Youth, mobile technologies and gender politics

Project title: Youth, mobile technologies and gender politics: young people’s beliefs about gender and ethical use of communication technologies*

Research team: Dr Amy Dobson, Dr Danielle Tyson, Dr Mary Lou Rasmussen


Research outline: This study sought to better understand gender discourses in high school communities in relation to young people’s heavy engagement with mobile communication devices and social network sites. We were interested in young people’s views on sexual politics in high school communities in relation to young people’s engagement with social network sites and mobile communication devices; and in the context of an alleged broad ‘sexualisation of culture’, and growing concerns in Australia and overseas surrounding the prosecution of young people who produce or circulate sexualised digital images under child pornography statutes. Focus groups were conducted with 24 high school students in Years 10 & 11 at two secondary schools in Victoria. We showed participants Tagged, a short film produced by ACMA, about cyber-safety, and asked them about their general impressions of the film, their views about the kind of gender roles depicted in the film, and their ideas on boys’ and girl’s responsibility around sending and receiving sexualised digital images.


Summary of key findings: Young people remembered most clearly the ‘sexting’ incident portrayed in the film Tagged and talked a lot about the negative social consequences of sexting, particularly for girls. Much of their conversation focused on the reasons why girls should not and cannot engage in any kind of sexualised self-presentation digitally; it was seen as inevitable that girls’ pictures would be distributed further than intended, and that ‘boys can’t be trusted.’

Boys tended to rationalise the behaviour of Jack in the film, whom they saw as understandably seeking ‘revenge’, although they disagreed with the ethics of his actions. They picked up on the gendered responses to conflict depicted in Tagged (boys associated with physical aggression and girls with psycho-social) and positioned such gendered responses to conflict as ‘normal’.

Girls were critical of Jack’s behaviour but many still felt that Kate was to blame for her own victimisation.   And yet, girls also expressed their concern that girls are vulnerable to sexual rumours regardless of image sharing practices because of longstanding gendered double standards around sex that involve shaming girls who are seen as sexually active/desiring.

In 2012 the team convened the national Symposium ‘Young People and Mediated Sexual Communication’ at Monash University, Caulfield Campus. This symposium brought together researchers and stakeholders in the field from around Australia and internationally.



Related publications and conference presentations:

Tyson, D., Dobson, A.S., Rasmussen, M.L. (2014). ‘Gender, sexting and technology: young people’s perceptions of ethical and non-ethical communication in the cyber-safety film Tagged.’ Paper presented at the Sexualities/Technology/Health research symposium, Prato, Italy, June 17-18.

Dobson, A.S., Tyson, D., Rasmussen, M.L. (2014). ‘Slut making’: young peoples’ understanding of gender and sexting practices. Paper presented at The Australian and New Zealand Communication Association Conference, Swinburne University, July 9-11.

Dobson, A.S., (2014). Girls, sexting and gender politics: making space for teen girls as sexual agents? Paper presented at ‘Researching girls and sexuality: Affect, the digital and the body’, Institute of Education, London, June 26.

Dobson, A.S., Tyson, D., Farrugia, A., Rasmussen, M.L. (2013). Youth, mobile technologies and gender politics: young people’s beliefs about gender and ethical use of communication technologies. Paper presented at The Australian Sociological Association Annual Conference: ‘Reflections, Intersections and Aspirations: 50 years of Australian Sociology’, Monash University, November 25-28.

Ringrose, J., Dobson, A.S. and Harvey, L. (2013). Shamed, ‘tagged’, and ‘exposed’: Gendered morality in the discursive construction of feminine and masculine sexting subjects. Seminar presented at the ESRC funded seminar series: ‘Understanding the young sexual body’, University of Greenwich, July 5.

Dobson, A.S., Rasmussen, M.L. & Tyson, D. (2012). Law Reform Committee Inquiry into Sexting (Submission no. S34) Victoria: Law Reform Committee. Available at:

Tyson, D., Dobson, A.S. and Rasmussen, M.L. (2012) ‘Sexting’ teens: decriminalising young people’s sexual practices. In The Conversation, 28 Sept. Available at:


*This project was funded by Monash Arts Faculty Small Projects Grant, Monash School of Social Sciences Strategic Initiatives Fund. Ethics approval was received from MUHREC and DEECD.