European Journal of Women's Studies 20 (2):138-154 (2013)

Early onset puberty is increasingly prevalent among girls globally according to many scientists and clinicians. In the medical and scientific literature early sexual development is described as a problem for girls and as a frightening prospect for parents. News media and popular environmentalist accounts amplify these figurations, raising powerful concerns about the sexual predation of early developing girls by men and boys and the loss of childhood innocence. In this article the author frames one feminist approach to early puberty, arguing that feminist theorists should both take scientific work around population changes in sexual development seriously and use their critical skills to unpick and challenge the discourses constituting early development as a matter of concern. The author suggests that contemporary academic and policy debates on the ‘sexualization’ of girls have important resonance for critical explorations of early puberty. These debates currently pay little attention to the physiological aspects of sexual development and could be enriched by so doing. As in the case of ‘sexualization’, issues of class, racialization and agency are central to understanding and challenging normative concerns about girls’ early sexual development.
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DOI 10.1177/1350506812456458
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