Thursday, September 3, 2009

I Want My MTV

What is Girls' Studies?
Like the wide range and swirl of emotions and hormones that fill the progression of each girl's girlhood I'm coming to find that the research of what it means to be a girl in today's society has that the same tangential, varied and, sometimes, confusing nature to it. Girls' Studies is a an effort, spurred by a realization of deficiencies in contemporary school environments in teaching and counseling girls in the early 1990s (Ward and Benjamin 16). A series of studies during the time found that girls were keeping silent about their truest feelings in many, if not all, of their closest relationships. As Ward and Benjamin write, "The 'central paradox' of girls' development - the giving up of relationships for the sake of 'Relationships' ... marked the mass movement of adolescent girls' authentic voices 'underground' into protected spaces (such as a private journal), a compromise state that over time made it harder for girls even to identify, much less express, their true feelings and opinions" (Ward and Benjamin 16). So who is the contemporary girl that we've lost touch with? Have we ever really known her? How can we help lift her silence? The process of answering and addressing those questions is what I would call girls' studies.

Why Girls' Studies?
We were all girls once. We were there. We were silenced once, trapped in our diaries and "Relationships." The study of girls is as much about understanding development of girls as it is about understanding the foundation of womanhood and feminist culture. Susan Driver suggests in "Queer Girls and Popular Culture" that perhaps this connection, this desire to connect the experience of mature womanhood to girlhood, has tinted previous studies of girls conducted by feminist women, thereby diluting the true shades of the contemporary girl's experience. In trying to quantify and objectify girls there is a "tendency to discount or devalue elusive detours, fictional mediations or interruptions to a coherent narrative of desire..." (Driver 39). The Girl Power movement of the 90s called on adults to reflect on their experience and treatment of girls in institutional environments. But where are the girls? While contemporary Girls' Studies has taken significant steps toward understand the the young female experience there is potential to listen more to the girls themselves outside of any agenda.

I Want My MTV
While the personal diary may be the contemporary girl's voice I think it's safe to say that fashion magazines, music videos and lyrics and T.V. series are the vision, at least part of it, of those same girls. The role of the media in all of society's development is one that cannot be denied in the development of girls as well. What do girls see when they open a magazine and how do they digest the images and words that they see? We all know the stories of young women starving themselves to achieve the Vogue model waistline. We all have that once song that will forever remind us of that one crazy time with our girlfriends when... I would argue that often the analysis of the role media plays in girls' (and women's) lives weighs too heavily on the side of media and the evils of Disney, etc.

But are we giving our girls enough credit? As Driver introduces to the reader in "Queer Girls" queer girls - and I would think most girls - are " experiencing the pleasures of popular media while retaining shrewd skeptical ambivalence, developing critical ideas in relation to media texts while nevertheless enjoying them" (11). While Driver's studies focus on queer girls, who must take a particularly shrewd eye on "heteronormalized" media, most girls I know can distinguish between the perfection media exemplifies and the real identity of girls around them. Still, developing in a world of media that illustrates what is "normal" makes identifying as an individual all the more difficult.

I think the objective for educators of young girls when it comes to media is to bridge experiences in media to the individual in an analytical way. How are they similar, different and why it is OK to diverge from the media "normalcy"? In the beginning of "Queer Girls" we see Driver's reference to this sort of negotiation, writing that queer girls are "linking images to a concrete event that happened in their lives, or referring back to an embodied occasion that resonates with a fiction character's story, girls negotiate meanings back and forth between texts and contexts through which they interpret culture" (Driver 49). Since we can't eradicate media, we need to focus on making this exchange a healthy one.


mhendrix said...

Hi Jen,

The media has such a detrimental effect on young girls today more than ever. You stated that “We all know the stories of young women starving themselves to achieve the Vogue model waistline” and this is sadly very true. It seems girls younger and younger are obsessing over their weight. I have seen girls as young as 5 not eat certain foods in fear of getting fat.

While a lot of this is on the media, so of the responsibility lies within the Mother. Children pick up on EVERYTHING and women are constantly talking about dieting and calling themselves derogatory names. I think as women we need to be more aware of what we say in front of girls.

I totally agree with your statement “since we can't eradicate media, we need to focus on making this exchange a healthy one” and there is no better time than the present!

Kristen said...

MTV makes me sick to my stomach these days.

Leila said...

It's crazy because I remember the first time MTV ever aired and it was so full of promise and potential. And for a long time it fulfilled that promise, changing the face of music (or at least putting a face on music) and promoting more than ridiculous beauty ideals. In fact, in the 80s, MTV seemed to challenge them by displaying alternative images--sometimes punk, sometimes mainstream, but not the extreme(ly unhealthy) version of beauty we see today. But now, sadly, MTV has devolved into dating shows and pointless reality television with narrow representations of girlhood/boyhood/womanhood/manhood/etc.