Saturday, September 5, 2009

When the curious girl realizes she is under glass

Studying girls gives us the opportunity- if done with an open mind- to not only understand girls, queer or otherwise, but to see what needs to be done to facilitate a healthier and more accepting culture for them to grow up in. At this time, as shown through the reading and just looking around us, our media-driven world and sexed-up, heteronormative popular culture provides little to no positive reinforcement for queer girls or any girls, really, that don’t naturally mimic what is “normal” in our culture. Betty Friedan, in her book The Feminine Mystique, touches on this and shows it to be a recurring problem- paraphrased, girls in mid-century America had no image to look up to besides the “happy” housewife, and therefore faced the identity crisis that came along with knowing there was more but not knowing how to reach it, and subsequently being stuck in a monotonous life with no room to grow outside of the home.
I feel queer girls have a similar crisis now- sure, there are lesbian figures in popular culture, but as the book suggests, “Media commodification centers on conventional images of beautiful white rich youthful slender feminine girls. … Those who don’t fit into such prefabricated models, including sexy fat femmes, poor dykes, queers of color, androgynous girl-boys, and butch and trans youth, are either othered as exotic or erased all together from view” (9). So, in a society driven by mass-media and popular culture, where does such a large percentage of our youth fit in? By and large, they have created a number of outlets for themselves, but if our culture was more inclusive and accepting, it would no doubt mean a more rich, creative culture where queer youth don’t have to feel stunted or outcast.

Louise, one of the people quoted throughout the chapters, shows a good example of how the youth are subverting these norms on their own, if only one conversation at a time. “Louise suggests that, by deploying the term queer to talk about herself, she is encouraging curiosity and questioning in relation to how others see her” (28). As stated, there is also a large number of communities available on the internet for youths that don’t quite fit into the heteronormative box created by the thousands of marketing and media images we all see daily, but should they be confined to anonymous corners of the internet? Girls’ issues are far more widespread than that, and I for one would like to see their responses in a more public manner. Although they are, in this case, a subject we are studying, their responses and their own creativity and communities prove they are more than just an object to be sexualized, created, and stunted by mass media. This is, of course, for all girls (and youth, really), but queer girls face a more focused, and yes, exacerbated, brunt of the problem.

“Theoretically and methodologically, girl sexuality is unhinged from static ideals, while, at the same time, modes of desire and identification that exceed heteronormative trajectories are never explicitly acknowledged” (36), Driver wrote, supporting this suggestion in relation to Walkerdine’s studies, but can be applied rather universally, I believe. “It is very hard to wedge even the slightest possibility of girls desiring other girls or girls identifying in non-feminine ways within Walkerdine’s reading” (36). As Walkerdine is addressing the issues girls face with sexuality, notably in Oedipal ways and in relation to media, one would think that not only heterosexual girls would be considered, and yet it seems to be this way across the board.

Girls’ studies to me should, in theory, eventually broaden society’s horizons in relation to what makes a girl a girl, what is “normal”- if there is indeed a “normal”- and for queer girls, remove the stigma that queer is “othered” and therefore in the wrong.


Michael said...

I like how you spoke about girls mimicking housewives as their only source of inspiration, if you will. I wonder what the standard for girls is today. We have so many types of women doing so much more than the days of a simple housewife. There are women in leadership roles outside the home, for example. From running a business to running the world, women have come a long way. So, you'd think that girls would have more things to aspire to.

It seems, though, that this class relies heavily on the media and pop culture as a reason for why girls act and think the way they do. However, I think we should be more open-minded than to just "blame" those reasons for why girls become who they are.

I guess I'm wondering why girls - in a world where women are representing themselves in many facets of life - aren't looking up to these women. Why is it that pop culture and the media play more of a role than women themselves in girls' lives?

mk morley said...

That's a really good question. My kneejerk (and only) response is that to a lot of girls, the women in pop culture are the most accessible ones that aren't their mothers (and mothers are rarely "cool" to teenagers, in my experience). Not only are these pop culture images accessible, they are sort of forced onto us "normal" people.

Women that are making a difference in their communities don't have the time and resources to do the marketing, really. I'm sure there's more to it, though.

Michael said...

See, the whole "forced" argument is interesting to me. I think we should give girls more credit than to assume they can't choose how they want to be. Is the media and pop culture influential? Sure. But, do I think it is so influential that it molds girls into who they become? No.

What about the concept of girls maturing faster than boys. With that being said, shouldn't girls have a better understanding of how/why outside influences affect them? Just throwing that out there.

Leila said...

To attempt an answer to Michael's excellent question regarding giving girls more credit and why women aren't a greater influence, it seems the unfortunate reality is that so many women fall prey to the same media messages that negatively impact girls, so girls hear women who complain about appearance, weight, and subscribe to narrow definitions of "womanhood" (and "girlhood"), reinforcing rather than challenging the issues that hurt girls. I don't think all women (or girls) feel this way or are negatively impacted by media to such an extent, but most of us respond to it in ways that we don't even realize young girls are picking up on. While I attempt to inject positive messages while hanging out with my ten-year-old niece, I also catch myself self-loathing in front of her. And that is something women need to be aware of. Our resistance to media messages will reinforce girls' belief that they are more than the sum of their parts or the number on the scale that measures those parts. Great discussion. (Sorry for my delay in jumping in on this one:)