Bad girls: A history of unladylike behaviour

From The Independent:

BadDomestic and demure. Neat and sweet. Sugar and spice and all things nice… but what happens when girls go bad? It's a subject that has long fascinated, and titillated, the press, public, and politicians, from whispers over 'fallen women' in the past to drunken 'sluts' slumped in the gutter in 2013. Now a new book, Girl Trouble, by the cultural historian Carol Dyhouse, explores the history of our moral panics over rebel girls, from the late-19th century onwards. Dyhouse found herself “more and more interested in rebel girls, bad girls, the ones who went off the rails. They're not exactly feminist, but they're representing a discontent with what's in front of them. It allows you an insight into the constraints young women have operated under.” And what constraints… from an inability to vote, own property, prevent pregnancy, get a degree, an abortion, or a job, to more ephemeral, societal expectations of decorous behaviour, obedience to men, feminine beauty, and sexual restraint. No wonder nearly every generation had its own modern lasses who stuck their fingers up at societal norms and got stuck into enjoying themselves instead.

…Jump forward to the 1990s for a more recent incidence of moral panic. Once again, it's when girls take on masculine traits that the Establishment gets worried, and in the late Nineties and early Noughties, young women were perceived to be doing just that, matching blokes when it came to drinking lager and behaving raucously. The ladette was born, and she wasn't pretty. During the Seventies and Eighties, much was obviously achieved in the way of equal rights for women and the breaking of gender stereotypes. The Nineties saw the rise of a more pop-y feminism, too, with the gobby, garish 'Girl Power', as espoused by the Spice Girls. Easy to mock today, it did at least promote easy-to-swallow enfranchised concepts, like sticking by your female friends and girls ruling the world. But when young ladies started to behave like lads in the 1990s, many commentators felt this was a flip-side of equality, feminism gone too far. “Girls drinking too much, taking drugs, taking their clothes off, exhibiting loud-mouthed and vulgar behaviour, and creating mayhem in the streets began to dominate newspaper headlines in the 1990s,” writes Dyhouse. Common tropes assigned to these tabloid-filling folk-devils were a slatternly approach to housework and hygiene, the ability to down pints, a resistance to settling down and starting a family, and even a willingness to scrap in the streets on a Saturday night. Celebrity ladettes, such as Sara Cox, Zoe Ball, Charlotte Church and Denise van Outen, were subject to fascinated press scrutiny.

…But she is optimistic that today's young women will soar beyond pornification; for if history has taught us one thing, it's that girls, their bodies and their femininity (or indeed masculinity), is a source of endless, and often over-hyped, concern. Wearing a padded bra, Dyhouse suggests jovially, is not “going to turn someone into a sexual object or rot their brains”.

More here.