Girls femininity and classed subjectivity
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Girls, femininity and classed subjectivity. Valerie Walkerdine School of Social Sciences Cardiff University. Introduction. Background to working with girls: the 4/21 project and research on video games Want to think about this also in relation to masculinity in valleys community.

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Girls, femininity and classed subjectivity

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Girls, femininity and classed subjectivity

Valerie Walkerdine

School of Social Sciences

Cardiff University


  • Background to working with girls: the 4/21 project and research on video games

  • Want to think about this also in relation to masculinity in valleys community

Nice, kind and helpful

  • Study of 10 year olds - favourite ascription amongst girls and teachers

  • Difficult to be clever without being this and also cleverness ascribed to hard work and rule following

  • Girls not displaying this could be called tomboys or in one case - a madam


  • In this sense, femininity is strongly regulated

  • I found similar patterns much more recently in relation to a study of children and video games

  • Femininity as nurturant, co-operative, helpful, while attractive, sexually active, excessive etc - how might girls and young women manage this bewildering constellation of often incompatible modes of femininity?

  • One issue is to understand how this is lived and experienced?

Practices and experience

  • Regulating Prudence

  • Suburban terrorists

  • Separation of work and play, clear indication of power

Insensitive mothers

  • Tizard and Hughes Young children learning, 1984

  • Sensitive mothers as basis for making meanings and implicitly of educational success

  • All mc mothers sensitive

  • Some wc mothers insensitive - rows, boundaries, explicit power

  • Animals in a zoo who after all are really rather tame

  • Reverse prediction - the only 3 wc girls who get to uni have insensitive mothers

  • Phoenix and Husain show similar patterns for black and minority children, in particular, the clear sense of strong boundaries, need for firmness, power etc, with added concern about racism

  • (Parenting and ethnicity, Joseph Rowntree Foundation)

How do working class girls succeed in education?

  • In Walkerdine, Lucey and Melody (2002) Growing up girl: psychosocial explorations of gender and class, we argue that we have to view wc educational trajectories as different and not deficient copies of mc trajectories

Some examples

  • Persistent inequalities in educational provision - difference in schools

  • Women’s domestic labour in normal development - consequences of different amounts of time and orientation to it

  • The only 3 wc girls who go to university have insensitive mothers

  • Sensitivity may have predictive power for mc but not for wc (ie only those produced in relation to a discourse of sensitivity)

  • Playing as a game and weak boundary maintenance between work and play

WC practices

  • Strong boundaries between work and play

  • Got washing to do, got ironing to do - it all takes time love

  • Explicit about power differentials, mothers as authority, accept hate and difficult emotions

Kerry and Naomi

  • Examples of a MC and WC girl



Moving beyond cycles of deprivation arguments

  • For MC families education is about the retention and reproduction of mc status

  • For wc, ‘all we want for our children is to do better than we did. I think that’s what everyone wants’.

  • This means separation from and disidentification from parents, friends, community and this s very painful (see Walkerdine, 1991)

Femininity and masculinity in a south Wales valleys community

  • Young unemployed men won’t take available work considered feminine

  • Tradition of hard manual masculinity and history of community affect

  • Illiteracy and femininity

  • Distance from the feminine:woman, gay or mammy’s boy

  • Clear strong distance between femininity and masculinity in steel works, now masculinity appears too close to femininity so what appears as a problem of masculinity is about femininity (and the maternal)

  • Trying to uphold a masculinity which the fathers can no longer do and thus the pain of change

  • Working with femininity demands sensitivity to the complexities of class and the exigencies of classed social and psychic relations

  • Now class is back on government agenda - important to understand how this is lived as gendered

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