Giving Voice to Girls

A child-centric examination of the lived experiences of young girls aged 7-13 in their personal media contexts

Abstract: Educators are responsible for guiding and supporting students as they grow and develop. Our students face numerous challenges in contemporary society – one of which is arguably media. Media have an overt and enduring presence in contemporary society. Children are observed to be particularly avid users. They engage with media for a range of reasons, such as educational applications and personal entertainment. While media do have immense potential for positive application, its proliferation throughout society is not without controversy – in fact, there are many concerns associated with media use, particularly where children are concerned.

While all of these issues merit discussion, one of distinct note is the problematic intersection of gender and media. Over the years, this issue has been interrogated extensively. It is often contended that media representations of girls and women are lacking. The literature shows that stereotyping, idealisation, objectification, and sexualisation are commonplace across all forms of media in the Western world. It is frequently argued that these representations are damaging and dehumanising. This raises concerns for girls engaging with these media.

Research to date has focused largely on media portrayals and potential health hazards, with an emphasis placed on examining adolescent girls or women in their early twenties. Fewer studies have focused on younger girls. Very few have approached the issues from a child-centric perspective; rather, the research is largely adult-centric with little regard given to the perspectives and experiences of young girls.

This study sought to contribute to existing knowledge by pursuing a child-centric exploration of the lived experiences of young girls in their personal media contexts. It involved a mixed research approach through a feminist and participatory lens. A small Western Australian primary school consented to participate with the school principal, four classroom teachers, fourteen girls aged between 7 and 13, and their parents engaged as participants. Data were generated via five phases: (1) interviews with educators; (2) student/parent questionnaires; (3) an analysis of media favoured by the girls; (4) interviews with students; and (5) student-guided/document home tours and interviews with parents.

Insight was gained into the complex media environments within which these girls exist; the contrasting perspectives of educators, parents, and children; and most importantly, what it means to be a young girl living with media, from the perspectives of girls themselves.

Thesis supervisors: Dr. Susan Beltman & Dr. Eva Dobozy

Institution at which thesis was completed: Curtin University