On March 5, ABC2 aired I am a Girl. Rebecca Barry’s documentary introduced us to six young women from around the world. They hail from Cambodia, Cameroon, Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea, the USA and Australia.
The doco features girls such as Kimsey, a 14-year-old sex worker who supports her entire family, and Katie, a wealthy, middle-class student getting ready for exams. Their lives may be different but they all share a common dilemma: they live in a world where it’s dangerous to be a girl.
When it comes to girls and media, 2014 looks like a refreshing change from Miley-obsessed 2013.
But funnily enough, I am a Girl helps us understand the hoo-hah over Mouseketeer twerking. How? By reminding audiences of the feminist media scholarship of the 1970s. It was on the money then, and it still is now.
I am a Girl’s premise is that technological and social advances have not produced gender equality. Too many girls are murdered, assaulted and exploited because of their gender. Their resilience and ingenuity simply underlines the need for systematic intervention.
Ironically, it’s the courage and wit of ordinary girls that masks the grinding evil of gender oppression. If you want to think about girls, media and reality, think Malala Yousafzai, not Miley Cyrus.
Barry’s work reflects the influence of British 1970s feminist media research.
Back then, a collective called the Women’s Study Group at Birmingham University argued that any effort to understand the significance of how girls are depicted in the media had to start with an analysis of their social and physical experience. They argued that debates over the liberating or oppressing qualities of onscreen images had to connect with simple political facts: for example, that in the post-war period, social policy wanted women to stay at home and reproduce.
In other words, ideological battles weren’t just being fought on screen: they were being written on women’s bodies.
Are things getting better for girls?
Cultural theorist Angela McRobbie is a key figure here. In recent years, she’s argued that time has only deepened the essential problems with the media. Back in the 70s, media offered girls little to aspire to; they were either invisible, victims or dogsbodies.
Now, things are arguably worse – because they are cosmetically better. Today’s screens are full of girls who can do anything. The real world is full of others who can’t, because they shoulder the burden of economic and social exploitation.
According to McRobbie, thinking about real and media girls means remembering two things.
First, being smart and sassy doesn’t solve anything. Second, because this is true for most girls in most parts of the world, it’s vital to think about how gender inequality is powerful because it acclimatises to different circumstances.
Which is precisely I am a Girl’s point.
There isn’t so much difference between Kimsey, the Cambodian sex worker and Katie, the Australian schoolgirl battling depression against in a world of impossible demands. The documentary doesn’t just open eyes to places that aren’t like the one that viewers live in. It also invites us to consider what these worlds share. Perhaps that is its strongest feature.
The lessons take last year’s controversies about Miley Cyrus in new directions. According to this logic, there’s no contradiction between the arguments that the incident that propelled “twerking” into the Oxford English Dictionary dramatised the inherent sexual exploitation of media industries, versus the counter that it was a feisty piss-take.
The world is full of feisty girls who know what time it is. It’s just that this changes less than we might imagine.
The genius of I am a Girl is that it doesn’t just teach us about a world that we don’t see. It also sheds new light on the media world that we do see.
I am a Girl screens on ABC2 at 8.35pm tonight. Details here.
This story first appeared in The Conversation
Top media editors explain why journalism is important
Earlier this year Dr Colleen Murrell filmed a number of interviews with senior media editors and she asked them what they believed was the point of journalism today.
Legacies of resistance we need to act upon
PhD candidate Matteo Dutto shares his PhD research into three iconic legacies of resistance in Australia.
Can 36 questions make any two people fall in love?
Three Monash University students decided to see what would happen if they each went up to a stranger and asked if they could share two hours and 36 of the most intimate questions imaginable – and let them record it for publication.
Waleed wins Silver Logie from field of celebrities
The Project host and Monash lecturer Waleed Aly has won the coveted TV Week 2017 Silver Logie Award for Best Presenter.
Apply now: Hong Kong field school
What does it take to get a job in journalism in Asia – and why is Hong Kong so vital to the global news industry? In this unit, students will travel to the Asian media capital to explore why this world city is the big draw for news companies from around the globe.
Monash journalism graduates & staff win three Quills
Monash University students, graduates and staff have stamped their authority on Australian journalism to claim three Quill awards and three high commendations in the coveted 2016 Melbourne Press Club awards.
What leading editors look for in student journalists
Colleen Murrell, a senior lecturer in the journalism department at Monash University, spent part of January and February this year interviewing media editors in Sydney, London and Paris for a research project. The Times editor, John Witherow (pictured left), offers great advice for student journalists.
Nathan joins AFL reigning premier, the Bulldogs
Monash University journalism graduate Nathan Lay has landed an impressive role at the Western Bulldogs, working as the social media and digital coordinator for the AFL’s reigning premier. Nathan interned at St Kilda to prepare for his great opportunity.
Game, set, match with alumnus Joel Smith
From creating a documentary in Norway to producing a 10 week radio show, we spoke with Joel Smith about his study experience at Monash and how he landed his dream job at Tennis Australia.
MFJ academics play key part in Screening Melbourne
Screening Melbourne, an exciting conference and events program, was held in the the CBD recently, which involved moving attendees through the city to experience its history, materiality and contemporary complexity.
Monash alumni launch Australian women in film festival
Monash Arts Film & Screen Studies PhD alumni Sian Mitchell, Kirsten Stevens, Whitney Monaghan and Janice Loreck are behind the inaugural Melbourne Women in Film Festival (view the trailer) launching 3-4 March 2017 at Melbourne’s Treasury Theatre, the former State Film Centre.
Margaret Simons joins Monash journalism
Award-winning journalist, author and academic Margaret Simons will join the journalism department in Monash University’s School of Media, Film and Journalism in July.