Oppositional Girlhoods and the Challenge of Relational Politics

Emily Bent, Heather Switzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Over the last five years, scholars from a wide variety of disciplines have problematized the discourse of “adolescent female exceptionalism” (Switzer in Fem Theory 14(3):345–360, 2013, p. 4) popularized by the NIKE Foundation’s Girl Effect. Arriving at similar conclusions, scholars point to the artificial neocolonial divisions between ‘the West’ and ‘the rest’ of the world animated by an ‘invest in girls’ logic. This paper endeavors to move beyond the “oppositional girlhoods” (Bent in Sociol Stud Child Youth 16(1):3–20, 2013a, p. 7) bind of girl effects discourse to propose that differentially positioned and experienced girlhoods might be better understood as transnational, relational cultural formations. Drawing from our empirical research with girls in North America and Sub-Saharan Africa, we consider the implications of girls’ increasing global visibility as the ‘saviors of humanity’ from different geopolitical contexts. We then go further to suggest the oppositional girlhoods frame assumes reductive, apolitical, and ahistorical claims of divergence between girlhoods in the Global North and Global South “with highly unequal effects” (Gonick et al. in Girlhood Stud 2(3):1–9, 2009, p. 3). By countering the normative construction of global girlhoods as mutually exclusive forms of personhood and historical experience, our project authorizes a new understanding of girlhoods as mutually constituted and relationally contingent. It is from within this relational framework that we propose new directions for thinking about girlhoods transnationally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)122-147
Number of pages26
JournalGender Issues
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • Global girlhoods
  • Neoliberal development
  • Oppositional girlhoods
  • Relationality
  • The Girl Effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies


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