentation and in her attitude, which project confidence, assertiveness, and a demand to be recognized and respected as an autonomous subject.

[46] Accordingly, while all of the videos discussed in this section mobilize aspects of both girl problem and girl power discourse in their discussions of girlhood, I would like to suggest that what is most relevant about them within the context of this essay is the ways in which they also rework the central contentions of girl problem and girl power discourse so that girls are positioned as agents of intervention, rather than objects, when it comes to their empowerment. In affirming aspects of the girl problem as constitutive of the experience of contemporary girlhood, the discussions of being a girl within these videos acknowledge contemporary girls' social disempowerment under patriarchy, but they conceive of that disempowerment in much different terms than the articulations of the girl problem discussed above. The girls in these videos rail against being marginalized or oppressed in various ways because they are girls, but they do not see themselves as disempowered because they are girls. Instead, they project images of themselves as empowered in so far as they refuse—and more importantly actively fight back against—attempts to stifle their agency or deny their personhood.

[47] At the same time, the "girl power" that the creators of these videos exercise is not merely deployed in service of talking back to dominant culture, but is also deployed to empower other girls by sharing their experiences, their opinions, and their stories of empowerment with them. In this way, the discursive constructions of girlhood promoted in/through these videos also position girls—rather than women—as the primary agents of empowerment for themselves and for one another, thus instituting a return of girls to a central—and active—role in their own empowerment. In the process, they also (not incidentally) grant girls principle roles in the project of becoming girl, both by refusing to allow adult experts to "save them" or adult media producers to inspire them, and by insisting on setting the terms in which both their identities and their empowerment as girls is understood.

[48] In the end, then, the portrait of girlhood that emerges from the differing views on being a girl examined in this essay is one in which the discourses of the girl problem and girl power intersect in complex, convergent, and, at times, divergent ways in shaping both how we as a culture understand girls and how girls understand and express themselves as girls. Girl problem discourse positions girlhood at the turn of the millennium in terms of the narrative of becoming victim, with girls understood as the casualties of social forces that seek to strip them of their personhood at the onset of adolescence. Girl power discourse, on the other hand, understands girlhood in terms of the narrative of becoming empowered, with girls struggling to overcome those social forces in order to reclaim their personhood after the setbacks faced during their entry into adolescence. Meanwhile, the examinations of girlhood offered by the YouTube videos examined in this section position the process of becoming girl as neither becoming victim nor becoming empowered, but rather a negotiation between the two, both of which inflect, but also fail to fully encompass, the experience(s) of being an adolescent girl in the U.S. at the current moment. If the incorporation of girl problem and girl power rhetoric into these videos does indeed point to the cultural power that these discourses have assumed in shaping how U.S. society understands girlhood at the turn of the millennium, though, the appropriation and reworking of both discourses on the part of the videos' creators also suggests that, for them at least, girls' empowerment is ultimately enacted not so much through adult interventions into girlhood as it is through girls' interventions into the discursive processes through which girlhood is conceptualized and given representation within the culture at large.

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