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Seen and Heard: Voices of Transnational Girlhood(s) on Identity, Gender, and Culture Conference

University of Warwick, 18-19 April 2024

University of Warwick central campus

Zeeman Building

IAS Seminar Room, C0.02

The conference is generously funded by

the Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS), University of Warwick

& the Institute of Languages, Cultures, and Society (ILCS), University of London.

Adolescent girls are increasingly important actors in our society. Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, Jazz Jennings, Bindi Irwin are only a few examples of young, inspiring, and influential girls raising their voices on such matters as human rights, inclusive education, social equity, ecological justice, and wildlife conservation. This is in stark contrast with traditional, stereotypical views of adolescent girls as passive, weak, and uninteresting and often as objects instead of subjects. Such a view resulted in a symbolic annihilation of girls (Tuchman 1978) who were omitted or trivialized in story lines with the result that boys have been featured more frequently and prominently in media and cultural productions (Hains 2012). Girlhood, intended as a pre-adolescence and adolescence period of identity formation for girls (Driscoll 2002), is therefore claiming a more central and crucial role in the social, cultural, and political debate nowadays, and it is simultaneously becoming the subject of scientific enquiry. This trend is demonstrated by the appearance in recent years of the first book series to focus specifically on this field,Transnational Girlhoods (Berghahn), and by studies such as Catherine Driscoll’s Girls: Feminine Adolescence in Popular Culture and Cultural Theory (2002), Rebecca Hains’ Growing Up with Girl Power: Girlhood on Screen and in Everyday Life(2012), Julia Round’s Gothic for Girls: Misty and British Comics (2019), and Leah Phillips’ Female Heroes in Young Adult Fantasy Fiction: Reframing Myths of Adolescent Girlhood (2023).

The Seen and Heard conference aims to contribute to this emerging area of studies by fostering discussion about girlhood(s), and the importance for young girls in our societies to be ‘seen and heard’, from a transnational perspective, focusing on discourses of identity, gender, and popular culture across the globe from an interdisciplinary viewpoint. We welcome papers adopting approaches such as, but not limited to, feminism, women and gender studies, childhood and youth studies, sociology, anthropology, literature, and cultural studies, including media and communication. Possible topics include, but are not limited to: · Transnational girlhoods, · Local and global girlhood, · Decolonising girlhood, · Historical girlhood, · Native girlhoods, · Girlhood and Eco-criticism, · Girl power, · Trans, non-binary, and queer childhoods, · Role models, · Young adult popular culture, · Pop culture and comics, · Fanfiction and media culture, · Adolescence culture and counterculture.

A selection of the conference papers will be included in a proposal for an edited volume to be published in a relevant thematic series with an international publisher.

Registrations are now open until 2 April 2024.

If you're a delegate and want to attend the event in person or join online via MS Teams, click the link provided above to Register.

If you register to attend the event online, you will receive all the links to join the event via email

Keynote Talks

Prof Rebecca Hains

The Erasure of Counter-Stereotypical Female Characters from Disney’s Transmedia Toys: Exploring Toy, Media, and Audience Tensions

Strong female characters from Disney- and Disney-subsidiary films have frequently been excluded from, underrepresented in, or misrepresented in toys based on their films. Employing a feminist cultural studies perspective, this presentation considers a decade-long pattern of characters’ erasure and gender stereotyping in toys and other children’s products, including the cases of Luisa Madrigal from Encanto (2021); Rey from The Force Awakens (2015) Honey Lemon and GoGo from Big Hero 6 (2014); Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014); The Black Widow from Avengers (2015); and Merida from Brave (2012). Their examples’ discourses can inform girlhood studies scholars’ understandings of the impact of both gender stereotypes and implicit bias in the film and toy industries.


This presentation interrogates strong female characters’ exclusion in toy and product form in relation to media and toy industries’ relationship; toys’ roles as transmedia texts; and fan critiques, many amplified on social media using hashtag activism. The study’s analysis reveals tensions in Disney’s transmedia environments as various stakeholders – filmmakers, toy marketers, and audience members – negotiate a conflict: the disconnect between gender-stereotypical assumptions about female characters’ value in the toy industry, which publicly available discourse suggests frustrates and alienates some audience members; and more equitable and inclusive female representation on screen, which, regardless of conservative political backlash, many audience members value.

Dr Julia Round

‘I Know the Fear of the Fox…!’ Activism and Agency in 1970s British Girls’ Comics

From the outside, British girls’ comics may seem safe and steady. Their stories of boarding schools, ballet, horse riding and gymnastics often have plucky heroines who will succeed against all the odds, or at least gain friendship and self-confidence through different challenges and adventures. But these tales are often much more controversial than this summary suggests. Many focus on emergent political issues such as social decline, environmental fears, and animal rights. They depict themes of protest and agitation, as heroines fight back against injustice and inequalities. Perhaps these characters prefigure many of today’s fierce girls, as active agents who speak truth to power. But where does their strength and passion come from and how is it framed in these narratives?


Girls’ comics dominated British newsstands from the 1950s to the 1980s. This talk will introduce a range of titles from the industry’s peak in the 1970s and situate them with respect to national and global contexts, including economic decline, concerns about world energy resources and emergent animal rights movements. It offers some statistics showing how often activist stories appeared in girls’ comics in this decade, taken from ongoing study intoJinty(1974-1981),Spellbound(1976-77) andMisty(1978-80). It then uses close analysis of key stories from each title to explore how activism is presented, asking: How do protagonists gain the agency and authority to speak up? What help or support do they get? Who are their enemies and how are they coded? It concludes by summarising what these findings tell us about cultural power dynamics and expectations of girlhood and reflecting on the potential legacies of these comics.

Main organiser: Dr Simona Di MartinoLink opens in a new window, University of Warwick. Connect on XLink opens in a new window and LinkedIn.

If you are a NGO or a think-tank interested in empowering young girls and bettering their lives, please do get in touch!

Co-organiser: Dr Anna Gasperini, University of Galway.