Sunday, September 6, 2009

Women's Studies, Girls Studies, and the Contradiction of "Being Sexy"

Before the readings, I wasn’t very clear about what Girls Studies were. I thought we would be studying girls (teens and younger), their views on various things (like peer pressure, boys, girls, media, parents, school, etc) and how society/culture influences them. After the introductory readings, I think there is even more to Girls Studies than I had thought. For example, I hadn’t considered learning about girls who have less-than-traditional sexual desires.

Before learning about this class, I didn’t realize there was an area known as “Girls Studies”. Why are there Girls Studies? In the book, "All about the girl: culture, power, and identity" by Anita Harris, Chapter 2 explains the origins of Girls Studies. The Chapter, “Women, Girls, and the Unfinished Work of Connection”, is by Janie Victoria Ward and Beth Cooper Benjamin. In it, the two explain that a shift occurred in the early 1990s, in regards to how girls were to be studied. They cite literature that determined that girls going into adolescence faced a “psychosocial ‘crisis’” (15). “These books and studies generated widespread public concern and led to a variety of reform and intervention efforts designed to address girls’ developmental challenges” (15).

What led to Girls Studies was actually research on women. As findings about women’s psychology and social issues were unveiled, more and more women began to question their own girlhoods. Many women became interested to discover the “root” of so many of the issues they were faced with as adults. This was a large reason for the development of Girls Studies. Soon, the school system began to be questioned in terms of gender bias, leading to further advancement in Girls Studies.

The first couple of chapters in the book "Queer Girls" explain why there is a need for such a book. Susan Driver, as a queer woman, found Girls Studies to be lacking in terms of representing all kinds of girls, in particular, queer girls. Driver spends pages trying to clarify her reasoning for using the word “queer” rather than some other term. She explains that “queer” refers to girls who are not necessarily gay or straight. Rather, the term helps to “articulate their specific desires while at the same time trying to leave room for ambiguity and uncertainty” (28). One girl who participated in Driver’s study puts it this way: “being queer (as opposed to being a ‘lesbian’ or a ‘straight’ person) means defining my own identity the way I see fit” (15). It actually took me most of the first two chapters of this book to really wrap my head around how “queer” was being defined.

One issue I found in reading the early chapters of "Queer Girls", was that many of the issues with media Driver states are “queer girl” issues are actually just girl issues with the media. “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 altogether from view” (9). As Driver states, those who don’t fit the mold are left out- but this includes so many more girls than just “queer” girls. There is a miniscule percentage of the population that fits into the media’s “perfect image”. Actually, this media problem with image affects virtually every girl in the country- and probably boys, too.

Now for my questions to you… Driver mentions differing sexuality among girls several times. In Driver’s book, Liz Frost is quoted as stating “Look sexy, act sexy… but don’t be sexy” (34-35). How do you feel about this quote? How has this contradiction in our society affected you and your relationships?

A similar quote by Driver addresses the same hypocritical societal views. Driver states that there is an “imperative to both perform and evaluate themselves as sexy bodies and to discipline themselves according to ideals of good moral feminine conduct” (35). Have you been able to succeed at performing in terms of this contradiction? Were you aware of the contradiction society forces us into? Have any of you been aware of this contradiction but REFUSED to live within these parameters?

~Amanda W.

1 comment:

rinaresca said...

Your final point about the bipolar statement made by Frost is representative of the dichotomous state of the gender issue. There are so many expectations of girls and usually these desires are so black and white it is near impossible for a young, confused woman to proliferate a solid foundation in her coming-of-age. With the tug-o-war constructions of sexuality girls are left uncertain and more vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment, whether through their own doing or a predator's.