Girlhood

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), “girlhood” has been in use from the mid-eighteenth century until the present day as both a singular and a plural noun. From the first cited use—notably, in Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1747–48), a novel concerning the paragon of virtuous adolescent girlhood—the term “girlhood” has had a history as an ideologically loaded term in Western culture. As the following brief definitions indicate, several meanings overlap: “The state of being a girl; the time of life during which one is a girl. Also: girls collectively.” Its different denotations and connotations make for a fuzziness of meaning surrounding an apparently simple term: a state of being, a developmental or chronological phase of existence, as well as girls as a collective group. This variability of meaning and ideological loading continues in contemporary research on girlhood. Some academics emphasize only age and psychological development, others consider girlhood …

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