Association for Queer Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Puberty videos, which introduce child audiences in late elementary school and early middle school to the normative physio-psycho-social changes accompanying passage into adolescence, are pedagogical tools for early sex education that have achieved widespread circulation in the U.S. Their now-ritualized viewership across multiple generations of developing children has contributed to the covert naturalization of a discourse about puberty. Puberty discourse has become so naturalized that scholars of language, gender/sexuality, and childhood have yet to turn critical attention to its broader sociocultural significance. Contra this absence, the current paper applies critical discourse analysis (or CDA, e.g., Cameron 2001) to Proctor and Gamble’s “Always Changing” puberty video1, an exemplar of the modern puberty epic, in order to begin interrogating the universalizing and heterocentric dimensions of puberty discourse. Critically attending to the structure and content of the video’s produced talk reveals a narrow figuration of puberty that destabilizes children’s self-knowledge and peer-organized social worlds, reifies adults as the primary gatekeepers of puberty epistemologies, and installs distance between children and their changing pysio-psycho-social realities through institutionalized and medicalized jargon. Rather than mitigating the potential crisis of being inherent in the growing child’s understanding of puberty, the “Always Changing” video manufactures an affect of crisis. Puberty discourse, which might be summarized as “girls get periods and boys get erections,” renders development a treacherous and unknowable space for children while foreclosing the possibility of non-normative gender and sexual developmental trajectories.