Reviews and Reports

Leigh Gilmore and Elizabeth Marshall, Witnessing Girlhood. Toward an Intersectional Tradition of Life Writing




Book review


This compact and elegantly composed volume brings together and analyses autobiographical narratives of girlhood in which adult women return to their own childhood and write about experiences of suffering, trauma, violence and abuse. These narratives range from slave narratives from the mid-nineteenth century, to comic books from the twenty-first century.  While most of them are situated in the US context, several memoirs from other parts of the world are included, most notably, the testimonio of a Latin American indigenous woman, Rigoberta Menchú, a memoir in comic form of a young girl growing up in post-revolution Iran (Persepolis), and a children’s picture book My Hiroshima about the author’s relationship to the horrors of the atomic bombing on Hiroshima by the US in 1945. Other texts included are survivor memoirs on sexual violence (Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen), on debilitating illness (Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy), and the comedian Hannah Gadsby’s stand-up performance about abuse and homophobia (Nanette). What these diverse narratives have in common is the desire to represent the child as witness without resorting to sentimental ideas about childhood innocence. The child is not only treated as a witness whose account needs to be taken seriously, but she also often emerges as an activist who calls on her audience to take an ethical stance against sexual violence, exploitation, or war.

Author Biography

Kathy Davis, VU University, Amsterdam

Kathy Davis is senior research fellow in the Sociology Department at the VU University in the Netherlands. Her research interests include: sociology of the body,  intersectionality, travelling theory and transnational practices;  biography as methodology and critical and creative strategies for academic writing.  She is the author of many books, including Reshaping the Female Body (Routledge, 1995), Dubious Equalities and Embodied Differences (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003),  and The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves: How Feminism Travels Across Borders (Duke, 2007) and Dancing Tango: Passionate Encounters in a Globalizing World (NYUPress, 2015). She is currently working on a book on intersectionality studies.





Reviews and Reports