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Delinquents and Debutantes: Twentieth-Century American Girls' Cultures

edited by Sherrie A. Inness
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 332
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  • Book Info
    Delinquents and Debutantes
    Book Description:

    The contributors, including such leading scholars as Vicki L. Ruiz, Jennifer Scanlon, and Miriam Formanek-Brunell, examine myriad ways in which a variety of discourses and activities from popular girls' magazines and advertisements to babysitting and the Girl Scouts help form girls' experiences of what it means to be a girl, and later a woman, in our society. The essays address such topics as board games and the socialization of adolescent girls, dolls and political ideologies, Nancy Drew and the Filipina American experience, the queering of girls' detective fiction, and female juvenile delinquency to demonstrate how cultural discourses shape both the young and teenage girl in America. Although girls' culture has until now received comparatively little attention from scholars, this work confirms that understanding the culture of girls is essential to understanding how gender works in our society. Making a significant contribution to a long-neglected area of social and cultural inquiry, Delinquents and Debutantes will be of central interest to those in women's studies, American studies, history, literature, and cultural studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3778-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In many ways, girls are inconsequential. Due to their youth and gender, girls are granted less social status than men and boys. They are relegated to an inferior place in American society because of the strength of the cultural stereotype that girls and their culture are insipid and insignificant, unworthy of close attention. Even in Toyland, who gets to deal with serious issues, G.I. Joe or Barbie? G.I. Joe confronts his enemies with a hand grenade; Barbie, presumably, whips out her blow dryer. G.I. Joe is concerned with life and death and war, while Barbie’s main interest is what color...

  5. Part I Law, Discipline, and Socialization
    • 1 Making a Girl into a Scout: Americanizing Scouting for Girls
      (pp. 19-39)
      Laureen Tedesco

      The history of American Girl Scouting is a narrative of resistance: Boy Scout founder Robert Baden-Powell resisted admitting girls into his organization,¹ the Boy Scouts of America resisted the rivalry of the Girl Scouts in America, and early Girl Scout “volunteers” resisted being commandeered by founder Juliette Low, who used her deafness as an excuse for ignoring protests (Kerr, “Juliette Low” 87). Additionally, authorized Girl Scout accounts note Low’s abandoning the Baden-Powell name for the girls’ group, Girl Guides, in favor of the “more American” Girl Scouts. The histories of the movement in the biographies of Low and the Girl...

    • 2 Rate Your Date: Young Women and the Commodification of Depression Era Courtship
      (pp. 40-60)
      Mary C. McComb

      These passages, excerpted from the introductory pages of two distinctive types of prescriptive literature that proliferated on the American cultural landscape in the 1930s and 1940s, embody the key tenets that experts expressed when addressing their young readers. Frances Bruce Strain’s mass-marketed advice manual, entitledLove at the Threshold: A Book on Dating, Romance, and Marriage(1939), discusses issues of love, romance, and dating by directly addressing young readers. Strain professes to write from her own personal experiences and, like most manual writers, frames heterosexual romance and marriage as exciting escapades to be embarked upon by young people. Mystical images...

    • 3 Truculent and Tractable: The Gendering of Babysitting in Postwar America
      (pp. 61-82)
      Miriam Formanek-Brunell

      In the 1990s, baby boomer parents, faced with the challenge of finding reliable babysitters, often recall the responsible caretakers of their protected childhoods. But an examination of the origins of babysitting in postwar America reveals conflict between dissatisfied adolescent girls who organized babysitter unions and parents of the baby boom generation. The origins of “babysitting” began fifty years ago when high school girls in three suburban communities in the Northeast and Midwest drew upon the notion of class conflict in an effort to eliminate “exploitation,” assert their “rights,” and reshape the “industry.” In the years after World War II, babysitting...

    • 4 Female Juvenile Delinquency and the Problem of Sexual Authority in America, 1945–1965
      (pp. 83-106)
      Rachel Devlin

      On October 29, 1951, the pictures of three white, middle-class teenage girls from a suburb outside of Boston appeared inTimeandNewsweek. Both magazines showed the girls smiling broadly while holding up lingerie, clothing, and pearls for the cameras, a cigarette dangling from each of their gloved hands. The place was a New York City police station; the pictures were taken while the girls, age fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen, were being arraigned for theft, running away, and “immorality.” According to the magazines, the girls had stolen $18,000 from a safe in the house of a family where they were...

  6. Part II The Girl Consumer
    • 5 Little Girls Bound: Costume and Coming of Age in the “Sears Catalog” 1906–1927
      (pp. 109-133)
      Rhona Justice-Malloy

      As a young girl growing up in rural Indiana, I spent many lonely summer afternoons gazing at the glossy pages of the latest “wish book.” TheSears Catalogwas a great source of entertainment and information for me. Like all kids, I loved the pages of toys and games. Perhaps because I was a girl, the sections on home furnishings and appliances held an even greater interest. They informed me of the ideal of comfort and domestic efficiency that would make any house a home. My daily chore was doing the family dishes after dinner. How I longed for the...

    • 6 “Teena Means Business”: Teenage Girls’ Culture and “Seventeen” Magazine, 1944–1950
      (pp. 134-163)
      Kelly Schrum

      Seventeenmagazine made its debut in September 1944 amidst economic, social, cultural, and institutional changes that provided the basis for an emerging concept of the “teenage girl.”¹ The magazine’s editors and publishers invested substantial resources in interpreting and promoting their definition of the prototypical teenage girl, “Teena.” Slogans such as “Teena means business” had multiple interpretations: Teena meant advertising revenues forSeventeenas well as sales and profits for businesses that marketed to her, but she also had a future as a thoughtful, determined person with a mind of her own.Seventeenmagazine was instrumental in developing the image of...

    • 7 “Anti-Barbies”: The American Girls Collection and Political Ideologies
      (pp. 164-183)
      Sherrie A. Inness

      When Felicity debuted in 1991, a coming-out party was held for her at Williamsburg. The cost was $50 per child and $30 per adult, plus the regular admission price to Colonial Williamsburg.¹ Despite these high prices, the nine original sittings sold out in less than thirty-six hours. The schedule was then altered to include an additional twenty-four sittings in eight days. Over six thousand girls came, from forty-nine states (Evans C5). Counting parents, the party’s list of guests swelled to over eleven thousand (Mehren E5). No, Felicity was not the deb sensation of the moment: Felicity was a doll. Her...

    • 8 Boys-R-Us: Board Games and the Socialization of Young Adolescent Girls
      (pp. 184-196)
      Jennifer Scanlon

      In a 1973 volume ofMs, magazine, Letty Cottin Pogrebin introduced a checklist for parents who wanted to buy nonsexist toys for their children. An acceptable toy would be “respectful of the child’s intellect and creativity, nonracist, moral in terms of the values it engenders, and nonsexist in the way it is packaged, conceived, and planned for play” (48). One of the board games she recommended was Life, a Milton Bradley product, as it encouraged all players to pursue lives of their own, money of their own, careers of their own.

      Now, readers, as the instructions on a game might...

  7. Part III Re-imagining Girlhood
    • 9 The Flapper and the Chaperone: Cultural Constructions of Identity and Heterosexual Politics among Adolescent Mexican American Women, 1920–1950
      (pp. 199-226)
      Vicki L. Ruiz

      Imagine a gathering in a barrio hall, a group of young people dressed “to the nines” trying their best to replicate the dance steps of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This convivial heterosocial scene was typical of the lives of teenagers during the interwar period. But along the walls, a sharp difference was apparent in the barrios. Mothers, fathers, and older relatives chatted with one another as they kept one eye trained on the dance floor. They were the chaperones—the ubiquitous companions of unmarried Mexican American women. Chaperonage was a traditional instrument of social control. Indeed, the presence of...

    • 10 Fictions of Assimilation: Nancy Drew, Cultural Imperialism, and the Filipina/American Experience
      (pp. 227-246)
      Melinda L. de Jesús

      I was raised a parochial school, steel-town girl, the third of four sisters, in one of the “gritty cities” of eastern Pennsylvania in the 1970s. My girlfriends and I, like countless others across the United States, shared a love of “Abba” and “The Bay City Rollers,” “The Brady Bunch” and “The Partridge Family,” Leif Garrett and Andy Gibb, clogs and “Bonne Bell Lipsmackers.” We held myriad sleepovers where we never really slept, logged endless hours talking on the phone; we hated our piano teachers, babysat, and shopped at the mall. We readSeventeenmagazine and religiously attended Girl Scout meetings....

    • 11 “No Place for a Girl Dick”: Mabel Maney and the Queering of Girls’ Detective Fiction
      (pp. 247-265)
      Julia D. Gardner

      One of the most popular heroines of girls’ series fiction, Nancy Drew, has been held up as a role model to girls since her inception in 1930. The series’ longevity invites the assumption that Nancy has universal appeal for readers, that all girls can and do identify with the heroine. Closer analysis, however, reveals that is not necessarily the main character who appeals to readers, but the ideology represented in the series. Non-white characters are conspicuously absent, and Nancy’s bourgeois existence continues unquestioned. Even less attention is paid in such books to representing sexuality. While girls’ series fiction may not...

    • 12 Can Anne Shirley Help “Revive Ophelia”? Listening to Girl Readers
      (pp. 266-284)
      Angela E. Hubler

      An avalanche of recent scholarship demonstrates the damaging influences that intensify around the time of female adolescence. Carol Gilligan describes adolescence as the time when girls are most pressured to conform to the image of “the perfect girl,” “whom everyone will promote and value and want to be with” (24). The development of this other-directed self entails the loss of voice, a reluctance to express one’s needs and desires: “‘Cover up,’ girls are told as they reach adolescence, daily, in innumerable ways. Cover your body, cover your feelings, cover your relationships, cover your knowing, cover your voice, and perhaps above...

    • 13 Producing Girls: Rethinking the Study of Female Youth Culture
      (pp. 285-310)
      Mary Celeste Kearney

      As one of the first contemporary studies of teenage girls’ cultural practices, Simon Frith’sSound Effectshelped solidify the popular and intellectual understanding of female youth leisure activities as operating in a privatized, domestic “bedroom culture” centered around heterosexual romance and the consumption of mainstream cultural commodities.¹ As he argued, “Girl culture … starts and finishes in the bedroom” (228). Frith’s analysis of female youth culture importantly delineated aspects of girls’ unique leisure activities, especially the amount of labor involved in girls’ pursuits of Mr. Right. However, it did not involve an investigation into other productive practices undertaken by female...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 311-314)
  9. Index
    (pp. 315-322)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 323-323)