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A U T O B I O G R A P H Y,
Gender and Self-Mediation
in Digital Economies

Palgrave Studies in Life Writing
Series Editors
Clare Brant
Department of English
King’s College London

London, UK
Max Saunders
Department of English
King’s College London
London, UK

This series features books that address key concepts and subjects, with an
emphasis on new and emergent approaches. It offers specialist but accessible studies of contemporary and historical topics, with a focus on connecting life writing to themes with cross-disciplinary appeal. The series
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with potent materials.
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engage in lively and original ways, as well as to further the political engagement of life writing especially in relation to human rights, migration,
trauma and repression, sadly also persistently topical themes. The series
looks for work that challenges and extends how life writing is understood
and practised, especially in a world of rapidly changing digital media; that
deepens and diversifies knowledge and perspectives on the subject, and
which contributes to the intellectual excitement and the world relevance
of life writing.
More information about this series at

Emma Maguire

Girls, Autobiography,
Gender and Self-Mediation in Digital Economies

Emma Maguire
James Cook University
Townsville, QLD, Australia

Palgrave Studies in Life Writing
ISBN 978-3-319-74236-6    ISBN 978-3-319-74237-3 (eBook)
Library of Congress Control Number: 2018934696
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2018
This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the
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microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval,
electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now
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The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this
publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are
exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use.
The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information
in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the
publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, express or implied, with respect to
the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The
publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and
institutional affiliations.
Cover illustration: Nanette Hoogslag / Alamy Stock Photo

Printed on acid-free paper
This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by Springer Nature
The registered company is Springer International Publishing AG
The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland

This book is dedicated to all of the girls and young women who, despite it all,
insist on taking up space.


A shorter version of Chap. 4 appeared in Biography 38.1 (2015); thanks to
Lucinda Rasmussen for her extremely valuable editorial comments on that
version of the research. This work was helped greatly by funding received
from the Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law at Flinders University
to support my travel to Banff, Canada to attend the International Auto/
Biography Association (IABA) conference in 2014. The faculty and
Flinders University both helped to fund a research field trip that I undertook in 2014 to several zine archives in the US, for which I am grateful.
I have been fortunate to have the support of many others in the process
of writing this book.
Thanks to Camille Davies, Ben Doyle, and all at Palgrave Macmillan.
To Clare Brant and Max Saunders for our short but valuable conversations
at IABA conferences, and also for their work as editors of the Palgrave
Studies in Life Writing Series.
Thanks to Esther Fan, Sara Fan, Olivia Park, Andrew Smales, Jenna
Mourey, and Alex Wrekk for giving permission to reprint their images
The IABA community: I owe so much to the wonderful, generous
scholars who make this field what it is. Especial thanks to Craig Howes for

his exemplary leadership—I have never met such an inclusive, tireless, giving, and incisive scholar: we are so lucky to benefit from your knowledge
and experience. To Julie Rak for her leadership, encouragement, support,
and for her scholarship which has been so incredibly influential on my
work and thinking. To all of the people who watched, asked questions,
and offered feedback on conference papers that developed research for



this book, thank you. I would like to offer particular thanks to Paul Arthur,
Ash Barnwell, Ricia Chansky, Cynthia Franklin, Rob Gallagher, Emily
Hipchen, Claire Lynch, Joel Haffner, Laurie McNeill, and Nicole Matthews.
And to the organisers of these conferences: Julie Rak (IABA 2014), AmyKaterini Prodromou (IABA 2016), Kate Douglas and Kylie Cardell (IABA
Asia-Pacific 2015), Donna Lee Brien (IABA Asia-Pacific 2017), and Clare
Brant and Max Saunders (IABA Europe 2017), thank you for all of the
work put in by you and your teams. These conferences have been so
important and so special.
Thanks also to excellent postgraduates and early career researchers in
the IABA community, especially: Ana Horvat, Daniel Juckes, Ümit
Kennedy, Sarah McRae, Olga Michael, Marie O’Rourke, Leila Pazargadi,
Astrid Rasch, Rachel Spencer, Daniella Trimboli, and Alex Winder.
To my collaborators and friends Maria Faini and Orly Lael Netzer: I
feel so lucky to have been part of creating something special with you
both. You each continue to inspire and motivate me to do good work and
fight the good fight. My greatest hope is that we continue to find excuses
to work together for many years to come.
To the Flinders Life Narrative Research Group for many workshops,

writing lock-ins, and events that contributed to shaping this research.
To Tully Barnett and Son Vivienne for organising events that I feel very
lucky to have taken part in. To Larissa Hjorth for her considered and useful feedback on an early iteration of my research on camgirls.
To Julia Watson for her detailed comments and recommendations on
an early version of this project. To John Zuern, for your invaluable feedback and encouragement, and your continued generosity and support.
You are truly one of the good guys. To Anna Poletti, who gave extensive
and valued feedback and advice, particularly in the early stages of writing,
and for whose insightful and incisive conversation I am incredibly grateful.
Anna, we are so lucky in Auto/Biography Studies, to have your ideas and
your voice to move discussion forward.
Kylie Cardell’s support and enthusiasm for this project has been a vital
source of encouragement, and I am grateful for her intellectual rigour
which has improved my thinking, writing, and this research.
Lauren Butterworth, Alicia Carter, and Melanie Pryor: without you,
academia (and life) would be much less fun and interesting. I am continually awed and inspired by you remarkable women. I can’t thank you
enough for your friendship and for all of our conversations which have
helped shape my ideas and clarify my thinking about gender and culture.



I cannot adequately express my profound gratitude for the mentorship,
wisdom, generosity, support, and friendship of Kate Douglas, from whom
I have learned so much.
To my family: your love, hearty encouragement, and belief in my capabilities has meant the world to me.
And at last, to my strongest ally and fiercest supporter, Simon Gould,
for everything. There are no words that can describe what your support

means to me and no scale that can measure the impact you have had on
my life and work. Thank you.


1Introduction: Girls, Autobiography, Media    1
2Camgirls: Surveillance and Feminine Embodiment
in Lifecasting Practice   27
3Negotiating the Anti-Girl: Articulating Punk
Girlhood in the Online Diary   53
4Self-Branding and Hotness in the YouTube Video
Blogs of Jenna Marbles   83
5Fangirling as Feminist Auto Assemblage:
Tavi Gevinson and Participatory Audienceship  107
6Sad Asian Girls and Collaborative Auto Assemblage:
Mobilising Cross-Platform Collective Life Narratives  139
7Eyebrows on What? Girls and Viral Economies  157




8Hoaxing Instagram: Amalia Ulman Exposes the Tropes
of #Instagirlhood 

Conclusion  205
I ndex 211

List of Figures

Fig. 3.1

Fig. 3.2
Fig. 4.1
Fig. 4.2

Fig. 4.3
Fig. 6.1

Many of Wrekk’s zines are half-size zines like this one.
They allow space to play with the intersection of visual
and textual elements (Image Brainscan #21 appears here
with thanks to Alex Wrekk)
Screenshot of DiaryLand’s interface in 2017. Things haven’t
changed much since the year 2000 (Image reproduced with
thanks to Andrew Smales)
The thumbnail image for Mourey’s (2010) video plays on
demand for both beauty tutorials and images of attractive
young women (Image appears here courtesy of Jenna Mourey)
Video still from “How to Trick People into Thinking You’re
Good Looking”. Mourey uses humour to layer her audience’s
perception of who she is (Image appears here courtesy
of Jenna Mourey)
“About Me” on the Jenna Marbles website. Textual and visual

signs combine to construct the Jenna Marbles self-brand
(Image appears here courtesy of Jenna Mourey)
Video still from “Have You Eaten?” Olivia and Esther each
appear on video, playing themselves. Their visual
representations consume food as the video plays, but also
restrictive norms. The off-camera voice asks “You’ve gained
weight, haven’t you?” (Image appears here courtesy of Esther
Fan and Olivia Park)






List of Figures

Fig. 6.2
Fig. 8.1

Activists gather at MoMA to protest, via performance
art, the absence of work by Asian women artists

(Image appears here courtesy of Sara Park)
The Instagram profile presents an opportunity for
automediality. Importantly, the narrative constructed
here is coaxes visual representations due to the dominance
of the profile grid




Introduction: Girls, Autobiography, Media

In October 2015 a group of sorority girls taking selfies is captured on
screen at a televised Major League baseball game where the adult male
commentators mock the girls for being more interested in themselves and
their phones than the game. Imitating the girls, one announcer guffaws,
“That’s the best one of the 300 pictures I’ve taken of myself today,” as the
camera pulls back to frame at least eight girls talking in pairs and small
groups, smiling, taking photos together holding churros, hotdogs, and
ice-cream. The screen cuts to the baseball players, then back to the girls as
the men exclaim in disbelief, “Every girl in the picture is locked into her
phone! … they’re all just completely transfixed by the technology.” It’s
clear that the girls are unaware of the commentary being broadcast about
them on national television as they hold out their iPhones in one hand,
pointing the screens at their own faces. They pose and make faces, checking the results, perhaps posting them to social media or deleting the bad
shots. The men with the microphones poke fun at the girls’ facial expressions, and call with staged desperation for an intervention, for the phones
to be confiscated—a punishment normally meted out to naughty children.

The sorority sisters have no power over how their images are being represented to the wider audience of the baseball game. They can’t speak up or
intervene in the commentary of which they are oblivious: only the two
men have the opportunity to vocalise a reading of the scene. After a while
the commentators lose interest and go back to the game.

© The Author(s) 2018
E. Maguire, Girls, Autobiography, Media, Palgrave Studies in Life
Writing, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-74237-3_1




But this is not where this story ends. This is, after all, the age of social
media where stories flow fluidly from one platform to another as users
­create and share stories via networked, multimodal media. After the game
aired, one user posted the clip featuring the Alpha Chi Omega girls to the
broad-base discussion forum Reddit and it quickly went viral with a mixed
response. BuzzFeed assembled some responses that bemoaned the phenomenon of women “taking up seats” at sporting events and dismissed
the young women as “spoiled narcissists” more concerned with how their
image appears on social media than with participating in real life (Zarrell
2015). Others came to the young women’s defence, expressing outrage at
the announcers’ unfair “selfie-shaming” (Trudon 2015). As a result of the
controversy, the young Arizona State University students featured in the
clip were invited onto The Ellen Show where host Ellen DeGeneres gave
them a wide-reaching platform to tell their side of the story. One of the
young women explains, “It’s more of a socializing and bonding experience to get to know each other” (The Ellen Show 2015). As one observer

put it, what the Fox Sports announcers didn’t get was that for these girls,
“being at the game was less about baseball and more about growing their
own sisterhood” (Moss 2015). Some photos from the selfie spree were
circulated after the event and they show the young women doing exactly
that: a selfie of two girls contains the comment, “Brunette & blond w an
inseperable bond”, and another photograph is captioned, “nothing better
than baseball and sisters. thankful for this beauty for making recruitment
so successful & always making me laugh” (cited in James 2015). Both
pictures show bleachers in the background; in one of them the pitch
stretches out behind the two girls and the baseball players are specks relegated to the background. In both of these images the girls wear baseball
shirts, some display the Arizona Diamondbacks logos, others are emblazoned with the name of the sorority house that the sisters belong to,
Alpha Chi Omega. The girls are holding hands, leaning in to one another.
This example, and particularly the way that it was taken up and circulated by users of social media, crystallises a host of issues around girls’ and
young women’s self-presentation in contemporary digital media contexts.
It shows that a prominent feature in this “new” media landscape is that
anyone who has an opinion can find a platform to voice it. Sometimes that
means that toxic discourses like racism and sexism can thrive, but “call-out
culture” is in full force here and users have the potential to speak back to
dominant and powerful voices. Through this example we also see that
media forms like television and journalism that are sometimes called



“mainstream” media are not separate from digital media, but rather intersect with and feed off digital forms. The girls appearing on The Ellen Show
is a case in point. But what is most strikingly presented in this example is
the host of questions raised around young women’s self-presentation that
gestures to the contested nature of the space that girls’ autobiographical

media occupies.
In this book I address a range of contemporary, digital, autobiographical texts as automedia in order to find out what they can tell us about how
cultural constructions of gendered selfhood are shaped by the literary and
media contexts in which they are produced and consumed. I look at how
girlhoods, as hyper-visible, protected and policed sites upon which discourses of youth and gender converge, shoulder a weight of cultural baggage as their authors navigate the overlapping territories of online and
offline spaces. The project takes in a range of media forms: online diaries,
YouTube video blogs, fangirl communities, viral economies, image-­sharing
sites, and webcam sites. I explore how these acts of self-narration are
coaxed, enabled, and shaped by the digital networks of production and
consumption in which they circulate.
I argue that these texts, emerging from the late 1990s to the present
day, make visible the textual strategies that girls and young women have
employed in order to negotiate the pressures of a media landscape that is
often hostile to or suspicious of them. I argue that girls are able to claim
girl selfhoods by sharing their lives and experiences with readers. I want to
emphasise the agency suddenly in play for girls given the development—
and overwhelming take-up—of Web 2.0 technologies that have facilitated
a range of tools, contexts, and conditions for self-narration. Situated in the
field of life writing, this research also draws on work from Media Studies
and Girlhood Studies to map out the stakes, forms, and contexts for girls’
life writing online. Each chapter addresses a particular automedial genre
and takes up a case study to illuminate the above concerns.
Crucial to my case studies is the networked environment in which these
representations circulate, where a multitude of automedial representations
occur in conversation with and relation to one another, moving across
media platforms and employing a host of automedial strategies. Girls’ self-­
representations exist here, in a competitive and multivocal landscape that
is, by turns, hostile and empowering, and where the value, form, and
nature of girlhood are worked out over and over again, in various communities, conversations, and textual strategies with countlessly variant
results. Throughout this book I examine the processes, conventions, and



limits of mediation that shape girls’ self-representations and I argue for the
value of positioning their autobiographical practices as media work that
involves complex interplay between users, producers, and consumers. My
conclusion points to the potential of research on girls’ autobiographical
media to diversify the field of Auto/Biography Studies; these texts compel
scholars to consider new questions, issues, and practices around autobiographical authorship, and they force us to formulate new methods of
research and modes of analysis in order to do them and their young
authors justice.
I investigate girls’ autobiographical work here as cultural texts that are
doing cultural work. These texts not only apparently tell us about the
authors—though they may in fact tell us very little about the authors—
but also about how youthful femininity is positioned in networks of textual production and consumption that are traversed by discourses of
gender, youth, and the commoditisation of self-presentations. This study
shows how existing ideas of youthful femininity are reflected in, interrupted, complicated, or undermined by, girls’ automedial practices.

Girlhood and Reading Autobiography
Girls, marked by both youth and femininity, occupy a marginalised subject
position within Western cultures. Although highly visible, often as icons of
youthful beauty or symbols of innocence, girls face a host of competing
demands and their presence in public and digital spaces is often contested.
Particularly as media producers and cultural consumers, they are sometimes portrayed as trivial, narcissistic, naïve, and unable to contribute
meaningfully to broader cultural conversations. But young women are
also often objects of desire. Western media abounds with representations
of girls who embody youth, beauty, and blossoming sexuality, and who

can be protected, exploited, or voyeuristically consumed. Put simply, representations of girlhood have almost always been created by others who
are in control of producing cultural products—predominantly adults,
often men—to be bought and sold in media marketplaces (and this
includes film, television, literature, advertising, performance, and more).
When I began this project I envisioned it as a kind of survey, a book
that would pose and respond to the question how are girls writing their
own lives? As I dug up different kinds of autobiographical narratives, they
emerged in a variety of forms and media. And I noticed that each medium
allowed young women to narrate their lives in specific ways that were



shaped in part by the conventions and affordances of the media, and in
part by the ways these texts circulated, how they were consumed, and the
kind of readerships they anticipated or addressed. Importantly, I noticed
that while girls don’t always have access to mainstream publishing venues,
they still find ways to tell their stories. That this production mainly
occurred in forms also considered either marginal, like blogs and zines, or
social rather than textual, like Instagram profiles and Vine videos, seemed
important. Published memoirs of girlhood are conventionally written by
adult authors retrospectively narrating their life. The exception is a handful of memoirs by young women that centre on the telling of what Kate
Douglas refers to as stories of “exceptional girlhood” (“Smash”).1 Though
women’s lives are now far more visible in scholarship and on the lists of
canonical autobiographical texts, memoir is still a primary mode of life
narrative and one that girls and young women are not easily able to access
as authors. As I became interested in how girls tell their lives and stories I
realised that if young women, in the majority, have often been unable to

access mainstream methods of publication for their life narratives, then
they have found—or created—numerous other avenues for telling their
lives and stories.
Mary Celeste Kearney (2006), in Girls Make Media, encourages us to
think about how girls have forged a space for themselves as culture-makers
within a society in which their stories are undervalued. Images and models
of feminine adolescence are often created by adults who speak from a
privileged position within the field of media production. Girls, however,
are increasingly participating in the creation and distribution of their own
narratives via blogs, vlogs (video blogs), published memoirs, graphic narratives, autobiographical visual art, poetry, personal zines, and online
social media profiles. Through such forms they have diversified available
models of feminine adolescence (Kearney 2006, 3). This is important
because, as Driscoll (2002, 8) points out, the image of “the girl”, wherever she appears, is a site where cultural debates around “the forms and
functions of the feminine” are played out. The ability to circulate (potentially) non-normative representations of young femininity in the public
domain thus constitutes a vital, diversifying contribution to discussions of
what women are capable of being, doing, and becoming. Images of girlhood are part of the way in which ideas about “the things girls can do, be,
have, and make” are circulated (Driscoll 2002, 278): they are part of a
cultural imagining of girlhoods and, crucially, these representations demonstrate a range of practices and behaviours in which girls might engage



to construct their identities. Texts create knowledge about girls, and so in
looking specifically at automedia I am interested in what kinds of knowledge girls are creating about themselves and how it is being received.
Before I go any further, I’m sure you are wondering how I am defining
and delimiting “girlhood” here, and whether girls and young women are
part of the same or distinct groups. One of the questions I am asked regularly when I tell people about this book is: What is the age bracket for girlhood? When does a young woman stop being young and become a woman?
Often, we seem intuitively to know a girl when we see one. But these

meanings and ideas can change from one context to the next. Accurately
designating the age at which some people cease to be “girls” and instead
become “women” (in anything more than a legal sense) is a slippery and
ultimately futile project. In the past, perhaps getting your period was the
entry point to womanhood. Perhaps turning 18 or 21? But these definitions and markers are always shifting.
Girlhood scholar Catherine Driscoll (2002), in Girls: Feminine
Adolescence in Popular Culture and Cultural Theory, creates a genealogy
which traces the deployment of ideas about girls in order to map out girlhood as a discursive construction meaning something about gender and
(im)maturity in late modernity (2002, 3–5). Driscoll draws on Michel
Foucault in her critical understanding of the concept as a discursive construct, rather than an essential gendered quality or a medically designated
developmental stage that may be applied equally to each young, female
individual. Driscoll (2002, 5) argues that “someone who is called a girl or
who is visible as a girl is not necessarily any particular age or at any particular point in physiological development”, and suggests, rather, that girlhood might be more broadly understood as a culturally constructed
identity that is “in transition or in process relative to dominant ideas of
Womanhood” (2002, 6). Drawing on Driscoll’s discussion here, rather
than defining girlhood as located within a specific age bracket, in this book
I understand it as an inclusive, elastic, and diverse term. “Girl” here
broadly denotes a gendered identity that signifies both youth and femininity (although not necessarily femaleness)2 as distinct from mature womanhood. These two ideas—youth and femininity—are culturally and
historically located rather than essential or monolithic, and so their meanings shift according to the context in which they appear.
Having said this, I am most interested, and my case studies reflect this,
not in the lives of children but in autobiographical subjects in the process
of becoming; autobiographical subjects who are working out how to



“do” womanhood but have left childhood behind. I take up case studies
in which there is an engagement (explicit or implicit) with what it means

to be in the process of constructing a feminine gender identity as a young
person. Of course, gender is something we construct all the time, again
and again in our daily acts, behaviours, and performances. And I am interested here in how these performances by youthful subjects (who do not
always have access to more privileged modes of creating self-presentations)
are mediated for audiences in digital spaces.
Thinking about how these narratives resist oppressive notions of girlhood is an important part of this work, but in reading girls’ autobiographical texts I have found that they are not always—or at least not only—resistant,
and that sometimes girls engage in sexism or misogyny in their self-­
representations. Social media has recently been used by girls and women
to spread anti-feminist messages. A recent example is the series of YouTube
blogs of Lauren Southern, who presents herself as an anti-feminist and
claims to “destroy feminism in 3  minutes” during one video (Southern
2015). Another example is the phenomenon of girls who have shared photographs of themselves on social media wearing “#meninist” t-shirts. The
t-shirts are created by a group of men’s rights activists who operate a sexist
and anti-feminist Twitter account under the name Meninist—a play on the
word feminist. Meninist is followed by nearly 1 million Twitter users and
the account posts provocative tweets that garner thousands of likes and
retweets such as: “The same females who tweet bout wanting respect are
the ones being hoes on Twitter arching their backs for a couple of favs” (7
Aug. 2015) and “I’ve realized arguing with girls is pointless. Real logic
makes no sense to them and the power of the vagina is overwhelming” (1
Aug. 2015). But it’s not only men who declare themselves meninists—the
account has a large and engaged following of girls and women as well.
This phenomenon has parallels to another social media campaign in
which girls and women posted photographs of themselves holding handwritten signs explaining why they didn’t need feminism. These social
media campaigns point to the variety of modes of “empowerment” that
girls resource in representing themselves online. While I don’t recognise
such anti-feminist self-representations as empowering, self-empowerment was certainly an idea through which the girls and women framed
these images of themselves. In seeking out young women’s autobiographical practices online, I’ve been challenged by some anti-feminist



I’m not the only researcher to come up against this challenge. Lorraine
Leblanc (2008), in Pretty in Punk: Girls’ Gender Resistance in a Boys’
Subculture, takes a Women’s Studies approach to studying punk subculture—research on which has historically been gendered male by scholars
(see McRobbie and Garber 2006). Leblanc looks at how girls construct
and perform punk identities which resist dominant cultural norms of feminine behaviour and appearance. In one chapter, Leblanc describes how the
punk girls she studied colluded with punk culture’s masculine norms even
when those norms oppressed them:
I was dismayed to find, this internal form of oppression is one which punk
girls accommodate, rather than resist. Although I had originally committed
to representing punk girls’ realities as they constructed and presented them,
I found myself seeing aspects of male punk culture which oppressed punk
girls. Yet only some punk girls acknowledged that this oppression existed,
and even these did not resist this oppression, but accommodated male
punks’ limitations on them. (Leblanc 2008, 105)

Leblanc describes this chapter, titled “‘The Punk Guys Will Really
Overpower What the Punk Girls Have to Say’: The Boys Turf”, as “the
most difficult part of [her] analysis to present” because she wants her project to celebrate punk girls’ resistance, but the results contradict this aim.
She says: “unlike other chapters […] this one points out and condemns
both the male punks’ behaviours in shaping punk norms and punk girls’
collusion with these constraints” (2008, 133).
On reading this account I identified with Leblanc’s burden of confronting research that contradicted her project’s aims. I have also found that
girls are not always resistant in their self-representational strategies. But
why should I have expected them to be? If girls often, to use Leblanc’s
language, “collude” with girl-oppressive cultural norms, then I don’t want

to moralise about this or abandon such troublesome texts in favour of
ones that fit easily within a framework of resistance. Rather, I suggest that
evidence of collusion, sexism, or misogyny are vitally important in mapping out the methods and strategies of negotiation that girls take up in
order to stake their claim to public space in a culture that sends them the
message that they are, in their youth and femininity, second-class
This strategy of reading for negotiation rather than resistance is explored
by Sidonie Smith (1992), who analyses the politics of otherness in two
European women’s life narratives set in Africa during the early 1900s.



Smith (1992, 431) notes that such texts require her to recognise the
“complex negotiation of subjectivity” that sits uneasily between confounding and conforming to dominant ideologies of race and gender.
Examining these representations brings to light the struggle sometimes
involved in presenting a young, feminine self. What they can tell us about
the discourses that put pressure on representations of girlhood? How do
girls’ media practices meet such pressures? In order to answer these questions, I am attentive to the strategies my subjects adopt—resistant, collusive, or somewhere in between—in creating stories about themselves and
staking out space for self-representation. Such negotiations are an important reminder that the right to exist in public discourse, and to engage in
cultural participation is fraught, and by no means a given for many marginalised subjects.
Another aspect worth mentioning here is the intersectionality and limitations of the term “girl” in relation to the case studies that I focus on
here. In the digital economies that I examine, girlhood is a moving target.
My case studies are by no means suggested as representative or definitive
of girlhood. I have chosen examples that emerge as prominent instances of
the different media forms available to young women as autobiographical
tools. There are a diverse range of representations of girlhood worthy of
scholarly attention, and this book works toward developing the tools for

scholars to take up these texts.
The texts I present here are all popular or widely disseminated in their
specific media form; they emerge from a North American context, and as
such, have their limitations. But the meanings of gender and selfhood that
shape and are reflected in these media resonate beyond North America. As
a powerful cultural exporter, the US remains an important player in global
economies of culture and digital media. And there are extremely rich autobiographical texts created by American-based girls and young women that
deserve consideration, such as the ones I address here. This project, necessarily, has limitations, and the work here makes visible some formulations
of girlhood that have circulated in specific networks. From here, even
more work is needed on the intersectional nature of girlhood in young
women’s autobiographical practices, particularly girls and young women
writing outside of the global north, and those writing in languages beyond
English. As this work considers such a broad range of media forms, I have
selected case studies from a contained global location in the hope that the
study remains cohesive and I hope that this work provides useful tools that
allow for further scholarship on digital autobiography by girls and young
women from around the globe.



The Contribution of Girls and Young Women
to Digital Autobiography
Particularly with the advent of Web 2.0,3 girls have been able to create and
distribute a range of self-representations but this autobiographical work
remains drastically under-theorised.
Historically, scholars of girlhood have not taken up the kinds of texts
that I look at here as autobiographical texts. More commonly, girls’ blogs,

YouTube videos, social media, websites, and personal zines are situated as
sites of data collection and framed by scholarly narratives of sociological or
behavioural investigation that aim to gather information and draw conclusions about girls, their identities, and girl culture. For example, Dawn
H.  Currie, Deirdre M.  Kelly, and Shauna Pomerantz (2009, 137–60)
explore girls’ engagement in online communities in relation to how girls
experience and experiment with virtual gender identity, and the authors
frame this work as “play”; Mary Celeste Kearney (2006) shows girls’ digital and material textual practices as “media-making”; Karen Green and
Tristan Taormino (1997, xiii) emphasise that girls’ zine-making practice
“originate[s] from a need for expression, a need girls have to discover the
truth about themselves and their lives” (my emphasis); Sharon Mazzarella
(2010) examines young girls’ online activity through a framework of adolescent psychology; and Anita Harris (2004, 168) frames the multi-media
art and zine-making of artist Carly Stasko as anti-consumer activism. A
notable exception here is the work of Jessalyn Keller (2016), whose recent
book Girls’ Feminist Blogging in a Postfeminist Age addresses strategies of
mediation and self-presentation taken up by girls in the blog medium.
So why do some texts get to be called autobiography and others called
something else—identity work, play, media-making, self-expression, marginal textual practice? The answer lies in both the marginal nature of these
media forms, which are not often understood as “literary”, and the marginal position of their young, female authors: girls and young women are
rarely thought of as authors, and zines, blogs, and YouTube videos are not
usually considered literary. The ways in which cultural value is attributed
and distributed here are, too, essential in understanding why the kinds of
texts that I examine are so often perceived as raw data about girls instead
of autobiographical practice by girls. Auto/Biography Studies, though—a
discipline at the nexus of literary and cultural studies—has an important
history of complicating notions of truth, authenticity, and textuality in life
writing texts that produce and reflect identity.



Research on girls’ zines provides an illustrative example that points to
two benefits of reading girls’ media as autobiography: first, that it reveals
the importance of personal writing as revealing subjectivity as political,
and, second, because it unpicks the process of mediation, revealing the
work of authorship involved in creating such media.
To illustrate the first point, Girlhood Studies’ scholar Alison Piepmeier
(2009), in her study of Riot Grrrl zines, locates the “personal” as something that requires defending in regard to its political potential: “the work
that girls and women do in and through zines may seem personal”, however, “the theoretical structures that zines build and the hope that zines
offer point to the larger political project of grrrl zines. Grrrl zines provide
a glimpse of the future of feminism” (2009, 21). For Piepmeier, the personal focus of girls’ writing is a weakness, something that threatens the
“political” work of feminist activism and which the reader must be willing
to allow for. Life writing scholars, in contrast, have positioned personal
narrative as an ideal site of political resistance. Situated at the junction of
Postcolonial Studies, autobiography theory, and feminism, Smith and
Watson’s (1992) anthology De/Colonising the Subject: The Politics of
Gender in Women’s Autobiography assembles a range of approaches which
argue that women’s personal writing has the power to make political interventions. Smith and Watson (1992, xix) assert that by “deploying autobiographical practices that go against the grain, [the marginalised subject]
may constitute an ‘I’ that becomes a place of creative and, by implication,
political intervention”. Far from undermining a cause, personal writing is
political in its own right. Within the field of life writing this approach has
become a dominant framework for studying the kinds of political interventions made by the life narratives of marginal subjects.
In regard to the second point, Peipmeier (2009, 4) emphasises the
value of girls’ zines which can “reveal girlhood on the ground”. Zine
librarian and scholar Jenna Freedman (2009, 53), too, positions self-­
published works as “girl- and woman-voiced primary sources” that exhibit
an “openness and authenticity” unique to the form. This perceived
“authenticity”, though, as life writing scholar Anna Poletti (2008, 28–9)
points out, is an effect created by the form and style of the text. Poletti

argues that although a zine text may seem like an “accessible” form, in
that zines can be created by anyone with the means and mind to do so, this
accessibility does not transfer to the zine’s author: it is not the “true” self
of the zine maker that a researcher accesses in reading a zine but rather a
textual construction mediated through a range of material and discursive



effects that reads as authentic or real. When girls’ texts are framed as identity work, media-making, self-expression, or artefacts of “girl culture”,4
what becomes obscured is the important work of mediation that is central
to girls’ self-representations.
In Auto/Biography Studies, the appearance of authenticity is always
suspect and the identity being constructed in self-referential texts requires
further examination. Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson (2010), in their
foundational volume Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting
Life Narratives, point to the complexities of the autobiographical “I”:
What do we encounter as readers/listeners when we come to an ‘I’ on a
page or hear an ‘I’ in a story told to us? … this ‘I’ is not a flesh-and-blood
author whom we cannot know, but a speaker or narrator who refers to himor herself. But much more is involved in this marker of self-referentiality.
While this speaker has one name, the ‘I’ who seems to be speaking—sometimes through a published text or an intimate letter, sometimes in person or
on screen—is composed of multiple ‘I’s. (2010, 71)

They then suggest that the autobiographical “I” is composed of four different “I”s. First, there is the “real” or historical “I” that we might call the
flesh-and-blood author, the person who exists in the real world and has
created the autobiographical text. Second, the narrating “I” is the persona
calling forth some part of his or her experience to make it available to a
reader. Third, the narrated “I” is the character created by the text, the

protagonist of the narrative that represents the narrating “I”. Last, the
ideological “I” is the set of ideological forces that construct what we know
as the self, personhood, and subjectivity in any given historical/temporal/
cultural location (Smith and Watson 2010, 71–9). This acknowledgement
of the complexities of autobiographical narration troubles the use of girls’
texts as raw data and calls for more attentive reading practices that illuminate the processes of mediation and self-narration. Blogs, social media
profiles, websites, zines, and videos are not direct channels to the “true
selves” of the girls who produce them. They are literary and media texts,
and their girl authors have crafted them using strategies of representation
and mediation.
Also troubled here, is the idea of a pre-existing self that can be communicated through the text. Importantly, Sidonie Smith (1995, 17) points
out that “the ‘self’ so often invoked in self-expressive theories of autobiography is not a noun, a thing-in-itself, waiting to be materialized through