Category: Teenage Identity

Young Sexualities Conference Cardiff University 25/01/13

Conference Summary

A few months ago I attended a conference in Cardiff (25/01/13) which focused on ‘Young Sexualities’. The conference title and programme attracted me and the scheduled talks on sexualisation, youth and sexuality, constructions of femininity and girls’ advertising experiences, all fell within my research interests.

After paying the conference attendance fee I booked my return train from Liverpool to Cardiff with the aim of making it a day trip. In the lead up to the conference it had been snowing a lot so I put my wellies on in preparation and upon arrival I found Cardiff to be as sludgy and cold as I had imagined it to be!

IMG_0376[1]I was all organised and knew where I was going. I had to get a train from Cardiff Central to Cathays, but while I was on this train I was told that it was running late and wouldn’t be stopping at any of the planned stations! So basically, I ended up in Ponty-somethingoranother at the end of the track which took about half an hour and then I had to wait another 20 minutes for a train back to Cathays!

After this detour of random Welsh towns I eventually arrived at the conference 45 minutes late. Luckily I hadn’t missed anything too exciting because the first talk I’d planned to attend had been cancelled and next up was the talk I was most looking forward to: ‘The Trouble with Sexualisation’ by PhD student Helen Williams.

Prior to the conference I had emailed Helen and we had a brief exchange about our research interests so I was really looking forward to hearing her speak.

In her presentation, Helen addressed the debate surrounding the term ‘sexualisation’ arguing that it is a troubling concept which problematises young female sexuality. Focusing on The Sexualisation of Young People Review by Linda Papadopolous (2009), Helen critiqued the policy approach to sexualisation by raising some very interesting points relating to moral panics, conservative values and the demonisation of young female sexuality. Helen argued that much of the discourse surrounding sexualisation tends to neglect female agency by adopting a protectionist approach through which young women are portrayed as the victims of a sexualised culture.

IMG_0374[1]Although heavily critical of ‘sexualisation’ as a concept, Helen also argued that there is a need to address the sexual images in society as well as a need for research into how young people themselves interpret sexual imagery. Helen suggests that addressing the sexual images in mass media should involve a more frank and open approach to sex education which includes the discussion of pornography and sex within relationships.

Overall, the presentation by Helen Williams prompted some helpful ideas for my own research. I was also introduced to a different point of view to my own as the points raised were something I had not previously considered in great detail. The talk made me reconsider how I had initially interpreted Papadopolous (2009) and having since re-read the review and having explored other critiques of sexualisation, I have now developed a more critical view of the framing and language used when focusing on issues surrounding sexism, sexual objectification and sexual imagery in general.

IMG_0363[1]The other speakers and posters displayed during the day added to my ideas about youth, sex and subjectivity. The whole event was really interesting and touched on issues surrounding female sexuality, agency and empowerment, which is what I had hoped for when I first read about the conference.

I was definitely pleased that I attended the conference, although, when it came down to the content of the presentations, there were only a few talks that I could draw inspiration from or apply to my own research. However, I don’t see this as a negative, I suppose that is what conferences are all about, you never know what research will be useful to your own until you hear or read about it.

During the day there were a few opportunities to network but as this was my first academic conference, I felt a little bit out of my depth and didn’t feel confident explaining my research to people. I kept myself to myself but hope to get more confidence over the coming months so that I can network successfully in the future as its a shame to waste such an opportunity!

Reflecting on the day, I feel that my trip to the ‘Young Sexualities’ conference in Cardiff was a very worthwhile experience. Having travelled there alone and attended talks which excited and inspired me, I was left with a great sense of achievement and independence.

My next post will feature a conference I attended at York University in March entitled ‘Body Projects’.

Book Summary: Levy, A. (2005). Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.

This post is part 2/3 and follows on from last week’s summary of Betty Friedan’s classic 1963 feminist text, The Feminine Mystique.

Unfortunately due to having started a new job, I am now working 12 hour days which has left me with no time and no energy! Therefore the three planned ‘book reviews’ are turning more into ‘book summaries’ and although they lack any real critical reflection I hope that they will provide people with a general overview of the books considered.

Levy, A. (2005). Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. Simon & Schulster, London.

ariel levyAriel Levy is a contributing editor at The New Yorker and was fairly unknown before breaking out in 2005 with one of the latest feminist texts to have mass appeal. The book looks at what Levy claims is ‘the rise of raunch culture’ and detailing the cultural context in which this is occurring, the author points the finger of blame in the direction of what she calls ‘Female Chauvinist Pigs’ (FCP).

According to Levy (2005) FCPs are women who make sex objects of themselves and other women and they are everywhere. Levy illustrates her theory with an array of testimonies and examples including the reality television programme ‘Girls Gone Wild’, the adoption of the Playboy brand logo by young girls, the popularity of celebrity sex tapes and the increase in cosmetic surgery procedures, in particular, breast implants and labiaplasty.

“We don’t even think about it anymore, we just expect to see women flashing and stripping and groaning everywhere we look”

The main point made throughout the text is that contemporary American culture is saturated with images of cartoonish Jessica Rabbit style representations of femininity- breast implants, collagen lips and stripper heels. Levy (2005) claims that this image is now so pervasive that it has become embedded in the subconsciousness of women to the point where they will imitate what they see to win approval from the opposite sex.

The author holds porn and glamour industries responsible for this uniform, ubiquitous representation of femininity, arguing that it creates a social context in which women are expected to be sexy at all times whilst remaining ‘pure’ and ‘innocent’ in the eyes of the potential partners.

Levy (2005) contends that girls and young women feel pressured into conforming to the characteristics of a FCP, however, she fails to question whether their actions are in fact a true expression of their agency and sexuality. In reference to FCPs, Levy often describes a one-dimensional woman whose only way of expressing her personality is by “spinning around a pole”. I could almost taste her disapproval.

“Sex is one of the most interesting things we as human beings have to play with, and we’ve reduced it to polyester underpants and implants”

Levy (2005) argues that the rise of raunch culture has resulted in American women embracing a false model of sexuality. They do this by imitating those whose job it is to fake lust and ecstasy- porn stars. She believes that this threatens the liberation of female sexuality as opposed to being the epitome of it as some feminists suggest.

In a 2008 radio interview, Levy said that she “doesn’t buy into exhibitionism as a form of empowerment” and whilst I tend to mostly agree, I recognise that there are women out there who do feel empowered and I would like to have heard more about these women in the book.

books_bgI really enjoyed Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. I am not a big reader (yet) but I found the text really accessible. Being a teenager in the late 90s/early 2000s I was familiar with a lot of the media references Levy made, I remember when boob jobs blew up (no pun intended) and I understand where Levy is coming from when she talks about the bombardment of sexualised images coming out of American culture. I got through the book very quickly and would recommend it to anyone who would like to know more about debates surrounding contemporary feminism.

I will post the next book summary in a week or so, time permitting. It will focus on Natasha Walter’s Living Doll: The Return of Sexism.

Female Interpretations of Sexual Content in the Music Videos of Popular Female Artists

Undergraduate Dissertation Introduction

Here is my undergraduate dissertation ‘Introduction’. It is a bit dodgy in areas but I hope that this will provide an example and help those who are undertaking research in a similar area.

Introduction

The debate surrounding the effects of sexual media has recently been reinvigorated with children and women’s charities, journalists and the current British and Australian governments, having all made attempts to address and tackle the sexual behaviours and attitudes expressed by female artists in their music videos and live performances. This renewed interest has mainly emerged due to the sexually provocative nature of current female artists such as Rihanna, whose notoriously raunchy performances frequently attract the attention of media critics, and Lady Gaga who has a reputation for wearing outrageous ensembles, often leaving very little to the imagination.

With a large majority of music being centred around relationships, romance and love, sex has always been a popular accompaniment to musical performance, lyrics and most recently, music videos. Early 20th century jazz and blues was recognised as exhibiting a certain level of sexual intensity with the gyrating crotch of Elvis, Little Richard and other rock and roll stars during the 1950s and 60s causing great controversy at the time (Arnett, 2002). Elvis was actually quoted in the 1970s as saying “Man, I was tame compared to what they do now. Are you kidding? I didn’t do anything but just jiggle” http://www.elvis.com. This quote emphasizes the percieved increase in the sexual nature of music from Elvis’ heyday in the 1950s through to the early 1970s.

During the 1980s and 1990s, sexual content had begun to increasingly permeate popular music (Roberts & Christenson, 1998) and can be seen and heard in the music lyrics and videos of female artists who enjoyed stardom at the time, most notabley Madonna, who in 1992 released the album Erotica along with a coffee table book entitled Sex which featured explicit photographs of the singer. Much tamer but still offering music fans scenes of a sexual nature, Britney Spears and Christina Aquilera have contributed to the array of provocative music videos with Christina’s Dirty video and Britney’s I’m a Slave for you consequently causing their own controversies. More recently during the 2000s and up to the present day, videos from artists such as the Pussycat Dolls, Shakira, Ciara, Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Rihanna have all continued the trend (Jhally, 2007).

The majority of research focusing on sexual content of music videos can be divided into three categories: content analyses, effects research and audience interpretations. This dissertation falls into the third and least developed field of research by exploring female audience interpretations of sexual content in female music videos.

As a major source of information for young people and adolescents, the mass media is believed to play a crucial role in their sexual socialisation (Harris & Scott, 2002). The presence of sexual content in music video is so pervasive within popular music that it has now reached the point where it is highly predictable for sexual imagery to accompany the music videos of popular female artists, even when the lyrics do not match the imagery (Roberts & Christenson, 1998). For example, a recent music video by British pop artist Pixie Lott shows the singer in a variety of sexual poses despite the song having nothing to do with sex. This raises serious concerns regarding the effects sexual content may have on viewers, especially young people, who are a significant concern due to the amount of time they spend listening to music and watching music videos (Arnett, 2002).

Supporting the argument that sex is becoming an increasingly pervasive part of mass culture, this dissertation aims to fill a void within existing research whereby it fails to adequately address the interpretations, perceptions and attitudes of young women in relation to the sexual content of music videos.

The main aim of the research is to utilise the focus group technique in order to discover what young women think about music videos and their sexual content. Participants were selected through snowball sampling and are young women aged 18-25. Questions focus on the areas of body image, sexual objectification, self-objectification and sexualisation of young people. The aim is to discover how the participants interpret what they see, how it makes them feel about their body image, their relationships with men, sexual objectification and whether or not they think sexual music videos by female artists impact young girls in a detrimental way.