Popular Culture

    Grrrls: Femininity under Construction
by Laura Rizzardini 
April 20, 2014
          Family and friends are, of course, still important role models for women and girls.  With the
Roller Derby Girls Trac Star. Bing. April 17, 2014.
emergence of the information age, though, the media are increasingly important.  They support and enhance in-person relationships, events, and organizations.  They also enable the participation of virtual associates, members, associates, and friends (Pavlidis & Fullagar, 2012).  Teen fashion and roller derby demonstrate the social construction of gender through media.  While “roller derby grrrls” are women, their choice of gender appellation is an interesting one.  Leaving the spelling of “girls” aside, the term suggests identification with children and teens.  The violence of the sport, though, may preclude youngsters from attending live events. Even so, the web offers ample opportunities for them to become fans (Pavlidis & Fullagar, 2012).           
        Girls, then, can challenge definitions of femininity that ordain public decorum, controlled athleticism, and tasteful attire.  Roller derby grrrls’ fashions visually represent their re-negotiation of femininity (Pavlidis & Fullagar, 2012).  Their uniforms may be tough, sexy, and/or colorful.  Teens, too, are immersed in choosing fashions to represent their gender identity.  The appropriation of feminism by commerce has both expanded their choices and limited their agency.  The mass production of clothing and its advertising encourages girls to dress alike.  Even self-aware girls are vulnerable to peer opinion and marketing campaigns (Jackson, Vares, & Gill, 2012).       
      The scope of the retail and marketing sectors has permitted them to define femininity (Jackson, Vares, & Gill, 2012).  After all, clothing is a necessity in western societies.  Mass communication is an integral part of daily life in the information age, too.  In free market societies, advertising is ubiquitous.  Today, it no longer appears just on television and radio, in newspapers and magazines, on billboards, and on public transportation.  Its presence finances “free” email accounts, social media pages, blogs, websites, cloud storage, VOIP calls, and online faxing.  In essence, it has erased the boundary between private and public communications.  Daily use of email and social media gives retailers and marketers ready access to teen consumers.  They need not read newspapers, fashion magazines, or even watch television to regularly view advertising.  A wide array of retailers offers various definitions of femininity. 
         The resulting fashion contradictions visually reveal, celebrate, and exploit it (Jackson, Vares, & Gill, 2012).  Denim jeans, t-shirts, baseball caps, and running shoes contrast with leggings, camisoles, and mini-skirts.  Concerns about the sexualization of young girls and teens abound.  They compete with contentions that they must own their sexuality (Jackson, Vares, & Gill, 2012). Their adult derby grrrl role models seem to be trying to find a balance. Their demonstrations of sexy athleticism convey both strength and passion.  Still, defining femininity in terms of sexuality returns women and girls to the objectification they have worked to escape.  True agency requires the presentation of one’s self-image.  Only self-reflection and critical consumption can foster the active creation of healthy public images of girls and women.       

Jackson, S., Vares, T., & Gill, R. (2012). ‘The whole playboy mansion image’: Girls’ fashioning               and fashioned selves within a postfeminist culture. Feminism & Psychology 23(2),     
Pavlidis, A. & Fullagar, S. (2012). Becoming roller derby grrrls: Exploring the gendered play of              affect in mediated sport cultures. International Review for the Sociology of Sport 48(6),  
Facebook Relationships: Closer, Yet Further Away 

                                                         by Laura Rizzardini
                                                           March 10, 2014  

Deborah Turton. Flickr. March 10, 2014.
       Social media, especially Facebook, are under discussion by participants, journalists, and scholars.  While there’s ample criticism, the discussion is possible because so many people are active Facebook members.  Its intensity is due to the still relative novelty of Facebook.  Unlike the letter-writing of an earlier era, daily asynchronous communication with friends and family is a recent development.  Facebook’s changing policies aside, members’ expectations for behavior on Facebook are still emerging and evolving.  What have been the effects upon relationships?  Are people now able to maintain enduring friendships through Facebook?  Has the scope of family reunions increased from national to international?  These questions are of interest to each of us not just web scholars.  The nature of human social life and socialization are changing.        
       Even if these changes seem inevitable, people can still choose how they communicate.  Adults can still model, mentor, and teach children how to responsibly interact in person and on Facebook.  They can ensure that online and offline communities are strong, supportive, and positive.  It is these qualities that Facebook members are seeking.  They post to Facebook for the same reasons they talk to friends in person.  They want to foster their friendships.  It is what friends are saying rather than where they say it that is important to Facebook members (Dainton, 2013). 
      The differences in the settings do matter, though.  On Facebook, there’s no nonverbal communication.  Facial expressions, gestures, touches, and fragrances can’t be conveyed.  Emoticons are only cartoon smiles.  The popular and famous Facebook “Like” depicted as a thumbs up hand is only an illustration.  Handshakes, hugs, and high-fives are necessarily absent.  The scents of Old Spice, jasmine, or Chanel No. 5 are all lost to Facebook correspondents.  Conversations aren’t really possible, either.  Written posts prevent interaction.  During verbal conversations, people interrupt one another.  They finish one another’s sentences.  They talk in unison.  They use slang that is meaningful to them.  Facebook posts prevent lengthy or deep discussions.  Written posts are limited in scope due to the size of a Facebook page.  They are also constrained by the publicity they receive.      
       As might be expected, conversational settings affect individual mental health and social development, too.  The public nature of Facebook can be overwhelming.  The unrelenting sharing of personal achievements and tragedies can be riveting and disconcerting (Nitzburg and Farber, 2013).  For people with mental health challenges, Facebook may interfere with their healthy social development and happiness.  It offers a glut of potential provocations for someone with borderline personality disorder.  For someone with an attachment disorder, Facebook offers a shield from the demands of real closeness.  For all young people, Facebook is changing the way they develop their identities and establish relationships (Nitzburg and Farber, 2013).  The disappearance of cursive writing is just a superficial indication of these changes.  Communication is becoming less human and more digital or robotic.  Increasing the dominance of text in communications might improve vocabularies.  It would also diminish the intimacy of conversation.  Facial expressions and gestures are often spontaneous if not involuntary.  They enable us to assess, build, and nurture our relationships.  Without them, the meaning of friendship itself will change.

Dainton, M. (2008). Relationship maintenance on Facebook: Development of a measure,     
          relationship to general maintenance, and relationship satisfaction. College Student      
         Journal, 47(1), 113-121.
Nitzburg, G. E., & Farber, B. A. (2013). Putting up emotional (Facebook) walls?  Attachment           status and emerging adults’ experiences of social networking sites. Journal of Clinical          Psychology, 69(1), 1183-1190.

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