The desire to be desired

So much going on in the news these days about young women facing dire consequences for their online presence. First, there has been a bit of media coverage of this research on pictures of teens being re-posted on websites without their permission. According to the article “The Internet Watch Foundation found that 88% of teens’ videos and photos are stolen, sometimes by a cottage industry of ‘parasite websites’ that exist for the sole purpose of harvesting candid teenage photos.”

While the startling percentage should be worth noting, it’s also important to note that only those photos that somehow were available to the public (either through low privacy settings on social networking sites, or through unfortunate theft/forwarding) were counted in this research. Also, the sample seems to be all pictures of teens, not just sexually explicit ones. No information as to whether sexually explicit pictures comprised a sizable percentage of the pictures analyzed, nor whether they were more or less likely to be found on those third-party sites.

And that statement about sexting “becoming the norm?” Well, the actual study states that 1/4 of teens have reported doing it. Which, if math serves me correctly, is not “norm.” And although over half did say that they have been asked to sext, that doesn’t seem surprising to me. Asking someone to “show me yours” has been tried since we all knew there was something “down there” we wanted to see.

Yet, there are consequences to having one’s picture posted on a random site — especially for girls, it seems. This article by Emily Heist Moss in Jezebel does a brilliant job of capturing that horrible tension between wanted and unwanted attention based on one’s looks. And sites like “12 Year Old Sluts” on Facebook, YouTube videos that ask “Am I Pretty?” as well as Amanda Todd’s story remind us that we still live in times where girls are told pretty early and consistently that they are to be beautiful and sexy so that others will admire them. But not too sexy (or beautiful) mind you, because then you are a slut, bitch, and will be told as much. Moss states that “shooting for appreciation without denigration” is the ultimate goal for many (young) women, a goal that requires careful negotiation while essentially balancing on a tightrope coated in Vaseline while everyone watches. Stay up there and you will earn the respect and awe of many. Slip and your fall will be recorded, posted, and ridiculed.

Life as Constant Performance Art

I just finished reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter, which is both pleasant and horrible to read. It essentially breaks down how marketing defines womanhood from an early age (think princesses and more princesses), and how that impacts a woman’s sense of self and sexuality moving forward. The chapter on girl beauty pageants almost did me in.

Towards the end of the book, author Peggy Orenstein comments on how social networking plays into this trap of womanhood = constant need to uphold an image of perfection and beauty:

“I don’t mean to demonize new technology. I enjoy Facebook myself…Yet I am also aware of the ways Facebook and Twitter subtly shifted by self-perception. Online, I carefully consider how any comments or photos I post will shape the persona I have cultivated; offline, I have caught myself processing my experience as it occurs, packaging  life as I live it…part of my consciousness splits off, viewing the scene from the outside and imagining how to distill it into a status update or Tweet.” p. 166

I wonder if this is how youth today constantly process their lives. What should I wear? Will there be cameras? Will this end up on Facebook? What will people say about me? What if I am there and people *don’t* say anything about me? Is what I am doing right now worthy of a post or Tweet? As Orenstein notes, life becomes performance, not process. In other words, our days are lived for others’ entertainment, comments, and approvals — not the self. This is frightening to me. For how are we going to truly discover who we are and want to be, if we are not allowed to fail and flounder, lest we be judged by our “friends” and “followers”? Young women certainly want their 15 minutes of fame to be something worthy of celebration, not embarrassment. The trick is to make it safe to feel vulnerable with so many watching.

Obsession with the Worst Case Scenario

Great blog post about how the media loves to focus on the scandal and tragedy associated with online interactions, but really, for the most part, youth handle themselves just fine in cyberspace. I LOVE this conclusion by author Elissa Strauss:

“This hysteria about what the web does to teenage sexuality, without any proof beyond a few salacious anecdotes that there is something to fear, sends a bad message to teenagers, and especially the teenage girls among them. It replicates the whole virgin/whore, genie-in-a-bottle notion of sexuality that, once unleashed, cannot be tamed. Where are stories about teenage girls who discover their sexuality but don’t lose control?”

I guess young people acting responsibly doesn’t make for good ratings. Too bad, because I bet there are a lot of them out there.

What girls do online

Texting on a keyboard phoneImage via WikipediaThis post is a continuation of yesterday’s post, moving through Justine Cassel & Meg Cramer’s article “High Tech or High Risk: Moral Panics about Girls Online”.

We’ll first look at some general teens & the internet facts:

– Today’s teens spend over six hours a day in front of some form of media … at least one of those hours is spent in front of a computer.

– 87% of teens are online

– the activity takes place primarily in the home or school

– 50% of US families are connected with broadband

– girls between 12 and 16 are the fastest growing internet users

– boys are more likely to play games online while girls are more likely to send email, use text messaging, read websites about movie stars, get health or dieting information

– 25% of girls online have a blog (go us!)

Then, some more interesting reading:

– “Teenage blog and social networking site users describe their writing s as read only by their peer network, express surprise that the writings are easily findable by others, and comment on the blogs that they feel are comfortable exposing their innermost feelings in these contexts because of their anonymity (even though the same author may give identifying information in a neighboring post).

– “Teens‘ use of instant messaging, e-mailing, game playing and website creation are key ways by which they grow into adults who manage, produce, and consume technology intelligently on an everyday basis.”

– “… the current panic over girls being online is not new … the result of moral panic has been a restriction on girls’ use of technology.”

– “Girls in particular may thrive online where they may be more likely to rise to positions of authority than in the physical world, more likely to be able to explore alternate identities without the dangers associated with venturing outside of their homes alone, more likely to be able to safely explore their budding sexuality, and more likely to openly demonstrate technological prowess, without the social dangers associated with the term “geek.” (I’m a geek. I embrace it.)

– “With luck, there will be a single difference between the moral panic surrounding the telegraph and the telephone, and that surrounding the internet: that we will come to recognize young women as more likely to be empowered by technology than damaged by it.”

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