TALKS@MFM: Catherine Driscoll (2015)

Glass and Game: The Speculative Girl Hero“, a Research in Progress Seminar with Catherine Driscoll, Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. Chaired by Professor Ben Highmore at the School of Media, Film and Music, University of Sussex, September 30, 2015.


This paper considers the emergence of a relatively new popular figure: the girl action hero. While the girl hero has earlier and even ancient antecedents, since the 1990s an action-oriented girl hero has become especially significant in fiction oriented towards a range of audiences, from children’s stories to blockbuster cinema. In considering the emergence and broad appeal of this figure, this paper refers to a set of very successful literary series that appeared from 1995 to 2010, and were broadly positioned as addressing young adults: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (1995-2000), J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter (1997-2007), Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (2005-2008), and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (2008-2010).

Having outlined some key continuities and discontinuities in the appearance and reception of this literary girl action hero, this paper will position her in two broader contexts. First, it will locate this speculative girl hero in a significant historical and cultural context, focusing on what she takes from the changing meanings of girlhood around her, from 1995 to 2010, including from heated feminist debates over “girl power” and “postfeminism”. And second, having noticed that all these successful ‘young adult’ literary series have been adapted to big budget action-adventure films, it will take The Hunger Games films as a focus to consider the girling of the film action hero and the speculative difference that girls continue to introduce into popular narratives about violent events and heroic action.


Catherine Driscoll is Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. Her books include Girls: Feminine Adolescence in Popular Culture and Cultural Theory (Columbia UP 2002), Modernist Cultural Studies (UP Florida 2010), Teen Film: A Critical Introduction (Berg 2011), and The Australian Country Girl: History, Image, Experience (Ashgate 2014). She is co-editor, with Meaghan Morris, of Gender, Media and Modernity in the Asia-Pacific (Routledge 2014) and, with Megan Watkins and Greg Noble, of Cultural Pedagogies and Human Conduct (Routledge 2015). She has also published many essays on girls studies, popular media and genre, rural cultural studies, modernism, modernity, and cultural theory. Her current research interests include the culture of Australian country towns, adolescence and classification systems, gender and videogames, the intellectual history of cultural studies, and ongoing work on girls and popular media.


Video production by Catalina Balan