Tuesday, August 26, 2008

'90210': A Study of How the Female Body Changes Over Time

My new column was just posted on FlowTV, and I thought I'd give a little recap because it's about a topic that is near and dear to many grown-up girls who like media and thought that Jason Priestly was a total fox back in 1990. A new "90210" is in town, and it hit me like a ton of bricks how the girl's and women's bodies on this show literally demonstrate Susan Bordo's point that culture imprints the body over time. Indeed, Bordo can be a little theoretically heavy, but if these two photographs do not make the point crystal clear (and please ignore the outdated 90s fashion and just concentrate on what's under these women's clothes for a minute). Notice that the original characters have hips and thighs (poor Andrea Zuckerman must be standing on blocks, but I think that's the only photo enhancement going on here), for example.

More subtle but just as startling is the age adjustment that has always gone on. As I wrote in the column, we thought the original cast looked WAY too old to be in high school -- maybe in the realm of 23 or 24, which actually was true in a couple of their cases. The new cast looks similarly old. You can read the column to see my theories on this, but the fact that even the adults now seem to be averaging out at age 28 in looks is an important difference to note. Anyway, you can read the column on Flow and tell me what you think. I find it tremendously disturbing on so many levels.

And despite all of this critiquing, of course, I'll tune in to the new one in September. I've been addicted to "Gossip Girl" from the first show and own every season of "The OC" on DVD. As a scholar, it's fascinating stuff. As a guilty-pleasure-TV-lover, it would be impossible to ignore it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cool New Site Alert: Girls Make Media

I'm on vacation with a slow connection and borrowed computer, so I'll just post this quickly and urge you to check it out yourself:

Girls Make Media, a site devoted to honoring and mobilizing girls' media-making:

This was put together by girls studies scholar and all-around cool woman
Mary Celeste Kearney, who is a professor at the University of Texas. (I discussed
her book in a previous blog post
, though you'll have to wade through some first-person stuff
about my own media-making first.)

Fantastic idea, Mary!

Monday, August 4, 2008

New Moon Girls

I just read an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about the New Moon magazine seeking investors so that it can move its operation entirely online, and I'm embarrassed to say that I've never heard of New Moon even though it has 20,000 subscribers and is all about producing media for young girls that doesn't make them feel like they should be ultra-thin, sexy consumers.  Much of the content is reader-produced and they don't accept any advertising, and from what I saw on their Web site, it looks like a fantastic idea.  Check out this sample copy. I love that they have an article on Suffrage as well as a piece that debunks the myth about chewing gum being stuck in your stomach for a seven-year digestive process if you swallow it. It sounds like the proposed online version will include even more user-generated content, and there will be a teen and tween-geared component

Are there any subscribers out there? I'd like to hear more about this. I'd also be interested in whether people are going to be up for paying for their subscriptions online (the Strib article says something about a $19.95 annual fee for the Orb28 and New Moon Club content for the older girls). I suspect there's a good research study in here -- just what I've been looking for!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Just Girls by Margaret Finders: Way Ahead of the Curve in Girls Studies

Hello. I'm back, and I'll try to make up for lost time.  First, as promised, a return to showcasing some great research about girls: I want to call your attention to Margaret Finders' 1996 book, Just Girls: Hidden Literacies and Life in Junior High. [I first learned about the book years ago from Cynthia Lewis, a member of my graduate committee who was based in the College of Education at Iowa (and now, fortunately for me, she's at the University of Minnesota), and who has done some excellent girls studies research in her own right.]

The book is an ethnographic look at a group of girls in a junior high and how books play a central role in their social lives as well as their construction of identity. Finders echoes some of the earlier scholarship about girls that discusses how many get caught up in a pattern of perfection and being nice. Although this particular stereotype has been completely overshadowed by the new stereotype of the mean girl, I think it is still so relevant -- maybe even moreso now that popular culture and media no longer represents girls as "troubled" (i.e. Reviving Ophelia), and now that they are reportedly outshining boys in the classroom (you can see an earlier blog about my feelings about this so-called "boys crisis").  Finders really captures the entire junior high/middle school scene so well with her conversations with and observations of girls, and that makes the book truly a pleasure to read. 

Also, one of her main observations is that girls are often dismissed for their reading choices, and that so much of their reading is not the traditional, school-oriented reading but rather, "hidden" literacies, such as note-writing, graffiti, zine reading. She sees this type of reading as very important with regard to gender and identity negotiation even though it is unsanctioned and viewed as unimportant by most adults and school authorities. This argument reminds me of the article that ran in last Sunday's New York Times about whether digital literacy -- chatting with friends, reading and writing fan fiction, and generally, just reading online -- is as important as traditional reading of traditional materials and questions whether traditional reading will be displaced.  While I personally value traditional reading -- books and newspapers being at the top of my list, obviously -- I agree that it's a mistake to dismiss alternative literacies and their importance within adolescent social culture. Frankly, if we want these traditional reading cultures to survive at all, we should be paying much closer attention to how these new forms of literacy can enhance and work with them. (Do you hear me, old-school newspaper executives?!)

In any case, it's more than a decade old now, but I highly recommend Just Girls because its arguments are still poignant and examples are still relevant.