Girling the Girl: Visual Culture and Girl Studies

Open Access
Jones, Leisha J.
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 26, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Janet Wynne Lyon, Committee Chair
  • Yvonne Madelaine Gaudelius, Committee Member
  • Richard Doyle, Committee Member
  • Susan Merrill Squier, Committee Member
  • Vincent M Colapietro, Committee Member
  • performativity
  • Visual Culture
  • Women's Studies
  • Girl Studies
  • Gilles Deleuze
  • feminism
Caught between lipstick and a field hockey stick, girls invent tactics for assembling themselves as performative multiplicities, individual hordes of desire that mutate as often as they change shoes. This dissertation offers a research model for feminism that addresses girls as positive categories of possibility, that revalues the status of girls as to-be subjects, and that develops a synthesis between Visual Culture, Women’s Studies, and the emerging field of Girl Studies. The analyses produced by this model are deliberately unhinged from the kind of psychological moorings that predetermine girl as a marker for woman-in-training. I explore and map the intensities of becoming-girl through performatives and events of gender as they appear in visual art, film, the internet, school, home, and the street, in order to demonstrate the pervasive effects girls have on the same impermeable culture that is supposedly killing them. Girl begins as someone in the middle, the consummate apprentice, a liminal figure crossbreeding the innocence of childhood with the pollutants of womanhood. She bears a mark of the feminine that is not biologically determined. Girl as a sociological category is relatively new, following the birth of childhood itself in the eighteenth century and coming to life in the mid-twentieth century as a breakaway subset of the “teenager.” She occupies the odd position of being the most desirable of objects and being the most invisible of subjects. Girl is in fact not a Subject at all. She is locatable through the marks she makes. The girl marks with an X – whatever cultural signage that may be – and thus, a territory is established. This dissertation claims neither to define nor to transubstantiate girl as a modal Subject. Girl here functions as a conceptual persona, and as such is not necessarily a correlative or representative of actual girls. She coheres as a brand, a loose site of identity managed through others’ desires. I argue that girls can and do actively manage their own brands, and that Brand X has more to teach us than we have to teach her.