How teen girls and parents make meaning of a cervical cancer vaccine campaign: Toward a feminist, multicultural critique of health communication

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The purpose of this study was to understand how teen girls and parents of teen girls make meaning of an HPV/cervical cancer vaccine communication campaign. Factors that were considered in investigating meaning-making were personal, familial, educational, sociopolitical, and technological and media factors. Other cultural concepts explored were identity, difference, communication preferences, and medicalization. Using a cultural study approach and feminist, qualitative methods, 40 teens between the ages of 13- and 18-years old and 14 parents of teen girls were interviewed using focus groups, dyad interviews, and individual interviews. The study employed the grounded theory approach to data analysis. Overall, parents and teens hold resolute beliefs about the Gardasil vaccine and media about it, and participants are divided as to their favorability toward the vaccine and its promotion to them. More specifically, the data suggest that teen girls largely make meaning of the HPV/cervical cancer vaccine campaign through the sociopolitical and mediated relationships in their lives, and in particular, how the girls perceive and act around difference in their lives largely contribute to the ways they view communication about sexual health topics like HPV, cervical cancer, and the vaccine. Differently, parents largely make meaning of the campaign through the personal, familial, and educational aspects of their lives, for how they understand their roles as parents reflects a contradiction between their sexual lives growing up compared to their perceptions of how the media represent sexuality and health threats to their daughters. Overall, the data suggest that this campaign provides some empowering ideas and opportunities for teen girls and parents. However, the data also largely suggest that campaigns as such complicate not only decisions teen girls and parents must make about teen girls' health, but such campaigns also obscure how teen girls and parents know themselves individually, in relationship to one another, and in relationship with social and authoritative bodies outside their comfort zones. These data confirm previous studies findings in public relations, feminist media, and cervical cancer intervention research. The data also extend and combine extant research about culture, women's health topics, and communication campaigns in ways that suggest a feminist, cultural-centered health communication critique that encourages communicators to wholly reconsider traditional approaches to the origination, development, deployment, and involvement of communication campaigns involving women and teen girls and important health topics to them. Implications for health communication practice as well as feminist methodology are considered for similar future projects.