Feeling Girl, Girling Feeling: An Examination of "Girl" as Affect
University of Missouri St. Louis
What is a girl? At first glance, this seems like a question simple enough for even a child to answer; however, this is a loaded question. For example: Is a ten-year-old female a girl; a sixteen-year-old; what about a thirty-year-old with pearly pink barrettes and a tiny glittery backpack? What makes unicorns, glitter, and stickers girly? Can one be born a boy and feel like a girl? I suggest that emotion is centrally implicated in these questions, thus my project here is an affective theorization of "girl," an exploration of the affective register of girl. The purpose of this essay is partly taxonomic; following in the tradition within affect theory to catalog, describe, and historicize different feelings, I work to describe how girl feels, what force(s), orientations, and sets of experiences enliven this signifier in Western late capitalist culture. However, my purpose is also political, to examine how age and gender affect feeling and emotion (girling feeling) and how girl, as an affective state, can affect and be used to affect, how it affects girls and women and how it might be used to affect others to push back against forces that constrain girls and women (feeling girl). I hope to provide theoretically productive answers to my original question – "what is a girl?" – by first parsing it into three questions and exploring the relationships among them: what are girls?; what is girl culture?; what is girl?; and then examining these questions using affect theory, specifically the work of Brian Massumi, Eve Sedgwick, and Sara Ahmed. I would argue that girl has become an affect that is circulated in our culture in a number of ways (certainly by marketers but also by feminists), giving materiality to certain bodies and sticking to certain objects and people to create girl culture. I find it productive to look at these ideas first in the conversational space constructed by interaction with a girl, then through the lens of theories of affect, in order to better conceptualize how girls are constrained in contemporary affect economies but also how girl may affect and be mobilized and circulated to move bodies to make change.
Feeling Girl, Girling Feeling:
An Examination of "Girl" as Affect
An interview with a girl:
M: What is a girl?
M: So how do you be a
 I began this project, to explore what is girl, with a conversation with a "real girl," [i] my five-year-old daughter Sophie. Too often academic conversations about girls occur as fundamentally separate from girls themselves, obscuring the relationships and forces that create them and further relegating girls to the margins and alienating them from discourses and representations of girlhood. Although girls have made their way into youth studies over the past forty years, researchers have largely approached the study of girls from a spatial as well as affective distance, as objects of study and not co-creators of meaning [ii]. The researcher sets out to show something or other about girls, and not surprisingly that researcher (and those that follow) finds exactly what he or she expects to find. Working with rather than on girls can avoid paranoid readings and reintroduce the elements of surprise and play, elements Eve Sedgwick argues can help escape the closed systems of recent critical theory and be reparative ("You're So Paranoid" ). "[D]ifferent affects make us feel, write, think, and act in different ways," Elspeth Probyn reminds us (74). Similarly, Sara Ahmed asserts, "we are touched by what we are near" ("Happy Objects" 30). Thus, to do theory (especially feminist and affect theory) in the proximity of girls and the affects that they generate and circulate is to do theory differently. This is not to say that there is an authentic girl that we can appeal to but that we need to examine how we constitute the boundaries of girl, how we matter certain bodies as girl, and the effects.
 While my project here is an affective theorization of "girl," I still find it productive and worthwhile to take as my starting point a conversation with a girl, not because she represents an "authentic" girl or all possible girls but because for me the nearest (not to mention most intense) interface with constructions and modulations of girl is located in this relationship. Our interaction, both in this conversation and in our everyday lives, has seeped into my academic work and suggested new questions, orientations, relationships, thinking, and methods, "style[s] of being present," [iii] that though often messy and sometimes contradictory are potentially reparative (Seigworth and Gregg). She has affected me, and I begin with our words in the hopes that we may affect you.
 When I asked Sophie during our conversation "what is a girl?," I thought I was starting with an easy question from which I could then move on to harder ones. I was quickly disabused of this notion by my young partner when she unexpectedly turned around and fired back, "So Mommy, what is a girl?" to which I found I had lots of answers but not the answer, which is of course what she was looking for. This difficulty, illustrated by our anxiety and frustration at not being able to really capture a girl in words, hints at the recent elasticity of girl and the nonverbal registers that constitute girl, underscoring the need for further theorizing not so much on the meaning or essence of girl but what work girl does and how as well as the material and emotional effects.
 It is clear from my conversation with Sophie that even at five she realizes that my question is actually more than one question, evidenced by the false starts, stutters, and silences, both mine and hers, and by the necessity of follow-up questions to even begin to be able to get at an answer. Sophie talks about girls in a physical sense, about the things girls like and do, and about how girl feels. I would argue that the question, "what is a girl," is really three questions: what are girls, what is girl culture, and what is girl? These distinct yet intertwined elements of Sophie's responses point towards the answers to these questions (as well as other questions). Her first instinctual answer to "what is a girl" not surprisingly is "It's something different from a boy." Apparently not much (certainly not as much as we like to think) has changed since Simone de Beauvoir identified the masculine as both the positive and the neutral, leaving the feminine always in the place of the negative, the Other. Thus, girl is othered to boy; a girl is not a boy; a boundary exists between boy and girl.
 Concurrently, Sophie identifies another binary at work when she separates little girls from "big grown-up women." The change in position from girl to woman is defined by a narrative of progress; a girl grows up into a woman. A binary is established between women and girls; for Sophie, woman is the other, and girl is the subject because she is a girl, but in society (as in much feminist discourse) the narrative of becoming a woman participates in the othering of girls (Eisenhauer). Another boundary is created between girls and women.
 So we know that a girl is not a boy and not a woman, but how do we know what is a girl? Sophie tells us: "Girls play video games . . . have long hair . . . wear make-up and high heels, and wear pretty stuff." Girls participate in girl culture. They consume it, speak it and are spoken by it, and they inscribe it upon their bodies, continuously becoming girls all the while trying to become women, pretty rather than handsome, model rather than astronaut.
 The answer to the third question, what is girl, is where things get a little trickier, a bit more difficult to locate, and thus more theoretically interesting. There are hints to Sophie's perception of "girl" as something different though not wholly separate from the idea of girls (not boys; not women). I see this most in her discussion about astronauts and models. When asked about fun things about being a girl, Sophie responds with something she would enjoy doing, "getting to be an astronaut," but she quickly qualifies her answer: "But boys do astronauts more than girls do. Right? . . . It's more of a boy thing." She asks for reinforcement because no one has ever told her that being an astronaut is "more of a boy thing," yet she still has gleaned this message about how gender works in her society. When asked why it is "a boy thing," the only answer she can provide is that more boys are astronauts. She senses and articulates that this is unfair, recognizes that girls would have fun going into outer space just as boys do, but is unable to narrate what exactly makes being an astronaut "a boy thing." It just feels that way, and it feels unfair.
 Similarly, when asked about famous girls, the first thing she can think of has certainly become "a girl thing," modeling. Sophie, like any other TV-watching five-year-old, certainly knows of other famous girls, but modeling (along with acting and singing, thank you Disney) gets steadily connected with "girl" just as astronaut gets connected with "boy" in a way that moves outside or in excess of the meaning of the content, into the realm of what Brian Massumi describes as affect. Even as I am asking Sophie about how to be a girl, she is responding with ways that she does girlhood and feels girl. The conceptualization of girlhood as performative and discursive has been explored by many different scholars but fails to tell us much about what it's like to feel like a girl; it is this quality of "girl," girl as feeling, that I would like to examine. What enlivens and what enervates girl? How are these forces used against girls and women (as well as boys and men) and how can they be used politically to move bodies to create change?
 In this paper I assert that "girl" is certainly a signifier; however, there is now a distinct affect animating and in excess of the signifier "girl" in Western late capitalist societies. This affect, girl, circulates with/among objects, including signifiers, giving materiality to certain collectives of bodies (most often though not necessarily young feminine bodies), rendering them girls, and sticking to certain objects and people to create girl culture. This affect has been appropriated and deployed in contemporary culture by marketers (among others) but also by feminists.
 The place to begin work examining girl as affect seems to be back with those three questions, in a laying out of terms, specifically a distinction between "girl," "girl culture" or what I will call "girldom," [iv] and "girls." "Girls," also called "real girls," will refer to a collective of feeling, experiencing material bodies, though "bodies not defined by an outer skin-envelope or other surface boundary but by their potential to reciprocate or co-participate in the passages of affect" (Seigworth and Gregg 2). Those bodies most likely to reciprocate or co-participate in the passages of the affect girl are young feminine bodies, yet as we will see the boundaries that make that so are created by affect and have become more permeable. Girldom is those things made by, about, and for girls. Finally, girl is the affect that sticks to certain bodies mattering them by creating the surfaces, boundaries, and relations that seem to delimit them, the affect that animates girldom, and that is felt as girl, though not only by girls. I hope to first discuss these terms separately and then be able, through an understanding of girl as affect, to dismantle that separation in productive ways and suggest what this understanding can help us do.
 The purpose of this essay then is partly taxonomic; following in the tradition within affect theory to catalog, describe, and historicize different feelings, I work to describe how girl feels, what force(s), orientations, and sets of experiences enliven this signifier here and now in late capitalist Western culture. However, my purpose is also political, to examine how age and gender affect feeling and emotion (girling feeling) and how girl, as an affective state, can affect and be used to affect, how it affects girls and women and how they might use it to affect others within society in general and feminism more specifically to push back against forces that constrain girls and women (feeling girl). I find this approach particularly useful in understanding how girl is being deployed in relation to new global economies, affective economies, in ways that restrict movement, commodify girlhood, and hide girls' labor, while girls' ability to affect and create is also increasing. An affective approach also helps to explain what objects of girl culture do (and how) when they are employed consciously and unconsciously and when they are "poached" by women and girls and used oppositionally.
 What would it mean to think about girl as an affect and what would that affect look and feel like? In order to begin answering these questions, it is first necessary to establish which formulation of affect is being utilized as there are several different conceptualizations. For the purposes of analyzing girl, I find Brian Massumi's formulation in Parables of the Virtual the most useful. Massumi argues for a distinction between emotion and affect. He describes a case study done by German researchers examining peoples' response, both reported and physiological, to a video of a snowman melting. Contradictorily, "the 'sad' scenes were rated the most pleasant; the sadder the better" (Massumi 24). The version of the film that made people the saddest was the one that they liked the best; there was "a gap between content and effect: it would appear that the strength or duration of an image's effect is not logically connected to the content in any straightforward way" (Massumi 24). Massumi uses the terms "quality" or "qualification" versus "intensity" to distinguish between these two things, content and effect. He posits: "the content of the image is its indexing to conventional meanings in an intersubjective context, its sociolinguistic qualification. This indexing fixes the determinate qualities of the image" (24). Qualification involves an observer "indexing" meaning onto the image. While intensity, on the other hand, is the "strength or duration of the image's effect" and affects at the level of skin and body surfaces, the effect or impact of the image on the viewer (24). There are instances when the body knows something that the person doesn't have access to consciously, things the body registers.
 As Theresa Brennan muses, "Is there anyone who has not, at least once, walked into a room and 'felt the atmosphere'?" (qtd. in Ahmed, "Happy Objects" 36). When I walk into my monthly departmental meeting, the atmosphere feels quite different than when I walk into my daughter's monthly girl scout meeting; one is usually met by an exhausted sigh and a feeling of enervation while the other often provokes a smile and a feeling of fun and energy (I'll let you guess which is which). For Massumi, once those bodily reactions are thought and narrated they become emotion:
a subjective content, the sociolinguistic fixing of the quality of an experience which is from that point onward defined as personal. Emotion is qualified intensity, the conventional, consensual point of insertion of intensity into semantically and semiotically formed progressions, into narrativizable action-reaction circuits, into function and meaning. It is intensity owned and recognized. It is crucial to theorize the difference between affect and emotion. (28)
Emotion then is the narratable experience of intensity via cultural systems, the answers to my interview questions about girl that Sophie was able to formulate, and affect is both that which can be translated into emotion and that which escapes consciousness, the feeling or "force of encounter" underneath what she was able to vocalize and what she could only dance around (Seigworth and Gregg 2). Thus, girl is an emotion once we qualify it, fix it in language, make it personal; however, it is also still a prepersonal force that acts on bodies and can only be studied in its effects and its translation into emotion.
 So what then is the effect of girl; how does it affect us and make us feel? Or in other words, what is the felt experience of girl? For Sophie, it seems to be a happy and confident engagement with other girls and fun things like make-up, long hair, being pretty, and playing mommy, along with a touch of injustice over the fact that several of the things she likes (like astronauts and superheroes) are boy things, hence marking her desire as both somewhat inappropriate as well as unlikely to be fulfilled. Carol Gilligan, with her team of researchers, has provided a large amount of scholarship on the psychology and emotional life of girls, concluding similarly that the felt experience of girlhood is one of joy, strength, resilience, and connection up until about the age of ten, at which point girl begins to feel more like a crisis than a party. In the foreword to I Am an Emotional Creature, Gilligan relates the transmission of girl from the girls in her research group to herself:
This morning in the shower, I remember what it was like on Monday, that intense experience of pleasure, seeing the girls at the beach – their bodies, their freedom. Minnow-like bodies darting in and out of the water. Running on the sand. Dancing, turning. I began to remember an eleven-year-old body and to enter that body. Without thinking I began running, unencumbered, fast like the wind. (xvi)
Gilligan identifies girl as a feeling connected to a melding together of other feelings such as freedom, joy, exhilaration, speed, and movement, unencumbered by the self-consciousness (especially surrounding body image), doubt, and destructiveness she argues becomes the norm in middle school and the stuckness and drudgery that can often continue throughout the rest of women's lives. This feeling is a bodily reaction; it literally moves her body in a way that occurs, "without thinking," before thought.
 However, girl is not something that resides in girls or floats around in the atmosphere, infecting Gilligan. As Sara Ahmed[v] points out, affect is not just floating around in the air waiting to get inside the first passerby; instead, affect "is sticky: rather like Velcro...how we arrive, how we enter this room or that room, will affect what impressions we receive. After all, to receive is to act. To receive an impression is to make an impression...or we might say the atmosphere is already angled; it is always felt from a specific point" ("Happy Objects" 37). For Gilligan, that point is as a woman. Girl is something Gilligan once was before she arrived and was made a woman, but it is also an embodied knowledge and experience that can be recalled, re-entered, and re-embodied, something that she can feel and experience, a feeling that affects her, at a bodily level.
 Affect is less like a germ, likely to infect you when you walk into a room; affect involves instead, as Ahmed argues, an orientation toward certain objects in our proximity; to feel girl is to be oriented in alignment with girls ("Happy Objects" 32). Girls themselves are not necessarily the objects of the affect girl, though they often generate and circulate this feeling, and many women, when they feel girl are, like Gilligan, recalled back into the experience of girlhood. Girls though are sometimes just as likely to disrupt the circulation of girl, creating a boundary. When I walk into the Girl Scout meeting, I may just as likely feel old as feel girly, drawing a boundary between bodies, myself and them, between women and girls. These boundaries create communities, collectives of bodies, which allow us to talk about girls, preserves girls as a productive analytical, though constantly contingent, group, without lapsing into essentialism.
 One of the effects of feeling girl particularly seductive for women is the boundary that is created around female bodies rather than between them, the pull of girlfriends, the experience of those easy giggly friendships of youth, a collectivity that many women lament as lacking in womanhood replaced instead by horizontal hostility and competition.
 If we formulate girl as an affect, a force in excess of the signifier, then we need not leave out the material, sensing, experiencing body, nor divide it from the mind. We have a way to begin to understand how girl is able to mobilize and move and not only in the socially prescribed pattern from girl to woman.
 Massumi's formulation of affect is particularly useful for exploring girl because it provides ways to understand girl in terms other than as a narrative of progress; instead, girldom can be understood as objects and people to which girl "sticks" (to use Sara Ahmed's term), and girl as an affect that both circulates unconsciously (and not just among girls) and can also be self-consciously deployed to capitalize on feeling girl.
 Massumi argues in his introduction "Concrete Is as Concrete Doesn't" that cultural theory has focused on the body and change while it "has tended to bracket [movement/sensation] and their unmediated connection. It can be argued that in doing so it has significantly missed [body and change] . . . the central concerns in the humanities" (1). Massumi argues that cultural theory's formulations of subjectivity and body foreclose the possibility of movement and change and ignore sensation unproductively. Understandings of the subject and the body as constructed by discourse and defined by "positionality" result in a sort of "cultural freeze-frame," removing movement and thus the possibility for change from the table (Massumi 3). The only movement that is possible is from one pre-defined positionality to another:
a body occupying one position on the grid might succeed in making a move to occupy another position. In fact, certain normative progressions, such as that from child to adult, are coded in...the very notion of movement as a qualitative transformation is lacking...it is as if the body simply leaps from one definition to the next. (Massumi 3)
This has been the way that girl has been understood previously, as a discursively constructed subject identity, a positionality of gender and age, from which a girl predictably and determinately makes the move to a new positionality, that of a woman. From this perspective it is as if there is some distinct moment when girl suddenly shifts to woman rather than "a qualitative transformation" (Massumi 3). What we get with this formulation are body binaries; Sophie's description of girl as "not boy" and "not woman" and "not grown up," even as she feels that these descriptions are not quite getting at what it feels like to be(coming) a girl (hence both our silences, false starts, and qualifications). In discursive and intersectional models of identity, there is no way to formulate movement, sensation, and change, the body's potential to respond and vary over/in time and "the messiness of the experiential, the unfolding of bodies into worlds, and the drama of contingency" (Ahmed, "Happy Objects" 30). Thus, there is simply no way to theorize the felt and often liminal experience of being/stopped being/partly being a girl. In attempting to define girl in this way, something escapes. Affect theory gives us a way to think and talk about that something.
 Though affect is not reducible to language, we can see evidence of affect in language. Affect sticks to objects, and words as signifiers are objects, so language is one way that girl can be qualified and translated as well as appropriated and deployed (Ahmed 4). It is possible to chart the development of girl as an affect (in its present incarnation in 21st century late American global capitalism) through the linguistic change that the word "girl" underwent during the 1990s. Prior to the 1990s, "girl" was used almost always as a concrete noun. "A girl" is something that someone (usually a young female) is. Beginning in the 1990s, however, there was a significant shift, and "girl" began to be used not just as a noun but also as an adjective (although "girly" or "girlie" was and still are used as a sort of linguistic bridge between girl as concrete noun and girl as abstract or adjective). However, an adjective does not just describe, it is a modifier; it modifies, affects, changes the affective field of the object, and perhaps more importantly it modifies our orientation to the object. Suddenly it was possible to talk about "girl power" or "girl culture," or a being a "girly girl" as opposed to just a girl, in the process affecting our notions of power, culture, and girl as well. A number of texts and organizations, especially feminist, emerged during this time and since using girl in this way, among them, Bust Guide to the New Girl Order, Growing Up Girl, Girl Wide Web, Girls Inc., and gurl.com. I argue that this linguistic shift signals the emergence of girl as a new or at least qualitatively discernible affect, a positive and pleasurable feeling of girlhood as fun, free, and powerful [vi].
 This shift is not accidental but coincides with a sociohistorical shift of cultural surveillance onto girlhood that occurred in the mid 1990s, what Baumgardner and Richards term "the girls' movement" (Manifesta 172). Although Nancy Lesko traces the trend of using youth as "a social space in which to talk about the characteristics of people in modernity" back to the end of the nineteenth century, at the end of the twentieth century, it is girlhood that becomes a sort of cultural container for both "social anxiety and progress" (qtd. in Harris, Future Girl 1). As Anita Harris describes in Future Girl, "Girlhood now operates as adolescence functioned then, as a space for worries about unknown futures, about ability to succeed and dominate in changing social and cultural landscapes" (2). Girlhood has come to serve this function for feminism as well. Things were changing rapidly in America at the end of the century, and feminists were (and still are) worried about the future of the movement while also excited by the possibility that girls had come to represent. Worries and hopes about the future of feminism as well as the future of society generally were transferred to girls, evidenced by the wave of girls' crisis books and commentary that emerged at the time. Hope and other positive affects seem to have attached to younger girls, while anxiety seems to attach to older girls and adolescence.
 The 1990s, with the riot grrl movement and the academic and popular scrutiny of girls, introduced a significant shift, a new experience of girlhood, which the founders of Bust magazine Marcelle Karp and Debbie Stoller deem "The New Girl Order." Writing in 1999, Karp and Stoller capitalize on the evolution of girl culture that began with Carol Gilligan's foundational study, which reported, "contrary to popular belief, little girls were more confident, more assertive, and had greater self-esteem than their grown-up counterparts...it was the process of becoming women that seemed to be stripping girls of their strength and courage" (185). Second wave feminism's banishment of the word "girl"−"girl was cloying, girl was weak, girl was giggly" transforms in the 1990s into third wave feminism's reclamation of girl culture: "The truth—that girlhood is more about insolence than innocence; that little girls are made more of piss and vinegar than sugar and spice—is finally being told . . . Women, step aside: the time of the girl is upon us" (Karp and Stoller 183, 184). Girl became a feeling at this time not of infantilization as the second wave had claimed but of young, loud, fun, sexy, feminine power, as Stoller and Karp assert: "We were the furthest thing from the image of the innocent, sissified stereotype of 'little girls playing with dolls'" (188).
 Unfortunately, as soon as girl developed as a distinct and popular affect, it was quickly co-opted, packaged, and sold back as a commodified version of empowered girlhood by marketers. Now, girl power is often a slogan and a marketing technique, girl an image sold to girls and women as coming from the consumption of products and other intangible commodities in new global affective economies. Elizabeth Wissinger describes the shift to an affect economy in late capitalism:
social production has been subsumed by capital, made a force of production, as socialization, therapeutic interaction, cooking, cleaning, child care, health care, and the like have been increasingly pulled into the domain of capital. Within this tendency, all of social life can become a force of production, as all kinds of activities formerly coded as gendered and private, and lying outside the domain of capital investment, are increasingly pulled into its domain. (Wissinger 234)
Though invisible to Wissinger (in all fairness she isn't writing about girls), girls too are very much present in these descriptions of the shift to an affect economy. [vii] Of the specific forms of "social production subsumed by capital" named here, girls do much affective labor that becomes coded as immaterial and thus becomes invisible, though at the same time paradoxically visible, the object of cultural surveillance that moves these activities in the public sphere.
 Girls cook and clean around the house, and they babysit. They also do affective labor apart from women's labor, specific to girlhood. Studies of girls' fandoms [viii] have been instructional in demonstrating how girls' private fan practices translate into "a force of production" (Wissinger 234). One example, as noted by Kathleen Karlyn is as follows: "In 1997, teen girls saved the romantic epic Titanic from financial disaster when groups of them flocked to theaters for repeat viewings of it" (1). In this case, specific fan practices of girls, many of which are affective, getting others excited and invested in the movie, as well as consumer in nature, translated into "the domain of capital." Girls' "immaterial labor," such as fan practices like admiring a teen star and then creating fan clubs and products around that star, thereby promoting him or her to other likeminded girls, is a form of private labor dependent on girl culture that we are now beginning to understand as part of larger economic movements.
 Along with girls, girl also does affective labor, "the labor of interaction and human contact that can elicit 'intangible feelings of ease, excitement, or passion'" (Wissinger 234). Girls' bodies and the objects of girldom are used to secure attention in affective economies: "Since affect is connected to attention (insofar as it directs and channels it), in an economy in which the control of attention has value, the control of affective flow has value as well" (Wissinger 235). Girls have become featured more prominently by those technologies designed to garner and shape attention for profit, and affective registers of content have become more specifically modulated according to audience demographics. As Patricia Clough asserts, marketing and media have become less about "representation and the narrative construction of subject identities" and more about "affecting bodies directly, human and non-human bodies" (qtd. in Wissinger 233). The pleasure and other positive affects now associated with girl as well as the attention it now gathers are used in at attempt to associate these feelings with companies' products and brands.
 Advertisers use girls' bodies to get the consumer's attention and arouse a range of feelings, including but certainly not limited to girl, most notably and visibly in the field of modeling. A recent example is found in the December 2010 issue of French Vogue in which six year old girls are styled to look like adult models (Wade). They wear high stiletto heels, designer gowns, and diamonds. These girls lie provocatively across animal print and give come-hither looks, clearly aimed to provoke desire and arousal in the viewer. In one of the photos, this clearly adult aesthetic is disrupted with an object from girldom, bunny rabbits. This spread signifies girl (and woman) but the effect of the image, its intensity, does not seem directly related to its content, which makes very little sense; the ad seems to be less about "creating meaningful representations to stimulate a specific consumer desire for a specific product" and "better explained as working to activate affective flow and to put it into circulation within the networks of affective production that characterize contemporary capitalism" (Wissinger 236). While the intended viewer in this case seems to be adult, many ads for girls (and women) utilize a girly aesthetic to circulate this positive and pleasurable affect, girl. This aesthetic is often created using not only the bodies of girls but also the objects of girldom.
What is girldom?
Pink, glitter, rhinestones, dollhouses, dresses, joy, teddy bears, unicorns, flowers, bubble gum, long hair, fingernail polish, Barbie, American Girl, dolls, dress-up clothes, tiaras, bows, barrettes, tiny backpacks, posters of teen stars, rainbows, sassiness, lipgloss, hopscotch, funny, jumprope, cotton candy, princesses, giggles, tickles, gossip, girlfriends, crushes, diaries, secrets, magazines, notes, hula hoops, power, arts and crafts, bikes (with streamers of course), dancing, fashion, gummy bears, pop music, wonder, high heels, intelligence, happiness
 Most Western individuals reading this list would easily identify these as girl things; Sophie certainly does even though her room is equally as populated by "boy things". These are the signs, symbols, and objects of girlhood, girldom, and they come to circulate girl and thus feel girly through their proximity to girls, through girls' (supposed) alignment toward these objects, and through the boundaries and body surfaces they help create between girls and boys and girls and women. Sherrie Inness defines girl culture as both the objects "that girls themselves create as active producers and shapers of their realities as well as the culture that is created and shaped by adults and then marketed to girls, who, in their turn, shape market-place commodities in ways that might or might not have been intended by their adult creators" (4). Inness describes how "a distinct girls' culture" did not exist until girlhood came to be perceived "as a period separate from adulthood," in other words as a distinct unique subjectivity (4). Girls' culture was thus established in the eighteenth century and has burgeoned in the 20th and 21st centuries (Inness 4). Girl culture includes objects from earliest girlhood like "baby dolls and stuffed animals," from mid-girlhood items like "glitter and stickers," and from teen girlhood things such as Twilight, fan zines, make-up, and high heels (Inness 4).
 These objects circulate girl throughout the culture by girls and others as well as by language and cultural representations of girlhood created by marketers, the media, feminism, and other groups who control the means of creating discourse. As Inness argues, we live in a time of an unprecedented amount of girl culture, "achievable because of a wide variety of twentieth-century technologies that have made a mass-market girls' culture both possible and profitable" (5). Where girl culture once existed primarily in the space of the bedroom and was circulated almost exclusively by and among girls, now girl culture is everywhere, giving it great potential to participate in political movement, though it now has a definite consumer component, indexing consumption as one of the meanings attached to feeing girl. [ix] However, as Rita Felski notes, understanding objects and their effects only in terms of their role as commodities fails to acknowledge that "our relations with things are conducted in multiple emotional, aesthetic, and political registers not just one...there are tales to be told about the inspirational power of things, their ability to calm or console, to revitalize or transform perception" (186). Focusing solely on how the objects of girldom constitute their subjects as consumers, tells us little about how one becomes emotionally invested with these objects or about how they can be used for political ends, for instance as they have been in the riot grrl movement or within the girlie feminism of the third wave.
 Many of these products of girldom and their meaning and effects, though certainly influenced by the values and power imbalances of the power structures that create these objects, are not wholly determined by them. [x] As Mary Celeste Kearney and other Girls' Studies scholars have noted, girls have long been producers of culture as well as consumers, a role expanded by new technologies and access to technology. [xi] [xii] As much of the criticism of girl culture seems to overlook, many of the objects of girl culture are not products at all, but aesthetics (pink, polka dots, and poodles), relationships (girlfriends and crushes), movements (dancing and hopscotch), rhetorical modes (gossip and diary writing), and affects (most notably, happiness).
 But how do these particular objects, and not, say, a pair of sneakers or a pencil (unless bedazzled with pink rhinestones) circulate girl? The objects of girldom certainly signify girl in a way that a pair of sneakers or a pencil do not; however, these objects do more than just signify; they often affect at the corporeal level, as any parent who has dragged a screaming hysterical toddler from the toy aisle can attest. As Felski attests, "focusing entirely on the rubrics of language and discourse risks overlooking crucial elements of our being in the world; interactions with things and persons that occur on a preconceptual plane or nonverbal plane, experiential schemata for organizing and making sense of the world grounded in early forms of bodily and spatial awareness, attachments to objects whose affective force extends far beyond any apparent substantive significance" (191). To approach objects like stickers, Hello Kitty, and glitter solely in terms of their significations doesn't tell us much about how they move girls or what happens affectively when they instead move boys or fail to move girls, what they do to bodies, and as they come into wider circulation how they come to be important for and move women, including how they can move bodies to political action, such as in third wave feminism. To see girldom as simply signifying girlhood – without exploring what it feels like to paste a picture of your crush on the wall, decorate it with hearts and glitter, and sigh when you walk past it or to sit on the floor with your girlfriends and imagine whole elaborate backstories for Barbie, or want to do these things and not be able because you are a boy, your crush is a girl, or your family can't afford Barbies or to return to these activities and feelings as an adult – is to miss important aspects of these issues.
 Objects have the ability to modulate affect and provoke affective states. Ahmed describes how affect has a sticky property, "Affect is what sticks, or what sustains or preserves the connection between ideas, values, and objects" ("Happy Objects" 29). Girl slides over many objects like pencils and sneakers and sticks to others as an effect of their circulation in part because of their proximity to girlhood, spatially, linguistically, conceptually, and in memories of girlhood, but also because of girls' orientation or alignment toward these objects. As these objects circulate, girl is the effect, though the feeling does not reside in these objects nor is it the feeling of girl that flows between individuals in proximity to these objects; as Ahmed remarks, "to share such objects (or have a share in such objects) would simply mean you would share an orientation toward those objects" ("Happy Objects" 38). As the objects of girldom circulate, those they come in contact with feel girly by sharing an orientation, an alignment with girls, toward these objects.
 The objects of girldom are the things that very often populate and thus help to construct girls' worlds, or "near spheres," and girls (and more recently women as well) have been encouraged to believe these objects will make them happy and fun, will in fact make them girl (Ahmed, "Happy Objects" 32). In Ahmed's terms, these are "happy objects," and girls are expected to be aligned with them. When girls fail to find pleasure in these objects or when boys or men do and feel girly as a result, they become what Ahmed calls "affect aliens," those who "become alienated – out of line with an affective community" ("Happy Objects" 37). This concept helps to explain the change in affect, described in academic discourse by Gilligan and in the popular discourse of the girls' crisis, which girls experience as they move into adolescence and then adulthood, leaving behind the pleasurable objects of girlhood, which are replaced by objects of womanhood, such as boyfriends, beauty, sex, careers, and family, which are supposed to be pleasurable but all too often are not, at times making women affect aliens as well. Ahmed describes some of the explanations and emotions that can result when one experiences disappointment rather than the expected pleasure: "an anxious narrative of self-doubt (why am I not made happy by this? What's wrong with me?) or a narrative of rage, where the object that is 'supposed' to make us happy is attributed as the cause of disappointment, which can lead to a rage directed toward those that promised us happiness" ("Happy Objects" 37). Unfortunately, girls and women are emotionally socialized to react affectively not with motivating anger but with self-doubt, and so rather than directing their response at those social structures that promise happiness but fail to deliver, they assume the lack themselves, an affective stance that seems hardly conducive to social change.
 Thus, the problem lies not so much with those feminine objects of girlhood eliciting pleasure and so making girls dupes of patriarchy but instead with a lack of "happy objects" of womanhood that give that same pleasure. As Barbara Risman points out, "We must remember, however, that much doing gender at the individual and interactional levels gives pleasure as well as reproduces inequality, and until we find other socially acceptable means to replace that opportunity for pleasure, we can hardly advocate for its cessation" (255). As a result, the removal of pleasure marks one of the ways that girls become (are made) women, quite literally by putting away childish things, girlish things, changing girls' alignment towards the objects of girldom and transferring it instead to objects of womanhood, thus moving them from one collective to another, from girls to women, recontouring their body surfaces, and creating new worlds. This process does not happen all at once of course but is contingent and continual.
What are girls?
 Finally, I would like to return to that first question, the one I naively assumed would be the easiest and which in many ways Sophie seemed better prepared to answer than I: what do we mean by a "girl?" It seems as though it shouldn't be hard to define what we mean when we talk about "real" girls, the little beings who giggle, sulk, sing, dye their hair purple with kool-aid (or the cat's – don't ask) and make us smile, sigh, and growl, sometimes at the same time. We know that girls exist, to the extent that anything can be said to exist these days, but what exactly is a girl? Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards ask this question themselves in their article "Feminism and Femininity:" "Do we mean those preadolescents who are climbing trees and playing with Barbie? Or do we mean those grown women on Sex in the City who in their independence, their bonds with female friends, and their love of feminine fashion invoke a sense of eternal girlhood? We mean both" (60). They are able to mean both not only because women have begun to re-adopt and circulate the objects of girldom, girling themselves, citing girlhood and being discursively constituted as girls, but also because they are circulating girl. They feel like girls and are felt as girls, though the affect certainly modulates differently when circulated by women's bodies citing girlhood.
 It is important to remind that emotion is neither universal (human) nor transhistorical, and girl is no exception. Anita Harris in her introduction to All About the Girl, locates the paradigm shift in the denotation of girl at the turn of the century and as a result of the girls' movement: "Even the issue of how old a 'girl' is – previously a fairly simplistic categorization of females between the ages of approximately 12 and 20 – has been complicated by both the 'tweenies' phenomenon and the 'Girlie' movement, which together 'girlify' 7 year olds in midriff tops and 40 year olds with Hello Kitty barrettes" (xx). Harris implicates objects in this shift, specifically objects of womanhood, midriff tops that womanize girls, and objects of girldom, Hello Kitty barrettes that girlify women, both of which facilitate an affective exchange between women and girls.
 This (relatively recent) elasticity in the denotation of what constitutes a girl points to an important question: is one born or does one become a girl? Engaging with de Beauvoir's famous statement "One is not born but becomes a woman" in a slightly different way, Jennifer Eisenhauer asks: "What is one born when one has not yet become a woman? Is someone who has not yet 'become' a woman a 'girl'? Is girl to woman as nature is to culture?" (81, emphasis in original). If this analogy suggests an ontological linear condition of girlhood, a linear progression suggested by narratives of the futuricity, perhaps it is because we are asking the wrong question. Maybe instead of asking "what" we should be asking "how."
 The construction of girl is contingent and indeterminate, always necessarily ongoing and incomplete, as Judith Butler describes: "To the extent that the naming of the 'girl' is transitive, that is, initiates the process by which a certain 'girling' is compelled, the term or, rather, its symbolic power, governs the formation of a corporeally enacted femininity that never fully approximates the norm" (576). Thus, there are gaps (gaps that affect helps cover), a "theoretical no man's land," between the approximation and the norm, and again between girlhood and womanhood (Massumi 3). One can never be a girl, but can only be becoming a girl (though one can certainly feel like/as a girl), and becoming a woman not through a rupture, a jump on the grid, but by incremental gradients, the everyday shimmers of movement and change (Massumi). Girls are not made but always already exist in a tangle of relations. Although affect generates boundaries that shape the collectivity of girls, they are not essential boundaries but instead boundaries that are always in flux, moving, contingent, able to accommodate difference.
 Girls are (but not only, as Massumi's work reminds us xiii) created by a "narrative construction of subject identities" (Clough qtd. in Wissinger 233). They are interpellated and always already interpellated and being interpellated as girl subjects. This is the process that Judith Butler describes as "girling." She observes how an amorphous "it" becomes a (gendered) subject through narration and then repetition: "It's a girl." The amorphous "it" or "baby" ceases to be an object, an it, but instead begins to be a human subject, a girl (8). Thus, a gendered subject, a discursive body, is constructed and through repetitious narration (linguistic as well as other forms of narration and representation) continues to be constructed, though as Massumi reminds in this formulation, through "external mechanisms" (2). While useful, understanding girls as a discursive subject or girls as an intersection of gender and age tells us very little about sensing, experiencing bodies.
 Understanding girl as performative helps restore movement (after the fact), but to know how someone does something (performativity) and what they are discursively constituted as when they do it (meaning) is not the same as knowing how they experience it (sense and feel), how they are affected by it (are touched) and how they affect other bodies and objects in doing it (touch). For example, to return to that monthly department meeting, when I walk in the room, I may be doing happiness, smiling, shaking hands, making small talk. I may be constituted as a happy person by my co-workers. All the while, I may not feel happy at all. I may feel quite angry because I'm expected to make the coffee and take the notes again because I am the youngest, the girl. I may be resentful because I know that I must smile and make nice if I want to ensure my position since I am an adjunct. These feelings may cause me either to become cynically disengaged and do nothing about the situation, suffer in silence and keep smiling. Or they may push me to act, to start a union for contingent faculty.
 Knowing what one is doing (happiness) and what one is discursively constituted as (a happy person) fails to tell us anything about how one feels, the structures, objects, and relationships that affect and are affected by that feeling, or how one is pushed to act. Models of the social that do not engage with emotion "allow such structures to be reified as forms of being. Attention to emotions allows us to address the question of how subjects become invested in particular structures such that their demise is felt as a kind of living death" (Ahmed Cultural Politics of Emotion 12).
 Affect participates in the construction of subjects and the materialization of bodies, though often in ways that problematize (if not explode) divisions such as subject and object. Girl creates boundaries between boys and girls and girls and women and creates an ever-shifting community, a collective of bodies, usually though not necessarily young feminine bodies that we have named girls, though this is a collective neither in an essential sense nor a purely discursive sense. Ahmed writes, "it is through emotions, or how we respond to objects and others, that surfaces or boundaries are made: the 'I' and the 'we' are shaped by, and even take the shape of, contact with others" (10). This emotion, girl, along with the repeated citation of norms, has the effect of (always contingently) creating the individual as well as (and always in relation to) the collective, surfacing the bodies of girls, and materializing their worlds.
 The boundary around girl has become somewhat more permeable lately as the affect girl has circulated to materialize other bodies, such as the bodies of women who are now becoming girls, prompting girl to signify things other than young female. However, even as girls' bodies have begun to matter and more bodies are admitted to this collective and thus mattered, still many others remain invisible, unmattered by this manifestation of girl, which is undeniably and problematically connected in many ways to hegemonic white middle class values and experiences of girlhood. Young female bodies that are fat. Starving. Scarred by war. Cut. Torn by abuse or assault. Non-white bodies. Poor bodies. Non-Western bodies. Differently-abled bodies. Transgender bodies. Bodies sadly not materialized by the pleasure and power of girl but by misogyny, by hate. We must attend to those bodies alienated, abjected by the emotions of our time and place. That pleasantly riotous and powerful feeling of girl modulated and circulated by my daughter or by the riot grrls or third wave girlie feminists or by the many women who now cite girlhood bears little relation to how it feels to be a girl who has just been the victim of FGM in Africa or the child bride sold from her home in India. Though perhaps this feeling of girl and those who enjoy its privileges can use the visibility, attention, and ability to affect that girl now garners in global affective economies to move others to make changes so that girl may be a safer, more powerful, and more pleasurable experience for all girls and women. [xiv]
 And this manifestation of girl feels good; it feels independent, connected, and feminine. It feels free. As Baumgardner and Richards describe, "When we're feeling girlie, it's because we feel independent, irreverent, and free from judgment – and this could happen at nine or ninety" ("Feminism and Femininity" 61). Throughout their article Baumgardner and Richards continually reinforce the idea that what connects "the ten-year-old with skinned knees and the thirty-five-year-old with the vibrator" are feelings, those pleasurable feelings remembered of and ascribed to girlhood. Butler argues that this "girling" process is not optional but an obligatory part of subjectivity: "Femininity is thus not the product of a choice, but the forcible citation of a norm whose complex historicity is indissociable from relations of discipline, regulation, punishment" (576). Women who choose to cite girldom with its conscious appropriation of, among other things, traditional femininity, seem actively engaged in attempting to receive some pleasure from a disciplinary process they are unable to escape. If women can only choose to cite girlhood or womanhood, is it any surprise that they would choose to cite the one with an affect of fun and pleasure attached?
 Emotions are decidedly political, both in what they do to us as gendered bodies and in how they move others to act for change, and girl has become a feeling. I can say "I feel girly when I wear pink or wearing pink makes me feel girly." Or "I feel girl when I chat and laugh with my girlfriends." These statements make sense now because girl is something one can now feel as well as be or feel even if one isn't. It is a distinct way of feeling, an orientation toward oneself, objects, and others that creates a (shifting, contingent) collective, an affective community. Though many in this collective lack power individually, as a group there may be new possibilities to affect and thus create change.
 As Girls' Studies scholars we study, write about, and advocate for and with girls because we are moved, touched by girls and girl culture; girl affects us. It is no secret (especially in light of the public surveillance of girls inspired by publishing on the "girls" crisis") that girls are suffering, but making people aware of this, unfortunately, is not synonymous with getting them to do anything about it, especially when the reasons for that suffering are so ingrained in social systems and institutions including emotions. As I wonder how the work I have done here can be translated into a better world for my daughter and all the other daughters and girls (even if they are boys or women or men) of the world, I keep returning to this notion that emotions and politics are inseparable. As Ahmed notes, "emotions 'matter' for politics; emotions show us how power shapes the very surface of bodies as well worlds. So in a way, we do 'feel our way'" (Cultural Politics of Emotion 12). For a political movement to be effective, it must be affective. We must consider the role of emotion in our formulation of girl and we must work not only to think and act but also to feel our way, to invest our work with "a generative, pedagogic nudge aimed toward a body's becoming an ever more worldly sensitive interface, toward a style of being present to the struggles of our time" (Seigworth and Gregg 12). Girls' struggles are the struggles of our time.
 Thus, the political now seems to be not only or even mostly a project of consciousness raising, awareness of oppression, but more a question of affect: "How does a body, marked in its duration by these various encounters with mixed forces, come to shift its duration by these various encounters with mixed forces, come to shift its affections (its being-affected) into action (capacity to affect)?" (Seigworth and Gregg 2). We know that girls have great potential to be affected by their society, the media, relationships, global capitalism, their position within institutions, technology, and by emotions, which are not merely personal but social. However, related to the capacity to be affected is ability to affect, and the pleasurable power that girl now modulates has great ability to affect in the global affective economies of the twenty-first century, especially considering the possibilities for distribution through technologies and new media. The spaces and dialogues created by third wave feminism have already engaged with girl in ways that have been effective though at times problematic. This ability to affect may be mobilized for political ends in any number of ways both to advocate for structural changes and to widen what girl signifies, how it feels, and who can feel it, thus materializing new worlds.
Ahmed, Sara. "Happy Objects." The Affect Theory Reader. Eds. Gregory J. Seigworth and Melissa Gregg. Durham: Duke UP, 2010. Print. 29-51.
— The Cultural Politics of Emotion. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.
Baumgardner, Jennifer and Amy Richards. Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000. Print.
— "Feminism and Femininity: Or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Thong." All About the Girl: Culture, Power, and Identity. Ed. Anita Harris. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.
Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter. London: Routledge, 1993. Print.
Clough, Patricia and Jean Halley, Eds. The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social. Durham: Duke UP, 2007. Print.
Eisenhauer, Jennifer. "Mythic Figures and Lived Identities: Locating the 'Girl' in Feminist Discourse." All About the Girl: Culture, Power, and Identity. Ed. Anita Harris. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print. 79-89.
Ensler, Eve. I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World. New York: Villard, 2010. Print.
Felski, Rita. "Object Relations." Contemporary Women's Writing 1:1/2 (December 2007): 185-191. Print.
Gilligan, Carol. "Foreword." I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World. Eve Ensler. New York: Villard, 2010. Print. xiii-xvii.
Harris, Anita, Ed. All About the Girl: Culture, Power, and Identity. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.
— "Introduction." All About the Girl: Culture, Power, and Identity. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.
— Future Girl. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.
Henry, Astrid. Not My Mother's Sister: Generational Conflict and Third-Wave Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2004. Print.
Inness, Sherrie. Delinquents and Debutantes: Twentieth-Century American Girls' Culture. New York: New York UP, 1998. Print.
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[i] I use the terms "a girl," "girls" and "real girl" in this essay to denote young feminine individuals, most often though not necessarily female or under the age of 18, material persons as opposed to a subject position or girl as affect.
[ii] One of the ways Girls' Studies scholars have sought to address the problem of research as exploitation of marginalized subjects and to express the reciprocity of the research relationship is through shared authorship.
[iii] Similar to Sedgwick's injunction against fixed and defined methods, Seigworth and Gregg observe, "many theories of affect do not sweat the construction of any elaborate step-by-step methodology much at all, but rather come to fret the presentation or the style of presentation, the style of being present, more than anything else" (14).
[iv] I use girldom here rather than the generally more popular girl culture in order to borrow concepts from recent studies, like those of Mary Celeste Kearney and Henry Jenkins, of fan culture, what is called fandom, that understand fans as a community of cultural producers as well as consumers, what Henry Jenkins calls "textual poachers," a concept borrowed from Michel deCerteau. This seems a particularly apt way to understand girl culture as well, as texts/objects poached from and by girls from and by the culture, texts/objects to which the affect girl sticks.
[v] Knowing from the outset that Ahmed is relying on a different theory of emotion and affect than Massumi, Ahmed's work on emotions, objects, and circulation of emotion among objects is a productive way to examine girl, especially girldom, since it provides a way to understand how and why certain things and people feel girl and girl feeling.
[vi] It must be noted that this feeling of girlhood seems to be based, at least in part, on particularly Western, middle class notions and experiences of girlhood and should not be confused with any sort of universal or transhistorical feeling of girlhood. Emotions are very much local and contingent on their context.
[vii] Girls are also very much present in Wissinger's discussions of the modeling industry. Since the emergence of the supermodel (and possibly even before) and intensifying with the global expansion of the 1990s, most fashion models are girls and even if not girls in the strict sense of age, most model's bodies are certainly girls' rather than women's bodies. Interestingly, another name for plus size is women's.
[viii] See Angela McRobbie's Feminism and Youth Culture.
[ix] In Packaging Girlhood, Lyn Mikel Brown and Sharon Lamb explore how "girl power," the image of the smart, independent girl, has been co-opted by marketers and media. They argue that although it appears girls have more choices and thus more power, cultural constructions of girlhood (which most girls do not have access to the means to produce) frame those choices in consumer and sexual terms, limiting girls' power to consumer and sexual power.
[x] While there is certainly much valid criticism on the oppressive nature of these products, following Sedgwick's line of reasoning on the inefficacy of a "hermeneutics of suspicion," I choose not to focus on revealing how these products reinscribe traditional gender roles or how they serve the interests of corporate capitalists who don't give a damn about girls. We already know that. Instead I am more interested in why they still remain popular and pleasurable (even though men and women know how these things can be restrictive) and how that popularity and pleasure, the ability of these products to affect, might be used to create change.
[xi] See Kearney's Girls Make Media.
[xii] Marketers have in turn capitalized on this role, co-opting the DIY style and activities by marketing girls' own labor back to them in the form of the do-it-yourself kits that have invaded the arts and crafts section of the toy aisle; interestingly, these kits are not to be found in the general arts and crafts section, but are directed very specifically at girls with their placement in the girls' aisle, packaging decorated with a girl aesthetic (pink and flowers), and incorporation of girl culture objects such as dollhouses, animals (especially horses and unicorns), diaries, and bulletin boards.
Massumi asserts, "The models criticized earlier do not need to be trashed. They are not just plain wrong. It's just that their sphere of applicability must be recognized as limited to a particular mode of existence, or a particular dimension of the real. . .Cultural laws of positioning and ideology are accurate in a certain sphere (where the tendency to arrest dominates)" (7).
[xiv] I am, however, in no way suggesting that the West should export its emotions to replace those in other cultures, but instead that girl has now gained a great ability to affect and so that force may be used to advocate for structural and discursive changes that would lead to improvements in the material conditions of girls' and women's lives worldwide. It is important to remember as well that the ability to affect is related to the ability to be affected and so other ways of feeling girl may alter our own on contact as well, creating new worlds for all.