Wednesday, 3 April 2013

For Books' Sake reviews Carol Dyhouse's 'Girl Trouble: Panic and Progress in the History of Young Women'

by Jane Bradley

Available from Zed Books
Girl Trouble: Panic and Progress in the History of Young Women is the latest book by social historian Carol Dyhouse.
Starting with the spectre of white slavery that caused mass-media hysteria at the start of the twentieth century, through the ‘revolting daughters and rebel girls’ of the suffrage movement and the flappers, beat girls and dolly birds of the subsequent decades to more recent events, it charts the fascination and fear that has accompanied young women’s progress towards equality.
Dyhouse’s subject knowledge is obvious from the outset; she is the author of numerous other titles analysing history, education and gender in England from the nineteenth century to today.
But Girl Trouble never comes across as inaccessible or overly academic, and Dyhouse’s enthusiasm and extensive research are just as tangible as her expertise, making the book a vivid, engaging and insightful exploration of the cultural and historical shifts responsible for the changing places, positions and perspectives of young women and those around them in popular society.
From moral panic about girls’ virginity to educational reforms giving them unprecedented access to established institutions like Cambridge and Oxford, to the impact of music, cinema, the media, and much more, Girl Trouble gives a balanced, compelling and comprehensive overview of girls’ turbulent journey through the twentieth century.
In places the pacing is inconsistent, and (as other reviews have observed) in the chapters examining more recent decades, the tone feels more ambiguous and undecided, but overall Girl Trouble is an accessible, important and rewarding read – one I’m sure I’ll be returning to for reference, and which left me with a long reading list and pages upon pages of scribbled names and notes to research further.
Released last month by radical international publishers Zed Books, Girl Trouble: Panic and Progress in the History of Young Women is available in paperback from Amazon, Foyles, or your local independent bookseller, or there’s also a Kindle edition.

Rating: 4/5
Recommended for: Feminists, armchair and amateur historians, and anyone who’s ever been enchanted or intrigued by iconic female images from the flapper to the beat girl via the sexed-up naughty schoolgirl.
Other recommended reading: Carol Dyhouse’s previous book Glamour: Women, History, Feminism is “an important contribution to the social history of fashion and of fabulousness,” while the Girl Trouble bibliography could fill a fair few bookshelves, with highlights including Rebel Girls by Jill Liddington, Future Girl: Young Women in the Twenty-first Century by Anita Harris and Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards.

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