This article by Sarah Ralph and Sarah Winkler-Reid was originally published by The Conversation UK on 25 October 2018
There’s no denying that growing up as a girl has always been tricky. On top of the demands of school, family and friends, there are also myriad expectations about how girls should and shouldn’t be.
Girls today are frequently depicted as depressed, prematurely sexualised and victims of social media. But our research has found them to be eloquent, critical and supportive, loving friends within their peer groups.
Of course, while growing up can be difficult for all girls, it can be harder for some than others. Research by development and humanitarian organisation Plan International shows there is a stark geographical divide in the experiences of girls growing up in the UK today. Girls living in inner-city areas of the north of England have to overcome the greatest barriers. This is based on the organisation’s mapping of key data indicators, which include life expectancy, reproductive health and educational outcomes.
A more recent report by the Children’s Commissioner also found social and economic inequalities associated with growing up in the north. The findings show the north-east has the best primary schools in the country, yet the region has the lowest adult employment rate.
But importantly, the report also highlighted the fierce pride that young people feel for where they live and being northern.
Speak for yourself
The project allowed girls to share their thoughts and feeling on what it’s like growing up in the world today. Delphi Ross, Author provided
Both of our previous research projects have found girls to be critical and reflective. They think about their lives, how they are represented, and how things could potentially be different. However, a pessimistic and ominous tone still pervades in media representations of teenage girls.
Concern over young women’s lives is a recurrent theme in the media, in public debate and among policymakers, but it is not very often that we hear from girls themselves. So with this in mind, and drawing on our previous research studies, we launched the Girl-Kind North East project.
The project, held annually, involves a series of workshops in schools which start with a simple question: what are the challenges and opportunities of growing up as a girl in the north-east of England? We then work with girls to help them decide what they want people to know, and how they want to represent it. The things they create and make are showcased at a celebration event to mark International Day of the Girl.
Being a girl
Girl-Kind was developed as a response to the current negative representation of girls in mainstream media and more generally the problem centred focus of projects working with girls that assume from the outset what “issues” girls face, without asking them first. As researchers based in the northern city of Newcastle, it made sense to focus on our region.
Conversations with the girls during the workshops also addressed their experiences of living in the north east and their consciousness of how the region is perceived by the rest of the UK. They spoke about the assumptions that are made and the stereotypes that persist in media representations, which contrast with the great pride they have for the north east and what it has to offer.
At the Girl-Kind event, all of the creative projects showcased were the girls’ own ideas – drawn from their own experiences. Girls in white t-shirts were braced against an audience invited to throw paint bombs at them. This symbolised the insults often flung at them, but also their ability to stand strong against them. A series of photographs of lone young women on deserted streets at night, portrayed a reclaiming of these “dangerous” spaces as their own.
The following poem – written by a participant – was read to the gathered audience:
I am clearly not an object please don’t treat me like one
I am a human and therefore I am no different to you
And I don’t need you to carry my books to a lesson because in your eyes girls are weak I am more than capable to do a certain task
I am a girl clothed with strength and dignity and laughs without fear for the future
I am girl
Excerpt from poem by Lucy age 12 from Redcar
Hidden around the venue, a host of brightly coloured envelopes and little glass bottles were found by visitors, addressed “to the stranger who finds this” the messages inside let them know: “you are loved”, “you are beautiful”, and to “be you, you’re amazing”.
These are just a small selection of ways in which these young women chose to represent their thoughts, feelings and experiences. They conveyed the mundane violence of being a girl, but also their ability to articulate these injustices and the language of strength and care with which they respond.
Fundamentally, Girl-Kind is not about trying to change girls or somehow solve their “problems”, it’s about encouraging them to value themselves for who they are and where they’re from. And supporting them by offering a dedicated platform to share with the public their idiosyncratic, brilliant selves.
We’ve been regularly reminded during the course of the project that each girl is distinctive, whether they are funny, savvy, thoughtful or sensitive. And in this way, our project makes it clear that just because people show up in statistics, this does not define who they are.
‘You are loved’: the message the girls wanted to send to the audience. Delphi Ross, Author provided
On Friday 4 May, Northumbria's Media and Film & Television subject groups hosted their second annual workshop for PhD students and Early Career Researchers. Organised by Dr Johnny Walker (with programming assistance from Dr Steve Jones and Erin Wiegand), and entitled Horror, Cult and Exploitation Media II, the workshop comprised ten papers from scholars at different stages of their research, in addition to a presentation on academic publishing from James Campbell of Intellect Books.
As the event's official web page (designed by Erin Wiegand) makes clear, issues under discussion were highly diverse (from interventions into media history and industry studies to cultural theory), speaking both to the field's variety and, perhaps most crucially, its present buoyancy within academia.
Find some photos from the event, below.
Until next year...
Some of the delegates and panel members at the end of a successful day! (L-R: Adam Herron, Valeria Villegas Lindvall, Jonathan Mack, Tom May, Erin Wiegand, Thomas Joseph Watson, Kevin Bickerdike, Steve Jones, Russ Hunter, Sarah Ralph, Joshua Schulze, Johnny Walker, Gary Jenkins, Jamie Sexton, Ami Nisa, Laura Sedgwick, Britt Rhuart, Tristan Thompson)
Last week I was at Kurja Polt Film Festival in Slovenia with my Northumbria colleague Russ Hunter and Alexia Kannas (RMIT, Melbourne). We presented at the second annual Cult Film conference there, we were interviewed for SLovenian National TV News and Radio, and I also hosted a Masterclass with director Fabrice du Welz. For photos and full videos of my talk and the Masterclass, click here.
Saturday 10th March the Young Women’s Film Academy are holding a Festival of Women’s Film in the North East to celebrate International Women’s Day!
The event is from 2 – 5pm in the Good Space on Floor 2 of Commercial Union House (opposite the Tyneside Cinema). It’s FREE! And there will be refreshments.
It’s been great watching these fantastic young women selecting and programming the films (see below). Many have been made by the young women involved in the Girl-Kind North East project, by familiar friends (Karen Ross!) and by the Young Women’s Film Academy themselves. All have amazing stories to tell about women and girls, MADE by women and girls.
Horror, Cult and Exploitation Media II:
A Research Workshop for PhDs and Early Career Researchers
Friday 4 May 2018, Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK
PhD students and Early Career Researchers working in the field(s) of “horror, cult and exploitation” screen media, are invited to submit abstracts about their research to deliver at a workshop at Northumbria University on Friday 4 May 2018. The workshop – which follows on from a highly successful event last year – will take the format of a mini-symposium, and consist of three sessions, each made up of four speakers. Speakers will each deliver a 5-10 minute talk about their research to their peers and to a panel of academic experts from Northumbria’s Film and Television Research Group, providing a short introduction to their current project and identifying several questions for discussion. After each presentation, there will be an opportunity for the academic panel and other workshop participants to feedback to each speaker, and to ask follow-up questions.
The workshop is intended to be a small scale networking opportunity for scholars with shared research interests, and to provide a relatively informal opportunity for those newer to academia to engage in dialogue with more established researchers.
The event will close with a short presentation by James Campbell from Intellect Books, who will give advice about academic publishing (including converting a PhD thesis into a monograph).
The academic panel will comprise:
Applicants are reminded that there are only twelve spaces available. Lunch and light refreshments will be provided throughout the day.
Please submit a 250 word summary of your project and a 50-100 word bio to the organiser, Dr Johnny Walker (email@example.com), by Friday 30 March 2018. Applicants will be notified of the outcome the following week.
By Sarah Ralph
On the 11th October 40 girls from Newcastle and the surrounding area came together to celebrate International Day of the Girl with an event they co-produced with Girl-Kind North East, a project which I co-organise with Sarah Winkler-Reid of Newcastle University. UN International Day of the Girl is a global day of recognition, activism and celebration held annually. With its aims in mind, the girls who participated in the Girl-Kind 2017 event held a march through Northumbria University campus to highlight girls’ rights, choreographed a dance, screened a short film they had made about catcalling, created a pop-up gallery of their artwork, and put up stalls to sell homemade merchandise with the money donated going to a local women and girls charity. There was also a considerable amount of glitter! Friends, family, colleagues and students assembled to see the girls’ creations and hear what they wanted to voice about growing up as a girl in the North East.
A landmark study (2016) by the children’s development organisation Plan International UK demonstrated a clear North-South divide in the experiences of girls in the UK, with girls living in local/unitary authorities in the North East of England being some of the worst regarding their rights based on life expectancy, child poverty, reproductive health and educational outcomes. Newcastle, Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland were all in the bottom 15% according to the five indicators measured. In addition to these broader factors, girls also face the added burden of gender stereotyping, harassment, and pressures regarding physical appearance that are more exclusively associated with ‘being a girl’.
The Girl-Kind North East school-based workshops and Day of the Girl event gave girls from the region a chance to address their struggles, celebrate their achievements, and let people know what they are thinking. The project grew out of research Sarah and I conduct on girls’ lives and growing up in Britain: Sarah’s exploring girls’ relationships and friendships in school, and my work looks at how girls use media in their relationships growing up.
Media coverage articulates a vast array of social anxieties and panic trends about girls: body obsession and unhappiness, disordered eating, sexualisation and consumerism, and ‘narcissistic’ use of social media. Much of this reporting is pessimistic and ominous in tone, girls are often represented as either helpless innocents or brainless consumers. This reflects – as I have discussed in my work on young women’s responses to stardom and celebrity - a long history of discourse in which media culture, and the ‘masses’ who consume it, are positioned as feminine and then pathologized.
My co-organiser Sarah’s research, undertaken in a London School, also challenges assumptions underlying these anxious debates. Rather than passive sponges, she encountered active, skilled and critical meaning-makers and witnessed the amazing achievement of young people’s sociality. Pupils tenaciously shape each other into acceptable persons, and this policing and punishment can be a source of great pain. These processes are intensely gendered, to be an acceptable girl involves walking many fine lines, not least in terms of sex. As a girl in our study put it “if you do too much you’re called a slag, but if you don’t do enough, you’re called a nun”.  But peers also provide each other with much love and support, and are often critical of the social processes in which they are engaged.
Although school is saturated by these peer dynamics, a dedicated space to explore these issues is rarely provided within the curriculum. Working together, and drawing from both our disciplines, Girl-Kind North East carved a space for girls to explore their selves, relationships and contemporary representations of girlhood. Rather than take a problem-centred approach, pre-defining what issues are most important or troubling, we started with a question: What do you think are the challenges and opportunities of being a girl in the North East? The girls’ answers were the starting point of this project, and their thoughts and ideas were turned into exciting and engaging creative interventions for the Day of the Girl Celebration.
The next phase of the project is for Sarah and I to work on two full reports of the workshops and Day of the Girl event: one for the girls involved, and one for teaching practitioners. These will be based on full details from evaluations of the project we gathered using questionnaires in a final reflective workshop. From preliminary exploration of these we can quantitatively track notable rises in confidence speaking to adults, confidence speaking to peers, and knowledge about the challenges and opportunities of being a girl in the North-East. However, it is the qualitative responses that have particularly resonated with us, and demonstrated the value and benefits of putting our combined research knowledge into practice. One participant - asked about what reasons she would give to another girl in recommendation of taking part - commended our efforts thus:
'It is great fun to do with your friends. You meet some amazing people and you get to make a difference to the ways girls in the North East are viewed. I met some lovely leaders, who I will miss! You are not judged at all and you feel completely safe to express your ideas. (You also get good pens and free food!)
[Portions of this blogpost have previously been published on the British Sociological Association website]
 L. Russell et al. 2016. Girl’s Rights in the UK, Plan UK London. Accessible online at
 Holmes, S., Ralph, S. and Redmond, S., 2015. Swivelling the spotlight: stardom, celebrity and ‘me’. Celebrity Studies, 6(1), pp.100-117.
Ralph, S., 2015. Using stars, not just ‘reading’ them: the roles and functions of film stars in mother–daughter relations. Celebrity Studies, 6(1), pp.23-38.
 Winkler Reid, S., 2014. ‘She’s not a slag because she only had sex once’: Sexual ethics in a London secondary school. Journal of Moral Education, 43(2), pp.183-197.
Winkler‐Reid, S., 2017. “Looking Good” and “Good Looking” in School: Beauty Ideals, Appearance, and Enskilled Vision among Girls in a London Secondary School. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 48(3), pp.284-300.
Northumbria University are advertising a number of fully funded PhD scholarships. I am advertising for a project entitled “New Approaches to Contemporary American Horror Film”.
For details about the project and how to apply, click here.
The studentship includes a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2017/18, this is £14,553 pa) and fees.
The deadline for applications is 28th January 2018, and the funding would begin on 1st October 2018.
If you know of anyone who would be interested in applying, please share the link:
Horror films have been subject to examination from a variety of angles in recent years, but much of the scholarship on contemporary American horror is based in one of three commonplace approaches: a) reflectionist national readings (such as post-9/11 readings of American horror); b) psychoanalytic models (drawing from Carol Clover and Barbara Creed’s work in particular); c) Deleuzian affect-based readings. Although each is useful in its own right, these well-established approaches are limited in their potential to yield new insights. In order to push the field forward, more needs to be done to understand contemporary horror texts using innovative conceptual approaches and theoretical tools.
The aim of this project is to investigate contemporary American horror film by drawing on the kinds of conceptual approaches and theoretical tools that have not traditionally been applied to horror film. These can be drawn from other disciplines (such as philosophy, gender studies, politics, psychology, the sciences), and can encompass discussion of studio horror or independent productions originating from America, so long as it has been created within the last decade (approximately).
The nature of this project is that it is open to a wide variety of approaches. Possible topics could include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
- Gender in contemporary American horror (moving beyond psychoanalytically infused models such as ‘the gaze’, ‘the final girl’, and so forth)
- Moral or ethical problems within contemporary American horror
- Narrative construction and playful representations of time within contemporary American horror
- Conceptions of social or legal justice within contemporary American horror
- Cycles within contemporary American horror (such as ‘the found footage film’)
- Psychology and contemporary American horror: depictions of selfhood, personality disorders, fractured identities (and so forth)
- Autonomy and entrapment within contemporary American horror
- Victimhood within contemporary American horror
- Contemporary American horror and sex
This PhD studentship is based within the Department of Social Sciences and builds upon the extensive research into horror cinema already undertaken at Northumbria University.
Eligibility and How to Apply
Please note eligibility requirement:
• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.
For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see
Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF18/…) will not be considered.
Deadline for applications: 28 January 2018
Start Date: 1 October 2018
Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality and is a member of the Euraxess network, which delivers information and support to professional researchers
The studentship includes a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2017/18, this is £14,553 pa) and fees
Recent publications by supervisors relevant to this project: