WHO AM I?: MEDIA INFLUENCE ON THE GENDER CONSTRUCTION OF ADOLESCENT GIRLS
Lawrence, Angela S
Valli, Linda R
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While gender construction and identity occur across many years of childhood and early adulthood, it is in the adolescent stage when children ask the question, “Who am I?” In this study, I examine the ways media, as well as parents and peers, influence adolescent gender construction. Because of my interest in environments that seek to minimize media exposure, I situated the study in an alternative school setting. My main research question asked, “In what ways do students perform gender in a school environment that shapes interactions with media in particular ways?” To ensure that the investigation considered multiple perspectives, I examined students’ use of media at home and at school; how parental values regarding their children’s media use related to gender performance, values, and ideals; and, lastly, how gender performance at the school compared to what we know about gender performance in traditional environments. Previous research has examined messages students receive about expectations for gender performance in typical, media-saturated environments, but there is little on gender performance in alternative educational settings, a gap this study seeks to fill. Moreover, this study aims to advance the understanding of gender performance in a setting which encourages minimal exposure to media, defined for the purposes of this study as television, videos, movies, computers, gaming systems, radio, CDs, books, newspapers, and magazines. I employed an embedded case study method to examine gender performance as the overarching case, situating the media habits of six student participants as well as parent and staff perspectives as the sub-cases. Data collection included interviews, document collection, anecdotal notes, and classroom observations. Findings from the research demonstrate that when students are less attuned to the societal norms and stereotypes as expressed in mainstream media, they are more apt to express their individuality and perform gender in confident, unapologetic ways that felt comfortable and natural to them. I also present findings and implications from the study with regard to the ways student participants utilize media for socialization and skill-building purposes and the ways parents and students navigate differing opinions on appropriate and inappropriate media content.