Landing in Moscow in the late afternoon December 5, 2012 was the beginning of a short trip marked by the first-ever Roundtable on Girlhood Studies: Agendas and Prospects in Russia. This day-long roundtable was a part of a two-day long conference entitled “The 21st Century Woman: New Opportunities and New Challenges”. This roundtable held on 7 December 2012 was organized as a collaboration between Girlhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, the Gorbachev Foundation, and the Heinrich Böll Foundation hosted by the International Foundation for Socio-Economic and Journal of Social Policy Studies (The Gorbachev Foundation in Moscow). Best described by Olga Zdravomyslova, Executive Director of the Gorbachev Foundation (Moscow):
“The Round Table on Girlhood Studies: Agenda and Prospects is interesting and important for us not only from a theoretical perspective but truly as an interdisciplinary dialogue in relation to girlhood, thereby expanding the vision that has historically taken shape in Russian gender studies. We hope that the Round Table that brought together Russian scholars and young researchers will produce a wider public debate about girls in Russia, as they become a more visible part of the population in modern culture.”
The first day of the conference brought together Russian scholars and nongovernmental organization (NGO) representatives – including Mr. Gorbachev — with international ones from Canada, Germany, and the United to discuss women’s issues and gender studies. Discussions began with presentation topics ranging from the role of women as active citizens during periods of resistance starting within the gulags to more contemporary examples of technology driven activism among women in the United States, and examples of the exploitation and victimization of women in Claudia Mitchell’s presentation that began with a narrative regarding the mass murder of 14 young women engineering students in Montreal during the 1989 École Polytechnique Massacre. The end of the first day culminated with critical examinations of varying perspectives of feminist thought and how to apply a feminist perspective to girlhood studies, as well as my presentation on the critical assessment of how NGOs leading young women and girl-focused virtual communities in Canada and abroad are using and valuing social and digital media. This day was both insightful and critical to current perspectives on women’s participation in the political, social and cultural spheres.
The second day of the conference was organized as a roundtable entitled “Girlhood Studies: Agendas and Prospects”. Claudia Mitchell and I were keynote speakers for this event, invited by Olga Zdravomyslova, Executive Director of the Gorbachev Foundation (Moscow). The Roundtable speakers included eight Russian scholars and journal editors/publishers from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Samsara and Saratov. There were an eclectic variety of presentations examining and investigating areas of girlhood studies from the evolution of scholarly developments that saw the launch of the Girlhood Studies: an Interdisciplinary Journal to critically investigating the linkages between girl-friendly organizations through their use of online communities. There were presentations on the lack of girl-specific demographic research in Russia, and the representation of ‘the girl’ in Russian films focused on the girl/teacher social and cultural dynamic. Other presentations examined the traditional and modern dress for young girls in Russia; and finally, an overview of historical developments that have put girlhood studies on the table in Russia. As Olga Zdravomyslova commented in her pre-conference notes:
“A new generation of girls is fast entering into the social life in Russia. This is the generation of the Internet, social networks and global mass culture. They speak in a different voice, raise new issues and seek to get answers to them. It seems, they are really new generation – pushing, independent, self-reliant and they are more sensitive towards gender equality issue and feminist thinking. Indeed, they are amazingly diverse and we know very little about them. Despite the fact that gender studies in Russia emerged in the early 1990s and have already become a multidisciplinary research area, Girlhood studies have always been fragmented and dispersed in them – girls are still very rarely seen by Russian researchers as a separate age and gender group. It can be safely said that girlhood studies have not grown beyond the boundaries of traditional descriptive approaches whereby girlhood is viewed as a closed, undeveloped world, a “pre-life”. It’s as if girls are denied the right to reflect or act. However today, Russian society is increasingly concerned about the ways girls move into adulthood – and sometimes falls into moral panic, shows an over-sensitive or even aggressive reaction to girls’ unexpected advocacy or other offbeat patterns of behaviour.”
It was an honour to be invited to collaborate and participate in these historical events. It was only once the two-day activities began that we truly understood the significance of this dialogue among academics, researchers, journal publishers and practitioners from a variety of disciplines and sectors of society within the Russian context. As a relatively new field of study within Russia, girlhood research is rather sparse. However, the scholars and practitioners participating in the Roundtable were deeply dedicated and committed to discussing what steps are needed to push a girlhood agenda forward within their national and local contexts. Therefore, the significance of the roundtable was enriching and enlightening in terms of contributions to this field in general. One foundational and critical piece of knowledge that emerged out of these discussions during this valuable event was the need to further consider how to “grow a girlhood field of study if there is no advocacy for this field along the way”. Questions continued to focus on “what is girlhood in the 21st century? What does it look like? What do we need to know? and How do we need to know it?” specifically in the context of Russia.
The Roundtable ended with people feeling a sense of accomplishment. The general attitude seemed to be one of ‘looking forward’ towards critical discussions on how to create change in the near future. Change that sees girlhood studies as a staple interdisciplinary field of academic research on the campuses of Russian universities and research institutes, and written into the pages of academic peer-reviewed journals that examine the Russian social, political, economic and cultural spheres.
We left the Gorbachev Foundation that snowy evening in Moscow with a sense of excitement and ideas for collaborative opportunities, for working further with these exceptionally dedicated scholars and NGO representatives.
For further information about The Gorbachev Foundation in Moscow, please go to