Reviews of Growing Up With Girl Power by Rebecca Hains

Girlhood Studies 7(2): Critical Girls: Girl Power Revisited,” by Jessalynn Keller, Winter 2014.

A key strength of Growing  Up With Girl Power is the careful and detailed ethnographic work that informs it. Hains spent over two years interviewing three groups of 8- to 11-year-old girls, supplementing her focus group research with individual interviews and keen observational insights. […] Hains privileges the voices of her research participants and models a reflexivity that many researchers into girls’ studies lack. As a result, the spirit of her girl subjects is highlighted throughout the book and Hains avoids reductive and one-dimensional portraits of her participants. Her study is further aided by her commitment to girls’ active participation in the research project and she details the useful insights she gained by allowing girls some agency in the process, such as letting them pick some of the television shows they watched and allowing them to bring their Bratz dolls to the focus group. Consequently, the book serves as an accessible guide for anyone interested in ethnographic work with girls.

[…] Hains also offers plenty of provocative analyses that ask us to reconsider girl power in new ways. For example, in the third chapter, “Did the Spice Girls Kill Feminism? Young Feminists Speak” Hains interviews self-identified young feminists on their memories of growing up with the Spice Girls, the British pop group that popularized (though did not coin) the term “girl power,” as well as their recollections of girl power more broadly. Based on these interviews she argues that the Spice Girls cannot be analyzed as either a feminist or anti-feminist text, but instead advocates for understanding the pop group as offering a “pathway” to feminism (69). In doing so, Hains does not simplify the media reception practices of girls; she demonstrates how girls’ engagement with popular culture is often complex and sophisticated.

Hains’ exploration of how racial discourses intersect with girl power is another provocative section of the book. In chapter nine, “Beyond Girl Heroes: Girl Power, Racism, and Power Relations,” Hains explores how a group of predominantly African American girls negotiate girl power cartoons, including the popular yet controversial Bratz (based on the dolls of the same name). While Hains reminds us that organizations like the American Psychological Association have criticized Bratz dolls for their sexualized appearance, her investigation again reveals the girls’ savvy play with the dolls as complex cultural and social negotiation. She describes how her research participants used Bratz dolls to enact a story about slavery and the Underground Railroad, arguing that “because the dolls were racially diverse, the girls could ignore the problematic aspects of Bratz–their emphasis on appearance; their lack of interest in anything besides looking good–to grapple with America’s history of slavery” (256). Hains goes on to note: “Therefore, while the girls’ Bratz play could be problematic, Bratz simultaneously opened avenues for play that other toys did not” (258).

[…] Hains clearly sees some positive aspects of girl power culture, but she is careful to avoid being overly celebratory of the phenomenon. Indeed, she continually reminds us that while girls can and do subvert girl power messages, the discourse remains constraining to girls and offers limited acceptable identity positions for girls to embody. […]

Growing Up with Girl Power is a necessary read for those interested in girls’ studies, feminist media studies, feminist ethnography, and childhood studies. Most importantly, Hains’s work is testament to the continual need for scholars to seek girls’ perspectives about girls’ media culture, rather than rely solely on adult interpretations and insight. And while Hains’s research demonstrates that this ethnographic approach often produces insights that are contradictory, complex, and perhaps more difficult to neatly summarize, her results are much more provocative and ultimately useful for truly understanding the multifaceted ways that girls interpret, negotiate, accept, and subvert popular media texts and cultural discourses in their everyday lives.

Media International Australia No. 147: Review Growing Up W Girl Power – Media International Australia by Emma Jean Kelly, May 2013.

[…] Hains’ book is most successful […] in its demonstration of the importance of committed engagement with the researched group through methodical and ongoing qualitative data collections. Hains spent years collecting data at set time periods, returning at various stages to find out how these girls’ views had changed.

She worked with targeted age groups about their taste in popular culture, seeking their opinions and trying to understand how that related to their sense of self. […] In her excellent methodology section on ‘Researching Girl Power with Girls (Chapter 5) she explains the limitations and advantages of this approach clearly. In the following chapters, she describes her observations in the playground, the audio recorded discussions she has with the girls and the video recordings they make with their dolls. This section is particularly eye-opening as one group of girls spontaneously tell a complex story of the underground railway and slavery with their Bratz dolls. […]

Ultimately, this text is a useful contribution to the fields of methodology in qualitative data collection, and cultural, feminist and gender studies — and, I am now convinced, ‘girl studies’ itself.


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