Most Her Own, Yet Most Taken Away:

Sexuality and Desire in Phoebe Gloeckner's The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Comic Books and Graphic Novels: Feminist Approaches

Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association Annual Convention

Coeur D’Alene, October 2005

Christine Hoff Kraemer, Boston University


Phoebe Gloeckner's semi-autobiographical The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a boundary-crossing work in more ways than one. Its form is hybrid: it uses a combination of first-person prose; third-person comic strip sequences; illustrations attributed to the narrator, fifteen-year-old Minnie; and illustrations that appear to reflect the perspective of the adult Gloeckner. Further, the story contained in this unusual form is one that is still very much taboo in early twenty-first century American society. Diary is a tale of the sexual and artistic maturation of a teenage girl, one that touches not just on the tabooed subject of adolescent girls' sexual desire, but also on sexual abuse, homosexuality, drug use, and incest. To use the words of Catharine MacKinnon, in Diary, Minnie's sexuality is that which is most her own, yet most taken away. Although often exploited and abused in her search for love, affection, and her own identity, Minnie's journey through the counterculture of 1970s San Francisco provides the foundation of and material for an increasingly mature artistic voice.


In this paper, I will argue that Minnie's story reveals the inadequacy of cultural scripts surrounding sexuality, particularly the sexuality of adolescent girls. Using the sexuality research of Deborah Tolman, I will suggest that the silence surrounding adolescent female sexual desire helps to reinforce the virgin/whore dichotomy that has plagued women throughout most of the history of Western culture.