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Good Girl Messages: How Young Women Were Misled by Their Favorite Books
     

Good Girl Messages: How Young Women Were Misled by Their Favorite Books

by Deborah O'Keefe
 

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For much of the 20th century, books for children encouraged girls to be weak, submissive, and fearful. This book discusses such traits, both blatantly and subtly reinforced, in many of the most popular works of the period. Quoting a wide variety of passages, O'Keefe illustrates the typical behaviour of fictional girls – many of whom were passive and immobile

Overview

For much of the 20th century, books for children encouraged girls to be weak, submissive, and fearful. This book discusses such traits, both blatantly and subtly reinforced, in many of the most popular works of the period. Quoting a wide variety of passages, O'Keefe illustrates the typical behaviour of fictional girls – many of whom were passive and immobile while others were actually invalids. They all engaged in approved girlish activities: deferred to elders, observed the priorities, and, in the end, accepted conventional suitors. Even feisty tomboys, like Jo in Little Women, eventually gave up on their dreams and their independence.

The discussion is interlaced with moments from the author's own childhood that suggest how her developing self-interacted with these stories. She and her contemporaries, trying to reconcile their conservative reading with the changing world around them, learned ambivalence rather than confidence. Good Girl Messages also includes a discussion of books read by boys, who were depicted as purposeful, daring, and dominating.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Personal reflection guides Deborah O'Keefe's analysis of a number of classic "girl" books written before 1950, including Hitty and The Secret Garden. O'Keefe rehearses several familiar arguments about the limited representations of girlhood in children's literature, underscoring how heroines were often constructed as fluttery, domestic or paralyzed. In general, O'Keefe argues that the portrayals of femininity in the books she reviews misled a generation of girls. While she is careful to point out that not all girls read the books in the same way she did, her interpretation of these classic books doesn't deal with the variables of race, class and/or sexual preference, which might influence the ways in which readers approach a text. Even more interesting, she dismisses Nancy Drew, a heroine who many adult women remember as a feminist icon. The final chapter presents a reading of contemporary heroines in children's literature from 1950 onward. Women who grew up with these stories, or those looking for examples of "plucky" heroines in contemporary children's fiction would find the book interesting. 2000, Continuum, $18.95. Ages Adult. Reviewer: Elizabeth Marshall

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780826413697
Publisher:
Bloomsbury Academic
Publication date:
08/01/2001
Edition description:
REPRINT
Pages:
212
Product dimensions:
5.76(w) x 8.67(h) x 0.69(d)

Meet the Author

Deborah O'Keefe taught at Vassar and Manhattanville College, USA.

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