Girl power in a man’s world

Offer semester
1st semester

Lecture time
Wednesday 12:30 – 14:20

Lecture venue

Course description

‘Girl power’ has emerged as the subject of much popular, policy and scholarly interest in the new millennium. This interest has been sparked by multiple, competing debates about girlhood for it is girls and young women whose lives have long been shaped by male-dominant societies and patriarchal structures and yet who have, with the rapid changes resulting from a globalizing political economy, experienced a surge of new opportunities and challenges.

These range from choices in the domains of personal health, sexuality, education and occupational choice to changes in their roles in their interactions with family, peers, and colleagues. Boys and men have also had a significant role in “Girl Power”. Videos such as these about female migrant labourers in China, ‘gendercide’ in Asia, the UN Women video collection; along with articles such as these from the New York Times provide an understanding of some of the issues which will be covered. The debates about girlhood and their implications for their male counterparts have largely been in the context of the social transformations and experiences of girls and young women in developed countries.

But the majority of the world’s female adolescent (10 to 24 years) population lives in the developed world. While gender discrimination occurs across the life cycle in most developing countries there are particular threats to adolescent development in these contexts.

The relevance of girls’ empowerment – the emerging opportunities, the traditional demands, and the choices created and taken – clearly extends beyond the borders of developed countries. Indeed girls’ and women’s issues are core to Millennium Development Goals (MDG), the main development targets to improve the human condition.

Against this background this course considers (i) notions about girlhood from its early biological emphasis to contemporary frameworks that are informed by anthropology, psychology, economics, sociology, and politics; and (ii) the cultural meaning and consequences of girl power in both developed and developing societies, paying particular attention to the ways in which the male dominant world has both assisted and hindered girls’ development.

Course learning outcomes

On completing the course, you will be able to:

  • Explain and apply key theories and concepts relating to how we define girlhood from both historical and contemporary perspectives.
  • Demonstrate understanding of how a myriad of modern disciplines – such as anthropology, psychology, economics, sociology, medicine and politics – shape our perception and definition of girlhood.
  • Apply a holistic comprehension of girlhood on a multiplicity of dimensions (e.g. social, economical, political) that embrace the human condition both locally and globally.
  • Analyze the immediate and long-term social issues that emerge when societies limit how girl power is both explicitly and implicitly defined.
  • Analyze the role that culture plays in normatizing girlhood, taking examples from both developed and developing societies.
  • Critique how girl power is both assisted and hindered by patriarchal-oriented social norms, and critically understand the complex relationship between girl power and masculinity.
  • Demonstrate a broad perspective of the issues defining girlhood and how these insights impact the daily lives of students – both male and female.

Study load

ActivitiesNumber of Hours
Fieldwork / Visits15
Reading / Self-study30
Assessment: Essay / Report writing30
Assessment: Group project and presentation30


Book review and analysis25%
Film review and analysis25%
Group fieldwork project, presentation and written reflection30%

Required reading

Arnett, J. J. (2007). Emerging adulthood: What is it, and what is it good for? Child Development Perspectives, 1(2), 68-73.

Gonick, M. (2006). Between “girl power” and “reviving Ophelia”: Constituting the neoliberal girl subject. NWSA Journal, 18(2), 1-23.

Hargreaves, J., & Boler, T. (2006). Girl power. The impact of girls’ education on HIV and sexual behaviour. ActionAid International, Education and HIV Series 01.

Jackson, C., & Tinkler, P. (2007). “Ladettes” and “modern girls”: “Troublesome” young femininities. Sociological Review, 55(2), 251-272.

King, E. M., Klasen, S., & Porter, M. (2007, November). The challenge of women and development. Copenhagen Consensus 2008 Challenge Paper.  Copenhagen Consensus Center.

LeVine, R. A., LeVine, S. E., & Schnell, B. (2001). “Improve the women”: Mass schooling, female literacy and worldwide social change. Harvard Educational Review, 71(1), 1-50.

Plan International. (2012). Because I am a girl. The state of the world’s girls 2012 (Executive summary).

UN Women. (2008, December). Women 2000 and beyond: The role of men and boys in achieving gender equality.

UNICEF. (2006). Women and children: The double dividend of gender equality. The state of the world’s children 2007.

Recommended reading

Buchmann, C., DiPrete, T. A., & McDaniel, A. (2008). Gender inequalities in education. Annual Review of Sociology, 34, 319-337.

Driscoll, C. (2002). Girls: Feminine adolescence in popular culture and cultural theory. New York: Columbia University Press.

Harris, A. (2004). Future girl: Young women in the twenty-first century. New York: Routledge.

Kimmel, M. S. (2008). Guyland: The perilous world where boys become men (1st ed.). New York: Harper.

Kimmel, M. S., & Aronson, A. (2004). Men and masculinities: A social, cultural, and historical encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Lesko, N. (2001). Act your age!: A cultural construction of adolescence. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Lewis, M. A., & Lockheed, M. E. (2006). Inexcusable absence: Why 60 million girls still aren’t in school and what to do about it. Washington, DC: Center for Global Development.

Ma, X. (2008). Within school gender gaps in reading, mathematics, and science literacy. Comparative Education Review, 52(3), 437-460.

Special section on emerging adulthood around the world. (2007).Child Development Perspectives, 1(2).

UNGEI (2012). The Gender Dimensions of the School-To-Work Transition: Follow Up Study.

UNGEI (2012). Why are boys underperforming in education?

Women’s Foundation (2013). Women and Girls in Hong Kong: Current Situations and Future Challenges. Hong Kong: Women’s Foundation.

Course co-ordinator and teachers