Tuesday, June 22, 2010

'Your Hair is Probably Ugly' and Other Lessons Learned from 'Seventeen'

Thanks, Jen Keavy, for alerting me to this. I feel like public radio is the soundtrack to most of my days so I'm surprised I missed it, but this is a fun critical piece from "All Things Considered" on what happened when a female teenaged blogger (with no blog entries that I could find other than her Seventeen project, but that's OK -- I certainly can't be one to criticize, given that I've let a full year lapse between my own blog entries) decided to literally take all the advice Seventeen magazine could dole out for her for 30 days:

However, I strongly urge you to check out Jamie Keiles' take on her own research in blog form right here: http://www.theseventeenmagazineproject.com/
(The photo on the left is courtesy of Jamie Keiles and stolen brazenly from her website.)

Her actual project is kind of a work of genius (hey, she's going to the U. of Chicago in the fall, which also says a little something about her intellect) -- much more than the NPR segment could convey. You can tell she's from the Jezebel generation in both her writing and visual style, and even though that isn't always a good thing in my book, I admit to getting pretty sucked into Keiles' project. Even in a completely non-academic egghead kind of way.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Orenstein asks: 'Do Gyrating Girls Becoming Sexting Young Women?'

(Photo by Rania Matar, NY Times)

Actually, her New York Times Sunday Magazine online blurb editor asks that question, if you want to get picky, but I wanted to call some attention to Peggy Orenstein's piece titled "Girls Play Sexy" in the most recent magazine because while I am generally a very, very big fan of Orenstein's research and writing, this particular piece bugged me for some reason, and I'm still trying to put my finger on it. (Maybe it's just the blurb. I hate these cause-effect simplifications.)

First of all, while she's right to point out the issue of inevitable moral panic that follows every instance of a young women or girl acting in a sexy way (that youtube video of little girls dancing to "Single Ladies" is her main example, but she also includes the Miley-Cyrus-public-lap-dance example, and I'm afraid that Miley is now more like a young woman, and a very wealthy, seemingly together one at that), I think we do still have reason to be troubled by this trend. It's counterproductive to just shrug off the moral outrage because that doesn't really get to the problem at hand, in my opinion, it lets the media off the hook. (In full disclosure, I'm working on a book about news media-generated gendered moral panics about adolescent girls in "public recreational space" over the past 100 years, so I do know where she's coming from with this.)

So I guess it is the causal suggestion that is bugging me more. I personally find it hard to believe that anyone could make any real causal connection between a little girl dressing up in a halter top and gyrating Beyonce-style and a tween sending a naked photo of herself to her boyfriend, and I'm bothered this question is even raised, but the psychology professor interviewed is not saying that. He says (in a paraphrased quote) that this display and promotion of SEXINESS has nothing to do with healthy sexuality. Right on. I can't imagine anybody would argue that it would. But where are they getting the ideas in the first place? From the mass media's prevalent representations of girls and young women -- from the dolls she talks about earlier to everything else -- that fits very specifically into a patriarchal understanding of what it means to be feminine, and even more specifically, a feminine sexual being. This means that girls and women are objects of desire, to be watched and admired and possessed, and it's nothing new, but in this era where you can post and share anything from YouTube via Twitter, Facebook, or yes, even antiquated ol' email with as many people as you like, these patriarchal understandings are easily shared on a massive level, instantaneously.

Now, I'd bet that everyone sending the link of the girls dancing to Orenstein was sending it because they assumed she would be an appalled feminist scholar (that's usually the case when my friends send me anything related to girls and the Internet), and I think they were mostly right, though I like that she treats the issue with thoughtfulness and relates that it's more complicated than we might think. However, you cannot guarantee that's going to be the audience's reading of the video (classic encoding and decoding here -- thanks, Stuart Hall). Just as the mantra, "Well, girls ARE mean" seems to have become a totally acceptable statement in our culture, I worry that "Well, girls ARE sexy" or "Girls want to be sexy" will become a totally acceptable statement as well before long. OK, maybe not acceptable, but accepted. Post-structuralist theorist Louis Althusser would characterize this as a classic example of interpellation. The girls have seen plenty of examples of sexiness being enacted throughout their experiences with media and their lived daily (primarily mediated) experiences with peers, society accepts that this happens, the mass and interactive media provide a never-ending feedback loop, and poof. Through interpellation, it's so. Before long, sexuality and sexiness are in fact, mistakenly conflated, as the article suggests they might be.

Furthermore, why do we have to lump all things related to femininity and the Internet together somehow, as if they are actually related? I'd be more inclined to argue against technopanic than gendered moral panic in that case. You see this tendency repeatedly in mass media reporting. Even if the story is about a young girl who met a sexual predator while using MySpace, the lede often will extrapolate, bringing in "social networking," or "the Internet" -- because it's all the same big evil thing. Of course, we should be talking about teenage girls and sexting with mobile devices in the same breath that we use to discuss how a young girl's parent or dance instructor uploaded a video of them dancing in a non-little-girl-ish way to YouTube that was subsequently spread all over the Internet.

Indeed, space constraints never allow reporters or columnists to tell the most complete, most complicated stories (at least as complete and complicated as we long-winded academics wnat to see), and I suppose that is why blogs like this one exist.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Twitter and Girls Studies Scholars

After several years of being what I think could safely be called a freakishly prolific Facebook user, I decided to just quit cold turkey and deactivated my account in April. I admit that I was appalled at all the time I was spending online reading about other people's lives and all the energy I was putting in to writing clever status updates, but I was also more than a little freaked out after hearing a lecture from an FBI agent who specialized in "forensics in digital worlds." Even with your privacy settings jacked, your photos and information on Facebook are still pretty far from private, according to her. In any case, I've been joking that I have been using Twitter as kind of a methadone to Facebook -- a nice step-down, if you will. I'm on it far less and reading tweets takes a lot less energy.

I tend to follow a lot of journalists -- primarily those working in interactive media -- and scholars who study interactive media. I know most of them personally. Online journalism is both a former professional career for me and a research and teaching interest for me. Probably 80 percent of the tweets that I read in a given day have to do with what is happening in the online media industry as it's seen by these scholars and professionals. It's fun, and I feel fairly informed about the issues and scholarship in this arena as a result, but I do feel like we're all just talking at each other to a certain extent and repeating one another to a large extent (though often adding our own snarky commentary to the repeating).

In reading through so many of these tweets, I got to thinking: I wonder if there is a different "feel" within the Twittersphere when you're following scholars and professionals working with girls and media. It's generally a group of feminists, who are interested in equality and frank discussion, and I imagine that all of our Twitter contributions would make my own experience using Twitter a fairly different one.

So, I realized, why not start following a few girls' studies scholars on Twitter?

I searched for all the usual suspects' names -- there are dozens of professors who I thought of off the top of my head -- and I came up with nothing. Nothing! So disappointing!

First, please let me know who I'm missing. Are you on Twitter, updating the world on the latest in girls and media in 140 characters or less? Drop a line, OK? (Or follow me: @chezla).

Second, I have decided that I really need to be more committed to advancing our scholarship to whomever will read it -- on Twitter, in blogs, in journals, and hopefully, in an upcoming book.

I guess that's it. It might translate into more traditional blog posts, or it might not. Blogging is so 2004, isn't it? (At least I think that is what the new media journalists and scholars I follow on Twitter would tell you.) Stay tuned.