Sunday, May 11, 2008

Why start a blog about girls and media?

It seems that every time I open a newspaper, I read a story about adolescent girls. The New York Times seems to have an entire beat devoted to the goings on of (mostly Caucasian, mostly middle to upper class) girls and how they are using (or being used by?) media. Lest you think I exaggerate, here are only a few of the more notable ones, including a cover piece on today's Sunday Magazine:

Hurt Girls: The Uneven Playing Field by Michael Sokolove

The Growing Wave of Teenage Self Injury
by Jane Brody (the examples are primarily girls despite the headline)

Revealing Photo Threatens a Major Franchise
by Brooks Barnes

Eight Teenagers Charged in Internet Beating Have Their Day in Court by Damien Cave (the story -- from the lead on -- does not even mention the two boys who were in court and also charged)

A Girl's Life, With Highlights by Camille Sweeney

And those are just from the past month. And I'm sure I've missed a few.

Here are a couple of older takes on girls by the Old Grey Lady:

Girls Just Want to Be Mean by Margaret Talbot

Friends, Friends With Benefits and the Benefits of the Local Mall by Benoit Denizet-Lewis

Looking at the Times' coverage of adolescent girls, we should indeed be worried. Here, we have a troubled lot of bullying, sex-crazed, obsessive (even in sports), mean girls who sometimes cut themselves.

My own research on the topic of girls and how the media represents their use of new media (from Facebook to AIM) has demonstrated a similar result that borders on moral panic. Other scholars have demonstrated the same.

It occurs to me, however, that even though there is so much incredible scholarship -- based on actual in-depth research and not just quotes from "official" sources (as a journalism professor and former journalist, I feel comfortable saying that much of the news that we read about girls is based on testimony from "experts" and quotes that are often fairly easy to get) -- that people have never heard anything about. In many ways, this is our fault as researchers. Our jobs at universities require us to publish in scholarly journals that generally are not read by non-academics and frankly, cost quite a bit. We don't get a lot of credit in our schools for distributing our research to parents, journalists, and generally concerned citizens who might really benefit from it or at least enjoy a different perspective.

That's why I'm starting this blog. I hope to focus on all the fantastic girls studies research (yes, it's a scholarly field!) that is out there and try to bring you some of the main points. Granted, I'm doing this while still trying to publish some of my own research in scholarly journals and teach classes, so please forgive me if I'm not the most prolific blogger. By starting it after my classes were finished for the schoolyear, I'm optimistically hoping I will have time to post relatively often up front.

I look forward to sharing with you and hearing from you.

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