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“Where are the 8s?”: Teens Talk Back to Media

17 Oct

“Where are the 8s?”: Teens Talk Back to Media

Guest blogger Jocelyn Sakal Froese is a PhD student in English and Culture Studies at McMaster University.

            Despite its questionable title, this article in a March issue of Globe & Mail–an inquiry into the effects of media and advertising on young people–is an important one, not so much for what it does, but how it does it.  In addition to reiterating a few well-known facts about teens, media, and body image, the article follows a dialogue on the same topics among six high school students in Ottawa.  It is the format of this piece, and the manner in which young people”s voices are represented in a meaningful way, that causes it to stand out. Rather than writing a piece about young people and body image the author makes a point of constructing her piece around the real concerns that young people today are voicing.

I do not mean to suggest that this piece is flawless, or even that the piece is necessarily feminist.  Indeed, there are many problems with this article, not least of which is the title alone. (Why are we still asking about “true hotness”?)  Rather, in the interest of focusing, if only momentarily, on the positive potential inherent to certain types of media, I want to frame this “type of article in relation to a compelling statement made by a professor of mine in a recent lecture.

Allow me to clarify what I mean by this “type of article.  This piece did not stick out to me because it is about body image, shaming, and eating disorders.  It is not an important piece for depth of focus, though the author is honest about the limited perspective given. Near the opening of the piece Erin Anderssen mentions that the young people represented are middle class and white. In doing this she suggests that there are other stories to be told and other voices to be heard — a step not often taken in articles filed under the “Life” section of public newspapers. Rather, upon first reading of this article, I was shocked at how often the voices of young people are represented.  In fact, the piece seems to be built up around the commentary made by this, admittedly limited, group of teens. Rather than simply stating facts about body image among female teens, Anderssen asks young people to speak out on the issue and fills in the spaces. For instance, the first paragraph includes commentary from three of the teens who took part in the dialogue: they all agree that a Levi”s ad proclaiming that “hotness comes in all shapes and sizes”  is hypocritical, noting that the models pictured are all under size five.  These initial comments  give the article its shape by providing a springboard in terms of content as well as setting a particular tone. For example, Shannen Maili-McAleer”s asks, “Where are all the size 8s, the size 12s?.” Not only are these young people dissatisfied with the current state of advertising and its negative effects on young women, but are also enacting a refusal to passively accept such a limited definition of beauty, as well as the hypocrisy that frames it.  Maili-McAleer and company have identified this particular slogan, in conjunction with a blatantly oppositional image, as meaningless, and are prepared to offer specific critiques and to demand change.    

In a recent lecture for a graduate course I was attending at the time, the professor, Dr. Henry Giroux, made the statement that “social responsibility is no longer part of the social contract.”  As a feminist academic interested in girl and teen culture, this online casino comment resonated with me in particular ways, and I see a direct connection between the socially irresponsible social contract and the project of this article.  A social contract that allows advertisers to attempt, daily, to shame women and female teens into harming themselves through dieting, or altering themselves through beauty products or surgeries in the interest of generating profit is surely a social contract devoid of any sense of social responsibility, and it is exactly that contract to which the young people represented in this piece respond.

It is in thinking through this lack of social responsibility in conversation with the positive work that I have have witnessed in my work as a TA in English and Culture Studies — wherein I have witnessed young women articulately engage in complex and productive debates — that I am able to see this terribly titled, somewhat simple Globe & Mail piece with a glimmer of fresh hope.  The story that the article tells is not new, shocking, or even illuminating.  What the article does provide is the opportunity for young people to speak back to their media and to demand, in this small way, more social responsibility from their culture, whether in the form of Shannen Miali-McAleer”s desire to see size 8 and size 12 represented under a headline claiming to sell beauty, or through Karmen Brar”s assertion that “we”re starting to understand that everything is fake… So when they make it more real it drives us to that product.”

As much as this space of potential provides a momentarily feel-good outlook on the world, I  focus on it in awareness of the growing need for spaces of representation like it.  In the polarised world of media productions that continue to uncritically position high school as the birthplace of raunch culture (think of films like American Pie, Superbad, and, more recently, Project X, a film that most teenagers can”t even watch, based on the rating) and public anxieties about teen sexuality, especially female teen sexuality, most clearly embodied by the massive media coverage of incidents of sexting, as well as by various anti-sexting campaigns, it is refreshing to read the voices of real teens and to find them articulate and self-aware.

Why Feminist Security Studies?

14 Sep

Why Feminist Security Studies?

Guest blogger Jamie J. Hagen is an NYC based writer on feminist and LGBTQ politics currently serving as Contributing Editor for Autostraddle and a research consultant for the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders(GNWP).  She has worked with several women”s groups concerned with the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 and is currently consulting on a GNWP monitoring report in Liberia, Nepal and Norway. Find out more about Jamie on her website: http://jjhagen.squarespace.com/bio/

I first learned of the field of women, peace and security through an internship with the Social Science Research Council in the summer before graduate school. Walking into a conference room with about nine other interns to begin collecting data for their Gender Hub, I had little understanding of what the words women and peace and security would mean to me as I learned more about the developing field. What I did know was that my interests of feminism, women”s rights and political science had all brought me here.

The December 2011 issue of The Journal of the Women and Politics published a conversation among academics in the field of Feminist Security Studies. Feminists have added to traditional security studies gender-based perspectives encouraging analysis accounting for the roles women and gender play both during and post-conflict, as this is something often absent  in the subject of  security politics. Laura Sjoberg of the University of Florida introduces the conversation by raising some of the many questions still shaping the developing field, including “What is the relationship between Feminist Security Studies and international relations or its security studies subfield (in the United States or abroad)?” and ”What is the relationship between theory and practice in Feminist Security Studies?” Following Sjoberg’s introduction, several scholars address these questions from their varying points of view, allowing for a multi-faceted approach to understanding what end the field serves.

To my mind, shifting the field of security politics away from the more traditional emphasis on securing borders to instead securing the rights and well being of individuals is perhaps the most important task for feminist security studies. Feminist security studies reminds us that it”s important to ask what is being secured by any type of legislation or act of war in the name of security. For example, while traditionally politicians may point to an increased military budget as a sign of security, feminist security scholars may look to other metrics, such as accountability to human rights doctrines or the safety of LGBTQ identified individuals. Additionally, a feminist security studies brings an awareness of sex and gender to the table for the international security studies framework. As someone who comes to the field of security politics from non-governmental work in women, peace, and security with organizations such as Peacewomen and the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, the projects I”ve worked on have sought to document and improve implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which requires member states to empower women through active roles in peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding. I agree with Carol Cohn, director of the Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights at the University of Massachusetts Boston, in her point that academics should be informed by the work of women in civil society in pursuing research projects noting, “I hope that some feminist researchers will be motivated by the question of which research projects are most likely to be useful to women”s civil society organizations and women peacebuilders. While there is no doubt casino online that the constituency security studies was created to serve, – the civiliam and military police of world powers-has a major impact on the conditions of the lives of vast numbers of people, it is also likely true that no one is more likely to push a change agenda than the organized women who live in the shadow”s of those elite men”s decisions.”

As is the case in other fields of feminist studies, feminist security scholars often value the role of qualitative data individuals and especially women bring to research, in addition to otherwise faceless quantitative data.Our work at GNWP is largely geared towards supporting the grassroots efforts of our member organizations through capacity building training and  also reporting on their monitoring work to provide an international platform for local work.

As Annick T. R. Wibben of the University of San Francisco writes in the journal, “Feminist security scholars, with their unique methodological choices (including the recognition of the performative nature of gender/sex), can counter the prevalence of bodiless data in security studies by highlighting personal stories.” At the same time, as a student of feminist research methodology, I also agree with the point made by Valerie M. Hudson of Brigham Young University that if it is necessary to use more traditional methodologies of political science, such as statistical testing, historical process mapping, and other more quantitatively driven approaches to build the case to illustrate the strong connection between the security of women and the security of states, a researcher should do so. Working as a research consultant in the NGO world I, too, look to traditional quantitative models to boost the valuable qualitative personal narratives and experiences of women in  civil society seeking peace and security.

Feminist security scholars force us to reconsider what it is that our current security politics are truly serving to secure. By focusing on human rights, such as food security or protection of reproductive and sexual rights, feminists turn the traditional paradigm of security politics into a politics serving citizens rather than governments, corporations, or politicians.



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