"I just find it awkward": Girls' negotiations of sexualised pop music media
This thesis examines girls’ relationship with and consumption of female pop stars’ music media. It is contextualised within a period of extensive academic and media debate about girls’ engagement with what has been termed the sexualisation of culture. Much of the alarm concerning girls’ premature sexualisation is underpinned by the presumption of girls as passive media consumers who are uniformly influenced by sexually saturated female pop music, particularly its ubiquitous representation of hyper (hetero) sexually desiring femininity. The notion of girls as precociously sexualised by hypersexual female pop music media has gained homogenous status within mainstream media and popular psychology texts. Girls’ pleasurable consumption and negotiation of a sexually laden media landscape is approached in this research as complicated by their contradictory positioning as savvy consumers within the postfeminist girlhood consumer market and simultaneously as victims within mainstream media and academic literature. Grounded in feminist poststructuralist understandings of girls’ subjectivity, the thesis explores the possibilities of self that representations within female pop music media enable and constrain for girls. Furthermore, the thesis explores ways in which girls make sense of these discourses while carefully managing their positioning as consumers. The research upon which this thesis is based has two parts. Part one of the research involved focus groups within which 30 pre-teen girls, identifying as ‘Kiwis’ or ‘New Zealanders’ discussed their engagement with female popular music media. The second part comprises a thematic discursive and semiotic analysis of girls’ self-recorded group video performances to a favourite pop song by a female artist. Discursive analysis of the professional music videos on which girls’ performances were based accompanied analyses of girls’ videos. The thesis contributes to a growing body of critical feminist research which responds to sexualisation claims that underpin hegemonic understandings of contemporary girlhood. The analyses presented in the research challenge moralistic notions of girls as uniformly influenced by pop music media by highlighting their navigation of this media as a contradictory process of appropriation and rejection. This complex negotiation, while seen in previous feminist literature, is uniquely captured within this thesis through the innovative employment of a performance method that extends feminist theorisations which problematise binary assumptions of girls’ engagement with sexualised media. This research identifies girls’ meaning making as a contradictory and plural process and provides novel insights about girls’ negotiation of postfeminist femininities in their own self-making in relation to self. Crucially, the thesis highlights the way in which girls’ navigation of sexualised media can be understood as occurring through both rejection and reproduction of postfeminist femininity ideals. Contextualised in New Zealand, the research extends knowledge about girls’ navigation of sexualised media beyond a US/UK social context. It also advances the small body of New Zealand literature about girls’ media engagement broadly and about the ways they experience sexualised media in particular.