Discussion and Implications
         
      by Ashley Grisso  
       
 

 

  There are limitations to this study in addition to the ones previously mentioned. Only 11 subjects were studied, therefore there is no intention to make broad generalizations that can be applied to all girls or even most girls based on the findings of this study. However, the girls studied are representative of other girls this age who share similar ethnic backgrounds that can be found in urban centers in the US. Nevertheless, no firm conclusions can be made with a group this small.

The effort to introduce media literacy concepts was achieved in Breakiní It Down with limited success. The goal of deconstructing commercial music videos was accomplished. To be most effective the process of deconstruction needs to be a regular activity to which the students can become accustomed and practiced. Looking at music videos representing a wide range of genres might lead to a more thorough critique of the codes and conventions used by music video creators. The incorporation of video making needs to be woven in more carefully throughout the course of the program. There needs to be a balance between formal lecture, critical thinking exercises and acquiring technical video making skills. The sooner the students learn how to use a camera, the more quickly the organic process of determining what role students have an affinity for can be established. There needs to be space given for students to play and dance. It is often during these less structured times that the students' attitudes and beliefs are more clearly demonstrated. Space needs to be made for students to explore and embody the roles of music video participants to give them a chance to deepen their ability to investigate the mechanics behind the "making of a pop music star." This might lead them to think about what values and messages they feel are worthy of communicating if given an opportunity to "be a celebrity."

As a teacher/researcher, I was unable to deeply investigate with my students the business mechanisms behind the commercialization of music, the agenda setting determined by music business producers and the role of the established patriarchy in the US to the degree that will be possible when embodying an exclusive role as media literacy teacher. It is my intention to continue to teach Breakiní It Down with a more systematic and explicit approach to media literacy.

The CBBC girls from Everett Middle School were less self-conscious about participating in dialogue regarding media literacy concepts and gender stereotypes than the older YWCA girls who participated from Horace Academic Middle School. Three factors probably contributed to this. First, the CBBC girls worked with me for a longer period of time, 10 versus seven weeks, and each meeting was 1.5 hours versus 45 minutes. The additional time spent deepened our rapport and their trust of me. Second, we were alone during the conversations in a private "girls only" setting with little disruption from outside influence. This created an intimacy that allowed us to talk freely and gave the girls an opportunity to play more. Third, a camera was not used to document their process until the group cemented their relationship as a collaborative entity and they had worked through their artistic process. The camera was present from the beginning at the YWCA program.

Conversely, the CBBC girls were not empowered by working with a camera and thinking in terms of how they could manipulate their artistic expression through the video medium, as the YWCA girls were beginning to be able to do. In each group I had the best interaction with the girls and things seemed to "gel" in Week 7. This leads me to believe that the next iteration of Breakiní It Down ought to be eight weeks with the pizza party, wrap-up and video viewing in Week 8.

I have no conclusive thoughts about all that this program uncovered, but I do know that girls this age, despite their self declared heavy media exposure and intimate knowledge of music video codes and conventions, are not totally desensitized; they do feel and react to overt displays of sexuality. They are uncomfortable and curious, but I cannot at this point venture a guess as to how this discomfort is manifested in a broad sense. It is clear that the girls were somewhat unwilling to admit to their uneasiness or talk much about it in their peer environment. The peer group, particularly among the 8th graders, maintained something of a code of silence about sensitive topics covered in Breakiní It Down. As my weeks with the 8th grade participants from the YWCA passed, they loosened up and said more, but not much more, about how they were processing messages and images from music videos.

I noticed a significant difference when the girls discussed issues in the larger peer context than when they were in smaller groups. When we discussed the business of music video making, the YWCA girls were surprised to learn that record companies pay for music videos and that the performer(s) often has little control. They did not speak about this, but I could see several of them seriously thinking about the idea. My impression is that this newly discovered knowledge interested some of the girls, but they were unwilling to pursue their questions in the larger peer environment. When two friends paired off and asked each other questions that the author prepared regarding music video usage and attitudes, they were more forthcoming about their feelings and thoughts. When teaching only two students, they seemed more willing to volunteer information and question the other's ideas.

This leads me to believe that personal mores and values and even intellectual investigation are more easily discussed privately or with a certain friend or two as opposed to the larger peer group context. How individual girls arbitrate their personal conflict of struggling to decide what "feels right" remains a mystery to me, yet I suggest it is determined to some degree within their peer context. It is my challenge and our society's to support each girl in her process of negotiating meaning from media texts. Our society sends an abundance of titillating messages by advertisers and media producers. It is intended and assumed that men and boys will be aroused, but girls and women are sent mixed messages as to how they ought to respond. We need to continue to instruct girls in how to acquire critical thinking regarding media messages to encourage a healthier sense of self and sexuality.

My research demonstrates that media are cultural currency for youth and that music videos are an integral part of the lives of the students studied. Durhamís (1999) implications from "Girls, media, and the negotiation of sexuality: A study of race, class and gender in adolescent peer groups" are similar to those I advance here. Durham establishes the centrality of mass media in adolescent society and underscores the links between socialization in peer group and dominant norms of sexuality and consumer culture. The teenagers in Durham's study were acutely aware of the need to use the media to find their foothold in their group. Their uses of the media establish their understanding and acceptance of sexual norms as a necessary part of peer interaction.

Due to the scope and duration of the Breakin' It Down project, the focus was mainly on uncovering and deciphering gender stereotypes. This attention to decoding sexually explicit material led to numerous discussions of appropriate normative feminine behavior. In my observation of peer group interaction, how girls behave when together in a group of 6 to 8, compared to when they are with primary friends in dyads, was fascinating. In the larger group, only the more confident and outspoken girls expressed their opinions. In pairs, the "dominant" friend obviously influenced her friend's stated opinions and ideas.

In Durham's (1999) study the peer group was shown to be the training ground where girls learned to use mass media to acquire the skills of ideal femininity, but it was also a place where rejection of these norms could sometimes be voiced. While girls individually have some sense of the social environment that operates to regulate their expressions of gender and sexuality, and while they might have tried on an individual level to resist damaging normative constructions of femininity, the peer group dynamic tended to mitigate against such resistance.

In my study, there were instances when an individual girl would cautiously voice disapproval or discomfort with overt messages of sexuality communicated through music videos. If the "leaders" of the group thought the message was acceptable or "cool," the concern was quickly withdrawn. Conversely, if a leader expressed displeasure surrounding the specific message or the meaning she negotiated, she attempted to influence her friend or friends to think as she thought. The leaders sometimes placed "words into the mouth" of their friends. When one shy 6th grade girl challenged the leader of her clique about an assertion the leader made regarding the status of their school, the shy girl later denied making the wise and thoughtful challenge, in my view, from her fear of peer reprisal.

Numerous theorists posit a fluid and mobile relationship between mass media and receivers. Especially in cultural studies literature, it is assumed that readers are able to reappropriate the meanings of messages according to their various life circumstances (Durham, 1999). Durham gently challenges that and suggests that girls on their own might be somewhat more able to critically examine and deconstruct media messages than in the peer group context. She asserts that that while race and class are differentiators of middle school aged-girls' socialization and media use, the differences highlight the ways in which their different cultures function to uphold different aspects of dominant ideologies of femininity. Durham tentatively concludes from her data that the peer group generally serves to consolidate dominant constructions of gender and sexuality. Normative sexual conformity is a way of bonding with the group, and mass media are used as instruments in the bonding process.

It is a widely held view in cultural studies that the potential for significant rebellion takes place in the peer group setting. My research leaves me with the idea that at this point in the physical and emotional development of the girls studied, their peer group encourages conformity to normative construction of femininity in terms of gender formation and making sense of music video texts. From my observations, when the girls are in a larger group, they keep for the most part to conversations about fashion, hairstyles and dance moves. These are "safe" subjects. There is an invisible line between the girls who are considered "boy crazy" and those who are not. How the boy crazy girls express their interest in boys is the next line of demarcation. Cultural background appears to influence the mores around make-up and the perceptions of what is considered provocative attire or behavior in terms of attracting boys. By staying for the most part in the safe range of dialogue topics, girls in the larger peer groups skirt the more controversial issues around sexual expressiveness that they are working out individually and in smaller dyads.

I need to further study peer dynamics and cultural inclinations alongside personal meaning-making to claim a firm conclusion. However, the bonding process that take place among peers as I observe them watching music videos, copying dance moves, listening to and singing along with popular music and discussing clothes and hairstyles underscore the significance of the music video text. The messages communicated via music videos depict conventional albeit overtly sexualized ways to "be female" in US culture. The girls studied appear to have socially constructed their reality in part due to their interaction with music videos and each other.