Girls’ Sexualities and the Media

by Kate Harper (Volume editor) Yasmina Katsulis (Volume editor) Vera Lopez (Volume editor) Georganne Scheiner Gillis (Volume editor)
©2013 Textbook XV, 297 Pages
Series: Mediated Youth, Volume 23


This anthology provides exciting, innovative research focused on the construction of adolescent girls’ sexuality in the media. The volume includes a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives from the humanities and the social sciences, addressing how girls and others respond to, work with, and even resist prevailing media representations of girls’ sexualities and how they use contemporary media as a form of sexual expression.
The authors consider a wide array of sexual attitudes, behaviors, and expressions not commonly seen in the sexualities literature, including the voices of «other» girls whose voices are often ignored, particularly racial/ethnic minority and indigenous girls, sexual minorities, and girls from non-U.S. settings. The use of ethnographic data, in conjunction with media analysis techniques, provides a unique approach to the media studies genre, which tends to highlight an analysis of media content, as opposed to the ways in which media is used in everyday life.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Praise for Girls’ Sexualities and the Media
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Girls’ Sexualities and the Media: The Power of the Media
  • Sexual Subjectivity and Empowerment
  • Sexualization
  • Media Use
  • Media Literacy
  • Overall Structure of This Volume
  • Chapter Outlines
  • Section One: Historical and Contemporary Media Representations
  • Section Two: Media Use and Self-Representation
  • Section Three: Media Campaigns and Literacy Projects
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Part One: Historical and Contemporary Media
  • 1 The Girls of Carvel: Adolescent Desire in Andy Hardy Films
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 2 “Sensible Safety Rules”: Class, Race, and Girls’ Sexual Vulnerability in the U.S. Print Media, 1950–1970
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 3 Snogging, Stereotypes, and Subversion: Girls’ Sexuality in the Harry Potter Series
  • Literature Review
  • Why Intersectionality?
  • Is There Sex in Harry Potter?
  • Who is Sexual, and Why Does it Matter?
  • Concluding Thoughts and Implications
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 4 The Pleasures of Danger and the Dangers of Pleasure: The Inversion of Gender Relations in the Twilight Series
  • Introduction
  • Traditional Tropes
  • The Desexualization of Bella
  • The Sexualization of Jacob and Edward
  • “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” Spell Team/Teen Lust
  • The De-Erotics of Male Sexualization
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 5 “She’s All That”: Girl Sexuality and Teen Film
  • Sex in Teen Film
  • Visible Articulations; Articulating Visibility
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 6 Wrecked and Redeemed: Religio-Political Pedagogy and MTV’s 16 and Pregnant
  • Introduction
  • Attentive Aesthetics, Savvy Structure
  • “Peering” Into the Politics of Fear: Abortion, Adoption, and Fetal Citizenship
  • Wrecked and Redeemed
  • Conclusions: Political Religion, Pop Culture Pedagogy, and “Productive Perversity”
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 7 Just Say Me? (Mis)representing Female Adolescent Sexual Agency on The Secret Life of the American Teenager
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Abortion
  • Birth Control
  • Masturbation
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 8 Producing Girl Citizens as Agents of Health: An Analysis of HPV Media Campaigns in the United States
  • Introduction
  • Mediating Healthy Citizenship
  • Risk, Choice, and Discourses of New Public Health
  • Girlhood, Citizenship, and Sexual Health
  • Gardasil®, Cervical Cancer, and HPV
  • HPV Boredom
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Part Two: Media Use and Self-Representation
  • 9 “Hyperfeminine” Subcultures: Rethinking Gender Subjectivity and the Discourse of Sexuality Among Adolescent Girls in Contemporary Japan
  • Introduction
  • The Path to Lolita
  • Lolita Vis-a-Vis Shifting Dominant Media Representations of Young Girls in Japan
  • The Hyperfemininity of “Cuteness”
  • Adolescence and Sexuality in Contemporary Japan
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 10 Favela Models: Sexual Virtue and Hopeful Narratives of Beauty in Brazil
  • Learning to Dream
  • The Value of Beauty
  • Recognizing the Good Girls
  • Scouting for Sameness
  • Short-Circuiting Hope
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 11 “Chongas” in the Media: The Ethno-Sexual Politics of Latina Girls’ Hypervisibility
  • Excessive Presence: Latina Bodies in Visual Culture
  • “You Could See Me, You Could Read Me”: YouTube and the Branding of the Chonga Body
  • The Chonga as Ethnic Spectacle
  • The Meaning(s) of “Chonga”
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 12 Heteroflexibility: Female Performance and Pleasure
  • Methods
  • Literature Review
  • Analysis
  • Media: Heteroflexibility as Performative
  • Interviews: Public Performance and Private Pleasures
  • Public vs. Private Distinction:
  • Performance vs. “Authentic” Attraction
  • Disrupting Heteronormative Scripts
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Part Three: Media Campaigns and Literacy Projects
  • 13 “Hey Media, Back Off and Get Off My Body”: SPARK is Taking Sexy Back
  • SPARKing History
  • Sowing the Seeds of a Movement:SPARK Summit
  • Deep Background: Motivation for SPARKing a (Media) Movement
  • Leveraging Research: Building a Bridge From Academia to Activism
  • SPARK: The Movement
  • The SPARKTeam
  • The SPARKits
  • SPARKing the Future
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • 14 From Media Propaganda to De-Stigmatizing Sex: Exploring a Teen Magazine By, For, and About Girls
  • Literature Review
  • Media Sexualization of Women and Girls
  • Sexual Content in Teen Girl Magazines
  • Resisting Sexualization Through Alternative Media Programs
  • Current Study
  • Methods
  • Results: Content Analysis of Teen Voices magazine
  • Behind the Scenes: Reflections From the Teen Editors
  • Discussion and Implications
  • Future Directions
  • Notes
  • Figures
  • Works Cited
  • 15 “We’re All Straight Here”: Using Girls’ Groups and Critical Media Literacy to Explore Identity with Middle School Girls
  • Introduction
  • Why a Focus on the Media?
  • Girlhood, Identity, and Girl Culture
  • Project Participants
  • Data Collection
  • Data Analysis
  • Findings
  • Discussion
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Contributors
  • Index

| ix →


Our aim in developing this anthology was to begin the kind of dialogue necessary for a transformation of scholarship that transcends disciplinary boundaries, including scholars from the humanities and social sciences, anthropology, sociology, history, cultural studies, and gender studies. This collection of essays represents a culmination of those efforts.

The concept for this book began in the spring of 2010 with a seminar on girls’ sexuality at Arizona State University. The seminar culminated in a symposium, “Girls’ Sexualities: A Transdisciplinary Perspective,” in April 2010, featuring guest speakers Dr. Meda Chesney-Lind, Dr. Deborah Tolman, and Dr. Mary Odem. Our sincerest thanks to these scholars for not only making the symposium a success, but for breaking ground in girls’ research and making our own research possible. The Institute for Humanities Research provided funding for the symposium and this anthology, and we thank its director, Regents’ Professor Sally L. Kitch, for her gracious support. Funding and support were also provided by the School of Social Transformation and its director, Dr. Mary Margaret Fonow.

Our appreciation to Sharon R. Mazzarella, who saw great promise in the collection as an addition to the Mediated Youths series. Thanks to Mary, Sarah, and Jackie at Peter Lang for diligently working with us through every step of the process. We would like to thank our colleagues and friends in Gender Studies and Justice Studies at Arizona State University, whose support, encouragement, and commitment to social justice makes such intellectual work possible. Our gratitude and congratulations go to all the contributors of the volume. Their enthusiasm for girls and their mediated experiences, not to mention their exceptional scholarship, kept the project moving forward.

| xi →


Catherine Driscoll

Throughout her childhood, the little girl was bullied and mutilated; but she nonetheless grasped herself as an autonomous individual; in her relations with her family and friends, in her studies and games, she saw herself in the present as a transcendence: her future passivity was something she only imagined. Once she enters puberty, the future not only moves closer: it settles into her body; it becomes the most concrete reality. It retains the fateful quality it always had; while the adolescent boy is actively routed towards adulthood, the girl looks forward to the opening of this new and unforseeable period where the plot is already hatched and towards which time is drawing her. As she is already detached from her childhood past, the present is for her only a transition; she sees no valid ends in it, only occupations. In a more or less disguised way, her youth is consumed by waiting. She is waiting for Man.
—Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

Simone de Beauvoir’s justly famous and influential feminist text, The Second Sex, first published in 1949, moves from the subject of “childhood” to that of “girlhood” with the passage cited above. A great deal has clearly changed for girls in the industrialized societies that Beauvoir is accounting for in this text. It is now generally presumed that girls will move from “childhood” into “girlhood” with expectations of social independence. At the very least they expect to, and are expected to, articulate life goals beyond simply “waiting for Man.”1

Nevertheless, I think we can take three important cues from Beauvoir when considering the continuing importance of research into girls’ sexualities. The first is her distinguishing girlhood at all. Although I don’t think it has ever been much foregrounded, one of the influential elements of Beauvoir’s account of how one becomes, rather than being born, “woman” is its delineation of girlhood as a discrete stage of lived experience.2 Discussing their new translation of The Second Sex, Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevalier single out as “a notable change” their decision to translate la juene fille as “girl” rather than as “the young girl.”3 That the previous translation (by Parshley) clearly left room ← xi | xii → for an older “girl” experience makes this indeed a notable change for a reader versed in girls studies.

In Beauvoir’s account “the girl” clearly arrives with puberty and girlhood encompasses adolescence as a newly inflected period of embodied social identity formation. Of course Beauvoir recognized that childhood also involves embodied social identity formation—indeed, philosophers like Iris Marion Young have drawn heavily on Beauvoir’s thinking about the girl’s lived bodily experience.4 The difference girlhood introduces here is key and Beauvoir is thus raising an important question for what we now call girls studies: how should we define “a girl”? We might well take gender as a starting premise and say, with some implicit reference to puberty as a psycho-sexual break if not to psychoanalytic stories about “latency,”5 that this girlhood is a newly sexualized phase of learning gender roles. Or, taking Young’s cautions about “gender” seriously,6 and recognizing as well that Beauvoir never used the term, we might take some account of the “lived body” as a starting premise and say that the social interpretation of puberty opens expectations of sexuality—of an identity grounded in orientation toward sex. This, rather than age or any precise physical or psychological change, brings about the girl formation. And this is clearly the second cue contemporary analysis of girlhood and sexuality might take from this passage. Both the transient occupations that Beauvoir understands to characterize girlhood as a period of “waiting,” and also the “plot” toward which time and anticipation are drawing her, are centrally about sex. Certainly in Beauvoir’s account it seems this girl is not (yet) sexually active but in fact sex alone does not, in this narrative or in popular narratives about girlhood around us, produce a transition from girl to woman and the most important point here remains relevant—the girl’s value centers on her as yet unresolved possibilities.

Beauvoir’s girl is clearly an agent in her own subjection to something that looks like destiny and yet appeals to her own desires: she “looks forward” to a “plot…already hatched.”7 The chapter with the title “La Juene Fille” that begins this way is crucial to Beauvoir’s account of how one both willingly takes up and is interpellated by the situational identity of woman.8 Beauvoir doesn’t slight the complexity of this situation, and this is the third cue I think we might take from Beauvoir in thinking about the analyses of girls relations with, and representation by, popular media collected in this volume. A core appeal of “the girl,” for girls as well as others, is her constitution as an object of desire, a constitution Beauvoir famously argues involves the girl subordinating her own subjectivity to that object role. Yet clearly this becoming object involves a powerful validation of the girl’s cultural significance and requires her own identification with that significance, and thus it compromises rather than erases her agency. Girls are constantly faced with this offer/promise of objectification rather than it being ← xii | xiii → something entirely chosen for them or a choice that could ever be made once and for all.

To open a collection of essays on girls’ sexualities and the media with an excursion back into Beauvoir may seem a little perverse. To begin with, discussions of girls and media have an understandable tendency to focus on the contemporary, although one of the strengths of this collection is that it recognizes there’s a history behind the conversations about girl sexuality and the media carefully overviewed in the introduction to this volume. Beauvoir’s foregrounding of the importance of sex to the girl experience itself also helps raises these important historicizing questions about the urgent panic sometimes generated around the sexualization of girls. A more compelling reason for setting Beauvoir aside in this context would be that she is just not up-to-date on the forms or consequences of girls’ engagement with sexuality in and through the media. The Second Sex is outdated not so much in its theorization of the imperative to become woman as by the media industries within which girls find themselves both placed and circulated. Certainly in 1949 there was no internet or YouTube, no smart phones or sexting, and no popular discourse on girl empowerment through commodities. Except, in fact, that last claim would be quite wrong. The context into which Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex was rife with representations of becoming the best girl you could be through consumer culture, and of exceeding the expectations of previous generations of women with the can-do attitude of modern girls. The image of girlhood now hotly debated by feminists, scholars, and otherwise, using concepts like “girl power” and “postfeminism,” was already well established and indeed forms one of the conditions for separating “girls” from girl children. While there are real differences to be acknowledged between 1949 and today, including the very important fact that it would be enormously difficult in the present tense to use girl sexuality as a sales pitch that was not about freedom and choice, the power of representations over who girls and women believe they can and should be is crucial to Beauvoir’s critique.

There are, I am suggesting, still many things to be learned from even the most familiar feminist theory for the debates about the “sexualization” of girls in the media today. And new scholarship that engages such critical thinking about the meaning and experience of girl sexuality with the material conditions of girls’ media practice and girls’ mediated lives today is of vital importance. It is particularly important that such scholarship be critically self-reflexive considering the extent to which feminism itself has been incorporated into these dynamics. As Angela McRobbie suggests in The Aftermath of Feminism, in the early twenty-first century mass media representations of the social life of women are dominated by figures of liberated girlhood—a rhetoric of “freedom” constantly being “revitalized” and kept “up-to-date” by a “faux-feminism” dependent on girls’ ← xiii | xiv → right and power to consume.9 Feminism, she argues, has been “taken into account” by a social field of institutions and industries that can use feminist rhetoric to both obscure and justify systemic inequality.

McRobbie’s diagnosis of the trap laid for girls by their own pleasure in anticipating a future in which perfect heterosexual fulfilment will complete them resonates strongly with Beauvoir’s despite the sixty intervening years. For both, the promises of such perfection, and their sexualization of success, make it “difficult to function as a female subject without subjecting oneself to those technologies of self that are constitutive of the spectacularly feminine”and thus without commitment to an endless, and endlessly commodified, process of self-interrogation.10 In a transnational mediasphere tied to a global political scene, McRobbie suggests, feminist politics is vilified and made unintelligible because it criticizes what offers girls this potential fulfilment. At the same time, however, feminism is incorporated into the promises made to girls and young women through the stress laid on achieving this fulfilment through their own agency. What McRobbie calls for at this juncture is insistence on “a theory of sexual power” within “feminist media and cultural studies,” including a critique of “‘gender aware’ forms of governmentality.”11 This is the context in which this book appears and the project toward which these essays collectively work. If the definition of girlhood by sexuality and the sexualization of the experience of girlhood are not new, as reading Beauvoir suggests they are not, they are newly tied to institutional political monitoring of girl sexuality. An array of government inquiries into the sexualization of girlhood across the world is producing a codification of the proper representation of girl sexuality. Critical and self-conscious feminist research is urgently needed in this situation, and especially research that is both historically minded and attentive to the lived experience of girls today.


1. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (London: Vintage, 2009), 359.

2. Beavoir, The Second Sex, 283.

3. Beauvoir, The Second Sex, xviii.

4. Marion Iris Young, On Female Body Experience: “Throwing Like a Girl” and Other Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

5. Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (Hardmondsworth: Penguin, 1953).

6. Young, On Female Body, 15–19.

7. Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 359.

8. I will leave the implicit reference to Louis Althusser undiscussed here (see Althusser, 1971). However, girls studies would do well to more closely consider the Althusserian argument about interpellation as one way of approaching the difficult questions around agency so important to the field discussed below (see Butler, 1997). ← xiv | xv →

9. Angela McRobbie, The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture, and Social Change (London: Sage, 2008), 1.

10. Ibid., 60.

11. Ibid., 3; 2.

Works Cited

Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation).” In Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, 121–173. London: NLB, 1971.

Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. London: Vintage, 2009.

Butler, Judith. The Psychic Life of Power: Essays in Subjection. Los Angeles: Stanford University Press, 1997.

Freud, Sigmund. Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Hardmondsworth: Penguin, 1953.

McRobbie, Angela. The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change. London: Sage, 2008.

Young, Iris Marion. On Female Body Experience: “Throwing Like a Girl” and Other Essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

| 1 →

Girls’ Sexualities and the Media: The Power of the Media

Yasmina Katsulis, Vera Lopez, Kate Harper, and Georganne Scheiner Gillis

Analyses of representations of girls in the media have a long, if scattered, history. While Girls Studies has only recently been recognized as an academic subfield, its establishment is the culmination of the efforts of a number of scholars in various disciplines who have focused on girls in their research.1 The fields of history, literature, and media studies have produced a number of studies on representations of girls, resisting the tendency to ignore girls and their experiences as significant sites of inquiry. These studies challenged the omission of girls in their traditional disciplines and set the foundations for the rapidly growing body of work on girls in the past two decades. Historical scholars have engaged in recuperative work on girls’ lives, while simultaneously examining the constructed and negotiated meanings in both official documents and girls’ own accounts.2 Bringing this historical focus into a contemporary context, media and literary scholars continue to examine representations of girls in popular media, as well as girls’ interactions with such media.3 A number of recent anthologies explore the complex relationship between popular media and girls’ identity construction.4 The past twenty years have seen an explosion of new academic inquiry on the role of popular media in constructing our understanding of girls’ lives and the potential for popular media to simultaneously restrict and expand cultural meanings of girlhood. Reflecting on this history, Jackson and Westrupp note, “Although the troubling of teenage girls’ sexuality is historical, it has now expanded to include pre-teen and younger girls, to whom postmodern sexual proliferation has delivered, via popular culture, possibilities of being sexually knowing, aware and desiring subjects.”5

Contemporary popular media provide girls with multiple, conflicting, and often highly idealized models of gender and sexuality. As has been noted by many scholars in gender and media studies, popular media often characterize only a narrow set of stereotypes, “tend[ing] to focus on women as sexual objects ← 1 | 2 → and as subordinates, who are valued primarily for their physical appearance and who willingly suppress their own needs and desires to preserve their relationships with others.”6 Teen magazines, for example, have been critiqued for reinscribing traditional gender scripts (for both males and females), the idealization of heterosexuality and romance, and the association of sex (for women and girls) with risk and danger.7


XV, 297
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2013 (February)
humanities social sciences literature minorities
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2013. XV, 297 pp.

Biographical notes

Kate Harper (Volume editor) Yasmina Katsulis (Volume editor) Vera Lopez (Volume editor) Georganne Scheiner Gillis (Volume editor)

Kate Harper (PhD, Arizona State University) has published work in The Girlhood Studies Journal on the contradictory messages of female adolescence in the Nancy Drew mystery series, and her dissertation explores the discursive construction of the ideal girl and her non-ideal counterparts in popular girls’ series through the twentieth century. More broadly, her research interests include histories of girlhood and intersecting representations of sexuality, race, and class in literature and popular culture. Yasmina Katsulis (PhD, Yale University) is Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies at Arizona State University. She is the author of Sex Work and the City: The Social Geography of Health and Safety in Tijuana, Mexico (2010) and has had her work published in Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Men and Masculinities, and Women and Violence. Vera Lopez (PhD, University of Texas at Austin) is Associate Professor in Justice and Social Inquiry at Arizona State University. She has had her work published in a number of journals, including Journal of Family Issues, Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Violence Against Women, Family Relations, Feminist Criminology, Criminal Justice & Behavior, and Journal of Early Adolescence. Georganne Scheiner Gillis, (PhD, Arizona State University) is the Head of Faculty and Associate Professor in Women and Gender Studies in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University. She is the author of Signifying Female Adolescence: Film Representations and Fans 1920–1950 (2000) and has published articles on such topics as Sandra Dee, fan clubs, and the 1950s TV show, Queen for a Day. She is currently finishing a book, Haven for Hopefuls: The Hollywood Studio Club and Women in the Film Industry.


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