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‘What a Difference it was to be a Woman and not a Teenager’: Adolescent Girls’ Conceptions of Adulthood in 1960s and 1970s Britain

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Laura Tisdall



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


British working-class adolescent girls wrote about their imagined futures in thousands of essays throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Producing narratives that were intended for the eyes of teachers and researchers, these writers’ attempts to reflect accepted narratives about growing up offer us a window into how wider societal ideas about adulthood were reinvented in post-war Britain. For these teenage girls, markers of adulthood remained traditional: marriage and motherhood were framed as the only route to becoming an adult woman. However, the category of adulthood itself was now conceptualised as the culmination of a series of discontinuous psychological stages of development, meaning that girls who did not achieve these goals could now be pathologised as psychologically and even biologically immature. This was especially problematic for young lesbians, who recognised that their sexual orientation both prevented them from straightforwardly conforming to heteronormative ideas of marriage and motherhood, and was also identified as a ‘phase’ that was linked solely to adolescence. Nevertheless, these new ideas of adulthood shaped the choices of all adolescent girls, as they strove to prove that they were mature enough to no longer be defined as innately irresponsible teenagers.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Tisdall LA

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Gender and History

Year: 2022

Volume: 34

Issue: 2

Pages: 495-513

Print publication date: 01/07/2022

Online publication date: 22/06/2021

Acceptance date: 20/05/2021

Date deposited: 21/05/2021

ISSN (print): 0953-5233

ISSN (electronic): 1468-0424

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd


DOI: 10.1111/1468-0424.12547


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Funder referenceFunder name
Leverhulme Trust grant number ECF-2017-369