Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Is Bella a bad girl (as defined by Tolman and Higgins), cognizant of and expressing her sexual desire?

From the first moment Bella sees Edward and throughout Twilight, she’s got it bad for him. Her behavior is not overt – her attraction is expressed as if she might erupt: staring, not being able to stare, stammered speech with him and when she talks about him (i.e. on the phone with her mother). Her behavior and her words make it clear that she is sexually attracted to Edward. But I don’t think her sexual attraction goes beyond that to the expression of sexual desire. In the bedroom scene when they begin to fool around on Bella’s bed, Edward quickly realizes he cannot be sexual with her without hurting her. Bella doesn’t ever express a problem with this – cool let’s fly through the trees instead – totally the same!

I think the character of Bella is being portrayed as a good girl because society values good girls over bad. Her character expresses sexual attraction but stops short of sexual desire. The metaphor of the vampire unable to consummate a romantic relationship without inflicting pain is just another metaphor for what sex ‘must mean for a woman’ – pain. Because it is ‘bad’ for a woman to be portrayed as possessing sexual desire and enjoying sexual intercourse as much as a man (especially the first time), Edward becomes a mechanism for what must not be done to Twilight’s heroine: don’t hurt Bella.

I think Bella is a good girl as defined by Tolman and Higgins; she is naïve about the potential harms of sex with her. In the case of Twilight, being a good girl doesn’t get Bella into trouble but only because she is lucky enough to have a boyfriend who is able to control himself. But the representation of Bella as a naïve good girl – not interested in real sexual pleasure with someone she is sexually attracted to – is just another extended stereotype that can be harmful for girls.

I agree with Deirdre and Alexis and Melissa that the arc of the story involves Bella’s loss of her independent self and her helplessness without a man. I think it is less about him sweeping in and taking care of her errors but more about her inability to function in life when he isn’t around. There’s truth to the phenomenon of course – especially teenage love – but – based on my own experience - it’s almost always the boys that can’t function on their own.

This all being said – there are a lot of traits in Bella I admire. It is SO REFRESHING to have a global phenomenon revolve around a character (and an actor) that isn’t interested being the sexual center of attention. She’s tomboy cool without overdoing it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011



I feel confused reading the Tolman/Higgins article and using it as a lens to watch Alice in Wonderland. In Tim Burton's version, Alice is twenty years old. She is not a child and she is not a teenager. She looks her age for the most part. But she doesn't engage with the world as an adult - she engages with Wonderland and 'real land' as a sexless adult and is treated as such - hence she functions as a child.

I can interpret this as Alice being the ultimate good girl - she is a female of a sexual age that is denying her sexual desire which forms part of her identity as the movie's heroine. None of the movie's characters show sexual interest in her (with the exception of Stayne - whom I didn't even realize was Crispin Glover until I just looked up the spelling of the character's name on IMDB!).

I also can interpret this as a retelling of a classic story in which the character in the original book and previous film versions was a (nonsexual) young child.

Burton chose to age Alice to develop the engagement dilemma - positing arranged marriage as a prison that will hamper our heroine's creativity and righteous will (same as in Atalanta).

But does Alice reject marriage because she is a nonsexual good girl?
Or does Alice reject marriage because she is a bad girl - she will not bow to male desire but will make her own choices?

I think it's both. Our society does increasingly value female spunk (ESPECIALLY hypothetical spunk!) as it also values demure and asexual girls.

Burton and Atalanta capitalized on both.



I began to read Tolman and Higgins’ article agreeing with virtually everything they wrote until I read their analysis of the sexual acts discussed by Jenny, Sharon and Paulina. I particularly disagree with their analysis of Jenny’s explanation of her experience. Before I explain my reaction, let me summarize their article and highlight some passages.

Tolman and Higgins begin by discussing the consequence of sexuality for women in general:
When women act as sexual agents, expressing their own sexual desire rather than serving as the objects of men's desire, they are often portrayed as threatening, deviant, and bad. Missing is any affirmative account of women's sexual desire. (P 205)
 Discussing teenage girls specifically, the authors identify the rigid roles available to girls engaging their sexuality with boys:
(1) bad girls, if they have been active, desiring sexual agents or (2) good girls, who have been passively victimized by boys' raging hormones. (P 206)
 The authors focus on the legal ramifications of this cultural story, particularly with regard to nonconsensual sexual acts, explaining how the burden of proof for these crimes goes beyond establishment of non-consent to require demonstration that the victim is not a desiring sexual agent in general.
The good girl’s attempt to exercise her responsibility to regulate male sexuality is encoded in the requirement of non-consent to sexual intercourse. Proof of consent, however, frequently depends upon establishing an absence of desire. To be a victimized good girl and therefore entitled to protection, a girl or woman must both resist and lack desire. (P 209)

After analyzing the experiences of three specific cases, Tolman and Higgins conclude that an “affirmative discourse of desire for adolescent girls” is needed.
Such a discourse must recognize, reveal, and then reject the good girl/bad girl categories as patriarchal strategies that keep girls and women from the power of their own bodies and their bonds with one another. It should center on all girls' entitlement to their sexuality, rather than focus solely on the threat of lost status and respect or diminished safety. (P 221)
 I agree with all of the author’s arguments and analysis described above and I agree with much of their interpretation of Sharon and Paulina’s stories. I do take some issues with their re-telling of Jenny’s experience.

I agree with the author’s ultimate interpretation how:
In the moment, Jenny was not able to hold onto her knowledge that she did not want to have sex because her own desire has never been available as a guide to her choices. We suggest that not feeling desire is one way to cope with the good girl/bad girl dichotomy. Were Jenny not subject to the good girl standard that prevents her from attending to her own sexual feelings, perhaps she would feel desire in some situations, and her lack of sexual desire could operate as a clear signal to her, perhaps leaving her less vulnerable to such confusion. (P 215)
 I think this assessment is in total sync with the article as a whole. I agree that many girls don’t possess strong sexual agency because our patriarchal system benefits from it, creating confused and passive sexual acts.

I don’t agree with the author’s assessment of Jenny’s “no” told to the boy she has sexual intercourse with for the first time. On page 213, Jenny explains her feelings in a stream-of-consciousness method about engaging in sexual intercourse, focusing a lot on her choice of partner, and to a lesser extent her judgments on the experience as her first.

I think the authors reduced the social and sexual interaction to a contract bound by a verbal words. Regardless of whether Jenny is disappointed that she had sex, her verbal cue was isolated out of an experience that was also filled with psychological and emotional cues in the form of physical behavior. Human communication does not consist primarily of verbal cues, especially when a social interaction is occurring that is primarily physical (sexual). While I completely agree with the authors that Jenny lacked sufficient sexual agency to clarify to herself whether or not she really wanted to engage in sexual intercourse – and I agree that this is a systemic problem – I don’t think there is anything to suggest this act was nonconsensual based on Jenny’s telling.

 The authors go so far as to ask, “Was Jenny raped.” They interpret her experience, suggesting that Jenny…
Seems to wonder whether this experience might somehow be connected to rape. She may associate this experience with rape because the word signifies something about what it felt like for her, a violation. Although she stopped saying no and apparently assented nonverbally to the act, this sexual experience was not related to any feeling of yes on Jenny's part. Jenny's experience of having passively consented and of having been violated suggests the disjuncture between consent and desire in women's experience, a disjuncture that likely heightens Jenny's confusion over how to interpret what happened to her. Such confusion prevents Jenny from speaking clearly in the first instance about her desire and from later interpreting what happened in a way that acknowledges her own resistance. (P 216)
I agree that this “sexual experience was not related to any feeling of yes on Jenny’s part” but I don’t think she apparently assented nonverbally to the act – according to what Jenny said, she did assent. I think there is merit to Jenny’s words when she says, “I mean I could've said no, I guess and I could've pushed him off or whatever 'cause he, I mean, he wasn't, he's not the type of person who would like rape me or whatever. I mean, well I don't think he's that way at all.” Jenny is saying that she could have pushed him off and not had sex with him, and that he likely isn’t the type that would have ignored a hypothetical physical rejection.

I think the author’s focus on Jenny’s ‘no’ missed their point – it is an indication that she didn’t have the agency to assert her objection, or to even clarify if she had objection. While I understand Jenny judging her experience as a “first time,” I think the authors play into the overvaluation of sexual encounters, especially for women, which seems at odds with their article in general. Women and teenage girls have sexual desire, and as such the ‘first time’ doesn’t need to be evaluated with the same lens that views a woman ‘losing her virginity’ as a high-priced transaction.


Switching gears for the final project – I’m sorry I wasn’t able to contribute these ideas during our class brainstorm.

I'm interested in how some of today's teenagers are representing themselves in the media.

I have an idea of how I am going to narrow my focus (likely choose teenagers that initially represented themselves/their friends in the media via the web and since have been hired by ‘real’ media companies – explore why they were chosen, how their media may have changed for for-hire jobs, should art be distinguished from media, etc).

But I am still going to look at all of the below before I decide on a final focus:

Media and art created by Rhode Island youth, most of whom were recently released from the state's juvenile detention facility or are in the care of DCYF

A 17 year old from Oregon who maintains a website and blog publishing documentary-style photographs of her family and teenage friends. She has done commercial work for  Converse and Nike, been featured in Frankie and American Photo and received a Converse/DAZED 2010 Emerging Artists Award.

AKA Tavi Gevinson is a 14 year old blogger from Chicago, began blogging in March 2008 at the age of 11, primarily about fashion but also about her normal teenage life (bar mitxhavs, etc). She was unknown when she started and now travels regularly to the top fashion shows throughout the world and has been featured in dozens of magazines including Vogue and the New York Times Magazine.

The Amanda Project is the story of Amanda Valentino, told through an interactive website and book series for readers aged 13 & up. On the website, readers are invited to become a part of the story as they help the main characters search for Amanda.

Teenage girls tumbling about their weight loss progress/goals

Please feel free to share any and all twitter accounts/tumblrs/public Facebook profiles/blogs/websites/YouTube channels etc that are produced by a teenager that you think I should know about!

Sunday, April 3, 2011


I'd really like to do some scholarly reading/research focused on a piece of teen media. I could work with a group also interested in this, or this could be my contribution to the group.

I'm not interested in examining a topic - I would much rather critically examine a select piece pf media as a text.

I would love to explore teen and media themes in the television show Veronica Mars, although I would be happy to work in a group that is analyzing any piece of media.

A lot of people have expressed interested in comparing teen films or television shows from the 1980s and 90s with contemporary counterparts - I'd rather just look at one piece of (more contemporary) media in depth.

Some of the articles and books I've found on Veronica Mars include the following:

Monday, March 28, 2011

High-Tech Flirting Turns Explicit, Altering Young Lives

Yesterday the New York Times published an article on the subject of 'Sexting and Consequences' as part of their ongoing Poisoned Web series discussing online bullying. A Girl's Nude Photo, and Altered Lives explores the consequences of an eight grade girl texting a nude photo of herself to a male classmate. He subsequently sent it to two female friends, who both texted the photo to everyone on their contacts lists. The police arrested the three teenagers on charges of felony child pornography; they were ultimately convicted of gross misdemeanor of telephone harassment. The sentence did not require jail time but asked each of them to prepare "public service materials about the hazards of sexting, attend a session with Margarite (the subject of the nude photo) to talk about what happened and otherwise have no contact with her." After a year of harassment, Margarite eventually transferred to another school.

The article offers some insightful remarks on adolescents, technology and sexuality (emphasis mine): 
Having a naked picture of your significant other on your cellphone is an advertisement that you’re sexually active to a degree that gives you status,” said Rick Peters, a senior deputy prosecuting attorney for Thurston County, which includes Lacey. “It’s an electronic hickey."

 But a double standard holds. While a boy caught sending a picture of himself may be regarded as a fool or even a boastful stud, girls, regardless of their bravado, are castigated as sluts. Photos of girls tend to go viral more often, because boys and girls will circulate girls’ photos in part to shame them, explained Danah Boyd, a senior social media researcher at Microsoft and a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. In contrast, when a boy sends a revealing photo of himself to a girl, Dr. Boyd noted, she usually does not circulate it. And, Dr. Boyd added, boys do not tend to circulate photos of other boys: “A straight-identified boy will never admit to having naked photos of a boy on his phone." 
There are over 350 comments in response to the article, the very first of which I find pretty rational. Bill Randle says:
Lots of inappropriate and unethical behavior ensued in this case that should rightly be addressed by parents and educators and communities, but the fact that law enforcement and our criminal justice system took over perfectly exemplifies the extent to which our puritanical, fear-based, hysterical culture in America has turned into a police state.
Of course anything having to do with naked bodies -- especially those of pubescent children -- sends those who seek to control every aspect of human behavior into a tizzy. They can't stand the notion that millions -- yes millions -- of young people are exploring their sexuality outside the control of adults -- right now!
Rather than legislate and criminalize all inappropriate or emotionally harmful behavior and subsequently ruin the lives of the children involved by branding them criminals, how about we make an attempt to rationally and calmly work through these issues -- adults and children -- and find common ground as we attempt to educate kids on appropriate behavior.
 The NYT also
interviewed teenagers individually and in two focus groups. The first, in Manhattan, was organized by the Anti-Defamation League, which offers cyberbullying prevention programs. The second, with students from Lower Merion, a Philadelphia suburb, was coordinated by Stephanie Newberg, a therapist who works with adolescents, and Paula Singer, a community organizer.
  • Kathy, 17, Queens: There’s a positive side to sexting. You can’t get pregnant from it, and you can’t transmit STDs. It’s a kind of safe sex.
  • Joe, 17, Lower Merion: I don’t think those girls are insecure. I think they’re confident, and they know they’re hot.
  • Glenn, 18, Long Island: I didn’t tell my parents I was doing this focus group because they don’t know what sexting is, and it would be awkward to talk about it.
  • Saif, 18, Brooklyn: It’s a way to express your feelings. If a guy and a girl are in love, instead of saying it face to face, they can say it through technology.

Other articles in the NYT series

Sunday, March 27, 2011


This post is in response to Diana’s blog post about Section IV and also functions as the author’s argument for section III.

Diana – You write that, “So when reading the article through the perspective of Ball I didn’t quite get it, until I realized how I was, and in some aspect still am, a part of the “Colonialism” of Hip-Hop.”

I think Ball would agree with that you are part of the “colonialism” of hip-hop. Ball writes about the colonization of Black America that is systemic not only within our country but is being perpetrated by our country throughout the world – even more so today than ever before because of the media’s use of technology. Because colonialism is systemic and wide-spread, all Americans perform their role within this colony: colonized and colonizer.

You also write, “…in the 80’s when…hip-hop started to become popular I really enjoyed it. It was the days of MC Hammer and The Sugar Hill Gang…I loved the beat and the lyrics…Then something happened, I am not sure what it was but I remember Rap and Hip- Hop getting a bad ‘rap’…I also felt like I didn’t want to listen to words about jail, and guns, and drugs, and poverty. Rappers were getting shot and I think this is when the ‘Colonialism’ may have started.”

I think Ball would disagree with you on when colonialism started. Ball is deliberate to use the word colonialism literally – in section 3 he helps to define his use of the word by quoting the French black philosopher/writer Frantz Fanon who wrote, “Colonialism is…the conquest of a national territory and the oppression of a people: that is all.” Throughout the four-part essay, Ball writes about colonialism in its most basic historical application – just as the citizens of India, Africa, the Caribbean, South America, North America, and the South Pacific were all colonists controlled and exploiated by their European or American colonizer – so too does contemporary Black America function as a colony within White America. He notes that Black America lives in spatially distinct neighborhoods and forms the basis of both America’s cheap labor and its raw materials (i.e. hip-hop! much of America’s raw materials today are cultural not natural).

Ball writes, “Black people must sell their labor cheaply and/or be willing to conform themselves to the needs and will of an elite in order to ‘succeed.’ Hip-hop, like every other cultural expression generated from this community, has over the last twenty years been grafted to this structural need to systematically produce what is conducive to this system’s survival” (AKA the powerful within white America).

Ball is not arguing that there is a lack of exposure to hip-hop. He in fact mentions the opposite – discussing hip-hop as a primary force within America’s popular culture. Ball argues that because of the colonial structure operating in America, the rich and powerful elite produce and disseminate hip-hop in a manner that benefits them. It is beneficial to the rich and powerful for Black America to make hip-hop about – as Diana succinctly wrote – “jail, and guns, and drugs, and poverty” because it perpetuates the colonial relationship of affluent white America to poverty-stricken Black America. In other words, the rich white men in charge of America’s media benefit from producing media that puts all other groups down and perpetuates their own authority. Black America and white America tune in to the message that being Black means growing up in urban projects, being raised by a single mother, doing and dealing drugs, with becoming a hip-hop celebrity the only means of escape.

Diana – Ball is very concerned with exposure to hip-hop, but he is concerned that there isn’t enough exposure to hip-hop that deviates from the above popular culture norm (that he considers 'fraudelent'). He notes two problems: smaller producers are unable to access the few conduits that are controlled by today’s high media conglomerates, but in the instances that they do produce hip-hop accessed by the public, the audience isn’t interested because it has been taught that hip-hop is about the impoverishment of Black America. Ball proceeds to cite eight examples demonstrating the ways in which American media (particularly in the D.C. area) adheres to the tenets of colonialism.