159: Supporting Girls’ Relationships with Dr. Marnina Gonick

06.20.2022 - By Your Parenting Mojo - Respectful, research-based parenting ideas to help kids thrive

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I've been wanting to do this episode for a loooong time. We covered episodes a long time ago on https://yourparentingmojo.com/captivate-podcast/socialgroups/ (how children form social groups), and https://yourparentingmojo.com/captivate-podcast/socialexclusion/ (what happens when they exclude each other from play), but I wanted to do an episode exploring this issue related to slightly older girls, and from a cultural perspective. There are a lot of books and articles out there on the concept of mean girls and I wanted to understand more about that. Why are girls 'mean' to each other? Is it really a choice they're making...or is it a choice in response to a complex set of demands that we put on them about what it means to be female in our culture?

I had a really hard time finding anyone who was doing current research on the topic, and I mentioned this on a group coaching call in the Parenting Membership. A member, Caroline, said: “I know someone who can speak to this!”

Caroline had explored girls’ relationships in young adult literature for her master’s thesis, and knew Dr. Marnina Gonick’s work. Caroline introduced us, Dr. Gonick agreed to talk, and we all had a great conversation about girls’ role in our culture, how they are affected by it, and how they are agents of change as well. Dr. Gonick is Canada Research Chair in Gender and also holds a joint appointment in Education and Women’s Studies at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. She has written two books on the topic of girls’ relationships as well as a whole host of peer-reviewed articles.

Dr. Gonick also introduced me to an expert on boys’ relationships and we’re currently working to schedule an interview in a few weeks so there should be more to come on that soon!

Dr. Marnina Gonick’s Books:

https://amzn.to/3nVGOVG (Young Femininity: Girlhood, Power and Social Change 2004th Edition)

https://amzn.to/3yzUhao (Between Femininities: Ambivalence, Identity, and the Education of Girls (SUNY series, Second Thoughts: New Theoretical Formations)) (Affiliate links).

Jump to highlights:

(03:36) How changes in cultural norms influence our understanding of what it means to be a girl.

(05:27) The way in which a change in behavior can help us understand the experiences of girls in general.

(06:36) What does the school curriculum say about girls that causes them to be disadvantaged in schools.

(08:35) How damaging it is for girls to be victims in a patriarchal society.

(10:25) Why our social systems aren't necessarily organized around girls' well-being

(12:50) The concept of girl power can be seen as either working for or against females.

(14:46) The Social Barriers to Girl Power.

(16:44) Criticisms of the movie "Mean Girls" and how they relate to the topic of empowering women in general.

(18:34) The relational aggressiveness between boys and girls.

(21:45) Why school cultures play a significant influence in bullying.

(24:19) Finding acceptable ways for girls to show their relational aggression.

(26:17) Factors that influences a child to become racist and disrespectful.

(28:07) A growing number of institutions and businesses have taken an interest in the girl power movement.

(31:34) Girls' ways of discovering their sense of identity/sexuality.

(35:16) Different notions of sexiness in girls.

(39:28) How heterosexuality highlights femininity.

(41:24) Girls are going to be mean to each other human nature makes it inevitable.

(43:37) How important is it to understand our feelings and the feelings of our children.


Aapola, S., Gonick, M., and Harris, A. (2005). Young femininity: Girlhood, power, and social change. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan

Bethune, J., and Gonick, M. (2017). Schooling the mean girl: A critical discourse analysis of teacher resource materials. Gender and Education 29(3), 389-404.

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