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: