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Research Article Open Access

Jammer Girls and the World Wide Web: Making an About-Face

Abstract

Adolescent girls must make a decision, the results of which affect the quality of their lives early, often, and sometimes through adulthood. Being a "good girl" or a "bad girl," according to social constructions of femininity, is a key component in identity formation. I argue that this is a false dichotomy imposed upon adolescent girls as a means of creating conformity to a set of ideas and behaviors by using morality (or lack thereof) as a social barometer. Advances in girls' access to sports, media literacy education, access to the Internet, and participation by many in third wave feminism has made the emergence of a third girl identity possible. I call her “Jammer Girl .” In this article, I describe the underpinnings of the imposition of the identity dichotomy, explore the nature of female adolescence as it relates to identity formation, and explore the impact of peer pressure on self-esteem. Finally, the Web resource About-Face.org is described as an Internet catalyst for Jammer Girl activism. A girl has two choices in life according to advertising critic Jean Kilbourne (1999): (1) to be a good girl who conforms to sex role expectations and strives to achieve an unrealistic body ideal, or (2) to be a bad girl who rebels against the culture and society with violence, aggression, and indiscriminate sex. But are there really only two choices? What about the girl who rejects the tenets of thinness, fashion, and passivity? What about the girl who is tired of the barrage of commercial messages and the hard sell, and who wants to challenge beauty ideology with positive actions and representations of healthy femaleness? This article is about the false dichotomy of good girl versus bad girl in American society, how the divide between the two can be filled by a third girl identity--Jammer Girl--and strategies that facilitate the process of becoming a healthy, activist girl by way of the Internet. This analysis accepts Kearney's (1998, p. 289) challenge that studies of girl culture need to go beyond "consumerist practices of female adolescents" to reflect not only advances in studies of girl culture but also the improving status of women in society. In this article, I have four goals. First, I would like to briefly explore the roots of the good girl versus bad girl dichotomy in adolescent development. Second, I will describe the harmful effects this division has on the psyches of adolescent girls. Next, I will explore the emergence of Jammer Girl, who represents an identity based not on physical appearance and passivity, but on health and activism. And finally, I examine About-Face.org (A-F.org), a World Wide Web site resource for girls and women that provides examples of and skills needed to evaluate and respond to harmful images of girls and women in advertising (particularly in fashion advertising) that help sustain the good girl/bad girl dichotomy. Importantly, A-F.org offers a solution to many of the frustrations facing girls by demonstrating ways to interrupt the flow of images--the "media circus"-- by culture jamming.1 While A-F.org is only one among several proactive girl sites, it is unique in its use of a media literacy framework within which ads are evaluated and posted. In the sections that follow, I briefly describe the challenges of adolescent girlhood, the relationship of commercial media to that experience, and the role of the Internet in facilitating a safe and private space in which girls are invited to create content, advocate for change, and explore questions about their minds, bodies, and roles in society.

Debra Merskin

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