Gendered risks and opportunities? Exploring teen girls' digitized sexual identities in postfeminist media contexts
In debates on young people's engagements with new media, social networking sites (SNSs) have been explored as potentially democratizing spaces allowing a wider spectrum of young users to engage with digital technology than ever before. In relation to gender difference, SNSs are viewed as places that have opened up girls' and women's use of new media, building on earlier claims about how online practices like personal websites and blogging have revolutionized girls' access to and uses of digital technology. On the other hand, there are prominent public debates over children and sexualization, for example, that position young people and particularly girls as at risk of exposure to online content or SNSs that are not age appropriate, and which may contain adult sexually explicit content or pornography, or even put young people at risk from online paedophiles. In this article we try to think through and beyond SNSs as sites of both gendered risk and opportunity, drawing on qualitative data from a UK study of teens' uses of the SNS Bebo. We discuss and trouble what gendered and sexualized risk and opportunity might mean in relation to user-generated content and peer-to-peer networks. We situate peer networks as operating within wider postfeminist, pornified media contexts which may intensify dynamics like sexual objectification of girls' bodies. But we also illustrate how girls navigate such trends in complex ways exploring instances of porno-chic performance and sexualized cyberbullying.