Girls on Fire: Constructions of Girlhood in YA Dystopian Fiction (by Dr. G-B)

Welcome to English 3900F and Women’s Studies 3315F! This is a cross-listed course in which we will consider how girls and girlhood have been constructed in contemporary examples of Young Adult (YA) dystopian fiction.

In Girl Power: Girls Redefining Girlhood, Dawn H. Currie, Deirdre M. Kelly, and Shauna Pomerantz point to the fact that “until recently, girlhood has been ‘the other’ of feminism’s womanhood: girlhood was defined negatively, against womanhood” in ways that present adult femininity as the successful abandonment of young or adolescent womanhood (4). Currie, Kelly, and Pomerantz’s thesis holds that girls in Western civilization at the turn of the twenty-first century are “reinventing” girlhood to suit their own ideas and desires in the face of the dueling narratives of Reviving Ophelia and Girl Power, which have positioned young women in a space that simultaneously highlights their vulnerability and proclaims their strength. While these two discourses do consider transformations of gender, its meanings, and the power to be gleaned from such transformations, they also re-work and re-code gender in familiar ways. In other words, while both Reviving Ophelia and Girl Power have drawn attention to the status and potential of the adolescent young woman, these movements have also, quite paradoxically, reinforced cultural expectations and limitations. YA dystopian novels such as The Hunger Games, Divergent, Cinder, and Delirium, among countless others published in the last ten years, feature strong female protagonists who openly rebel against the totalitarian societies in which they live. The circumstances of these dystopian futures enable characters like Katniss, Fen, Cinder, and Lena to be strong, active young women who willingly challenge authority, transgress gender norms, and even confront injustice when compelled to do so. Although these characters think little of the gendered stereotypes that limit their real life counterparts, they often end up reaffirming those gendered stereotypes. In this course, we will consider how the recent spate of Young Adult dystopian fiction simultaneously subverts and affirms gendered expectations facing many young women in the 21st century.

Works Cited

Currie, Dawn H. Deirdre M. Kelly, and Shauna Pomerantz. “Girl Power”: Girls Reinventing

Girlhood. Peter Lang Publishing, 2009.

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