Beyond the binary: Preteen girls read "tween" popular culture: diversity, complexity and contradiction

R. Gill, Tiina Vares, Sue Jackson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Proliferation of the 'porn-chic' styled woman or girl in postfeminist media underpins contemporary debates about the effects of 'sexualizing' media on girls. Policy reports and popular books frame such media as a significant cause of harm, positioning girls as highly susceptible to their 'sexualizing' representations. However, what is absent from this literature and current debates are the perspectives of preteen girls themselves. In this article we contribute to the debates by reporting on a three-year empirical study of how 71 'tween' girls in New Zealand make sense of the popular culture they encounter in their everyday lives. We argue that our analytic focus on diversity, complexity and contradiction in participants' responses to popular representations of femininity counters many of the claims made about the 'sexualization' of preteen girls in the above literature, in particular, that preteen girls lack the skills to critically engage with the media and will emulate the 'sexualized' styles of advertising and celebrity culture. However, our analysis also illustrates that participants can be both 'critical' readers and 'feel bad' about themselves in response to the same images. It is, we suggest, attention to the multiplicity and variability of participants' responses that enables us to account for both 'agency' and media influence in ways that do not simply reinscribe girls as 'passive victims' of a 'sexualized' media and thus takes us beyond the active/passive binary.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-154
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Media and Cultural Politics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011


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