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Magical Girls: Contemporary Girlhood in Children’s Fantasy



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Cheung, Chun Sing 


This dissertation looks at the construction of contemporary girlhood through a material feminist reading of selected children’s fantasy texts about magical girls. My central argument is that these texts deploy tropes of magical power and transformation to prompt considerations of girlhood as constructed by the entanglement of the discursive, the girl’s body, and the natural world. Engaging with critical theorists such as Stacy Alaimo, Elizabeth Grosz, Karen Barad, and Donna Haraway, this study offers close readings of prose and visual media – novels, anime shows, graphic novels, and a picturebook – produced in America and Japan.

Chapter 1 reads Kelly Barnhill’s novel The Girl Who Drank the Moon and the anime television series Madoka Magi Puella Magica, examining the construction of girlhood through embodied experience and discourses about age and gender. Chapter 2 turns to non-normative girls’ bodies by considering questions of queerness and disability in the graphic novel Mooncakes and the debates about transgender girlhood in the anime television series Gonna Be the Twin-Tail!! and April Daniels’s YA novel Dreadnought. Chapter 3 argues for an understanding of girlhood in relation to the nonhuman animal and the environment through the lenses of posthumanism and ecofeminism. Through analyzing two anime films and three visual texts about young witches, this chapter explores how children’s fantasy illuminates the question of the animal, oppression of nature and female labour in neoliberal society, and a posthumanist vision of natureculture.

The conclusion points out the implications of endowing girls with magic in children’s fiction: these stories make visible how the girl’s body is not only entangled with discourses about being young, female, queer, disabled, transgender, and human, but it also serves as a site of resistance where dominant assumptions about being a girl and a human could be destabilized or, at the very least, questioned. My study thus argues for a move from the common discursive approach to girlhood towards a material-discursive understanding of what it means to be a girl in the twenty-first century.





Sanders, Joseph


Children's Literature, Girlhood Studies, Material Feminisms, Posthumanism, Queer Studies


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge