Sexualization might seem like a sympathetic explanation for sexting because it positions girls as innocent victims of mass culture. However, there are problematic unintended consequences with understanding sexting, the practice of sharing personal sexual content via mobile phones or the internet, in this particular way. One troubling implication is that it provides a rationale for holding girls who sext criminally responsible for producing child pornography. A second is that when girls' acceptance of sexualization is positioned as a key social problem, the solution that emerges is that girls must raise their self-esteem and gain better media literacy skills. Despite the value of such skills, a focus on girls' deficiencies can divert attention from the perpetrators of gender- and sexuality-based violence. Finally, discourses about sexualization often erase girls' capacity for choice, relying instead on normative assumptions about healthy sexuality. Interrogating the pathologization of girls' apparent conformity to sexualization and mass culture highlights the complexity of agency.
Amy Adele Hasinoff
Tween Girls, Intimacy, and Subjectivities
In this article I attempt to contribute to the debates on sexualization, and on tweens’ sexual agency and choice by reporting on a qualitative study of how 53 tween girls self-presented in discourse in the context of sexting (sending sexually explicit text messages and pictures to others). More specifically, the study aims to interrogate tweens’ sexual agency and the complexity of girls’ choices by analyzing their evaluative beliefs about, and motivations for, sexting. I argue that the contradictory discursive constructions of multiple femininities not only illustrate issues of regulation and resistance, but also highlight the blurred boundaries between dominant culture and agency. My findings suggest that the sexual agency implied in sexting shows the tension between the reproduction of dominant culture and hegemony and the presence of a feminine discourse of empowerment.
Carrie A. Rentschler and Claudia Mitchell
Girlhood Studies scholars respond to an overwhelming portrayal of girls as either bad or needing rescue in, for example, mainstream films on mean girls, popular psychology texts on primarily light-skinned middle class girls’ plummeting self-esteem, and media panics about teen girl sexting. According to Sharon Mazzarella and Norma Pecora, “In response to public anxiety and cultural fascination,” in “academic studies of girls…the emphasis has shifted slightly so that the discourse is no longer linked primarily to crisis” (2007: 105). Still, in popular and policy discourse today, girls are often unfairly and inaccurately cast as either super agents or failing subjects.
Thomas K. Hubbard
Adolescent sexuality has been at the forefront of the recent “Culture Wars,” as is clear from the many news stories and political battles over issues such as sex education, teen pregnancy and STDs, Child Sexual Abuse, enhanced legal regulation of sex offenders, pedophiles on the internet, “sexting” and child pornography. On the one hand adolescents today are more sexually mature than at most historical periods: physical puberty occurs ever earlier (Moller, 1987), while children’s capacity to access the same media as adults grows ever more sophisticated. Already in 1982, Neil Postman presciently observed that electronic media had obliterated the historical technological superiority of literate adults relative to not‐yet‐fully-literate children (Postman, 1982). At that point, he was thinking mainly of television, but his observation has become even more true in the digital age, when adolescents are often the ones teaching their parents and grandparents. 1982 had not yet grasped what would be the ubiquity of MTV or cheap, highly graphic visual pornography in many parents’ closets, or if not there, on their kids’ computer screens. Children have become the most clever at accessing media at precisely the time when popular media culture is more saturated with verbal, musical, and visual images of sexuality than ever before.