American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations

Between Feminism and Femininity: Shifting Cultural Representations of Girlhood in the 1960s

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Jolie Sheffer (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Timothy Messer-Kruse (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Andrew Hershberger (Other)


Media and cultural studies of girlhood have shown that we live in a postfeminist era, when the label "feminism" evokes many negative stereotypes against women demanding greater rights and opportunities whereas eye-catching "girl" figures promote and advertise a stronger vision of femininity in the popular culture market. Tracking how "girls" replace "women" and become favored icons of feminism in contemporary culture, this dissertation analyzes the shifts in cultural depictions of girlhood in the 1960s. Examining magazines and newspapers' coverage of Beatlemania in 1964 and 1965, Twiggy's successful modeling career from 1966 to 1968, and the eventful Miss America pageants from 1968 to 1970, I find that mass media and popular culture institutions presented a series of new images and themes about girlhood that featured romantic desires for male idols, challenges to prevailing definitions of fashionable femininity, and an outspoken approach to controversial political and social issues. These new themes exemplify that the differences between girlhood and womanhood intensified along with the development of feminist movements in the 1960s, when mass media invested in constructing a new girlhood identity as a way to fend off changing views of womanhood and uphold some elements of traditional femininity. This new girlhood is thus an outcome of the oscillation between the feminist counterculture and traditional gender discourses in the 1960s. The development of the new girlhood in the 1960s can help in understanding the consumption of feminism in American culture today, where the power and freedoms the feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s promised are taken away from older, professionally accomplished women and reserved for girlish girls and young women.