American Sweethearts

American Sweethearts

Teenage Girls in Twentieth-Century Popular Culture
Ilana Nash
Distribution: World
Publication date: 11/29/2005
Format: Paperback 7 b&w photos
ISBN: 978-0-253-21802-5
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Teenage girls seem to have been discovered by American pop culture in the 1930s. From that time until the present day, they have appeared in books and films, comics and television, as the embodied fantasies and nightmares of youth, women, and sexual maturation.

Looking at such figures as Nancy Drew, Judy Graves, Corliss Archer, Gidget, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Britney Spears, American Sweethearts shows how popular culture has shaped our view of the adolescent girl as an individual who is simultaneously sexualized and infantilized. While young women have received some positive lessons from these cultural icons, the overwhelming message conveyed by the characters and stories they inhabit stresses the dominance of the father and the teenage girl’s otherness, subordination, and ineptitude.

As sweet as a cherry lollipop and as tangy as a Sweetart, this book is an entertaining yet thoughtful exploration of the image of the American girl.

Author Bio

Ilana Nash is Assistant Professor of English at Western Michigan University. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.


“American Sweethearts provides a good introduction to the history of adolescence and an in—depth history of popular constructions of white adolescent femininity in a range of popular narratives. Nash’s study of teen girls in popular twentieth—century American narrative cycles fills in gaps in research on youth and gender and will be of interest to scholars in a variety of fields. —”
 — Childhood September 2007

“With this book Nash (Western Michigan U) adds to growing body of work in 'girls' studies,' a literature that includes Mary Bray Pipher's Reviving Ophelia (1994), Zöe Fairbairns's Daddy's Girls (1992), and Delinquents and Debutantes, ed. by Sherrie Inness (1998). At the heart of Nash's study is the argument that patriarchal society views female teenagers as 'empty' and that young girls are constrained by this stereotype. Although the theoretical underpinnings of Nash's work are somewhat garbled—her introduction brings together Edward Said's concept of Orientalism, Louis Althusser's idea of the superstructure, and a sprinkling of genre theory in a not especially helpful way—her readings of midcentury US culture and its consumers are quite good. The book claims to examine the construction of a mythology of girlhood, but it never really makes good on that claim and might have benefited from a more sustained conceptualization of cultural production and consumption. The book is strongest when it is grounded in solid thinking about the cultural texts and their historical contexts—for example, in readings of the 'Nancy Drew' series, Shirley Temple films, and the television program Gidget. Overall, this book makes a valuable contribution to this emergent field. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper—division undergraduates through faculty.—J. M. Utell, Widener University December 2006 ”
 — Choice

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Table of Contents

1. Radical Notions: Nancy Drew and Her Readers, 1930<N>1949
2. "Pretty Baby": Nancy Drew Goes to Hollywood
3. "Delightfully Dangerous" Girls in the 1940s
4. The Postwar Fall and Rise of Teen Girls