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(SLIDE) When I was younger, watching legally blonde, clueless or mean girls with my mum, she always said to me, "Sarah I hope you don't act like those girls when you are a teenager". I always promised I wouldn't be like that and I have mostly kept that promise. All of the movies I grew up with were very black and white. All very two tone and simplified. All using the same basic storyline, plot and character tropes of teenage girls
These can particularly be found in the chick flix genre which includes a great deal of misrepresentation. However, the most harmful and atrocious forms of misrepresentation in the media is around teenage girls. This problem is not only seen in the chick flix genre but throughout the ENTIRE film industry and it must change. Hello, my name is Sarah Jones, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak at the 'Widening the lens: challenging the media in 2020' forum. (SLIDE)
The representation of teenage girls in popular culture films and television portrays the idea that teenage girls are only successful when coupled with a suitable male counterpart and are dependent on their peers to fuel their sense of self-worth. This creates negative social perceptions of adolescents. (SLIDE) Today I am going to discuss why the misrepresentation of teenage girls in popular culture texts is a problem. What the social implications of this are and finally I will make recommendations on how to change this situation.
(SLIDE) Television shows and films bombard us with the never-ending, basic stereotypes that revolve around teenage girls. What is presented to us are bland, superficial characters that are preoccupied with finding a suitable male. The beautiful blondes with their expensive taste, high social standing and bitchy attitudes are always seen fawning over the too perfect, too stunning, suitable male characters. So let's have a good look at the recent Netflix series, Sex Education.
(SLIDE) Sex Education is definitely ahead of its time in terms of representation of diversity and sensitive topics in the media. However, even with its raving reviews and 5-star ratings, the show still has many flaws. The most unbearable misrepresentation in the show is around teenage girls. This is specifically personified by the character of Aimee Gibbs (SLIDE). She is the absolute embodiment of a teenage girl who feels she needs to find a suitable male counterpart.
In Season 1, Episode 1 Aimee is speaking to her friend Maeve about her problems with her then-boyfriend, Adam. She mentions how two of her friends from the 'untouchables' social clique have told Aimee to dump him as he is bringing down her social standing. Aimee eventually does as he has become unpopular and unsuitable. For most of the series, Aimee shows little independence and is completely preoccupied with finding a suitable male. This representation is cancerous for the younger generation. Do teenage girls really need to believe they need a suitable boyfriend to be successful?
(SLIDE) Another stereotype that can be seen throughout the media is the idea that teenage girls are dependent on their peers to fuel their sense of self-worth. This is once again portrayed by the series Sex Education. In Season 1, Episode 2 Aimee's friend group have forced her into throwing a big house party. While there are many consequences from doing this, she does it anyway to gain approval from her friends which fuels her sense of self-worth.
(SLIDE) Another example of this horrid stereotype occurs when Aimee hides her friendship with Maeve as she is an outcast and her group would not approve. The first time this is seen is in Season 1, Episode 1, Maeve and Aimee are spending time together hiding in the abandoned toilets, talking. Aimee is truly trying to do all she can to hide her relationship with Maeve from her group and is completely dependent on her friends for her social standing. She won't jeopardise it, even if it means treating good friends like they are nothing.
(SLIDE) These damaging stereotypes have had devastating effects on the population and their view on teen girls and it is unacceptable. So, what exactly are the impacts that these stereotypes have on us, the viewers? To understand its impact, I'll discuss the social identity theory, which was proposed by Henri Tajfel, a renowned psychologist, in 1979. (SLIDE) The social identity theory is described as a person's sense of who they are based on their group members. Tajfel proposed that the groups in which people belonged to were an important source of pride and self-esteem
Aimee bases her own self-worth off her social group and anyone who isn't in this "in group" she has to drop or hide. This portrayal has a great effect on younger viewers and what they can learn from this series. The message illustrated through Aimee is to base yourself and your values on the group you belong to and ditch the people in your life that your friends don't approve of. This is a very outdated and destructive message to present to young viewers, that will destroy the fabric of our society.
These images of teen girls fawning over boys and being treated horrendously by their friends are thrown into young girls faces. They are stalked by these pictures and representations every day. It plagues their dreams, their lives, their world. Do we want our children seeing these harmful and dreadful stereotypes all the time?
(SLIDE) While we see teenage girls with their short skirts, high heels and bright makeup in films such as mean girls, on the other end of the film and television industry is the character of Enola Holmes. She is a complete contradiction of the stereotypical teenage girls we see in film that need a man to be successful and a social group to fuel their self-worth. The movie Enola Holmes was released in 2020 and follows the teenage sister of the famous detective, Sherlock Holmes.
Enola is a witty, independent woman who outsmarts her brother throughout the movie. Think about that, she is outsmarting one of the most regarded geniuses in film history. Even in a historical respect, it shows a diverse character who is able to accomplish things on her own in an era where woman were silenced.
(SLIDE) While she does have a male counterpart for some of the film, she does not need him to be successful. She isn't preoccupied with finding a suitable male as many teenage girls are portrayed to be and is instead seen actively pursuing her own interests. Enola is also unconcerned in having a social group which challenges the idea that teenagers need to be social butterflies. Enola Holmes needs to be the character we see all over Hollywood, instead of the teenage girls that need a male and a social group that we have seen for decades.
(SLIDE) If we want to make a difference in these awful, confining stereotypes then we need to speak up. We are done with these obsolete, misrepresentations of teen girls. It's time to move forward to a more equitable and empowering future. So, what can we do? Boycott films that show these harmful portrayals of teenage girls, allowing producers to realise what the public wants. We must also demand more from the film industry. We need more diversity in our films to prove that these damaging stereotypes can be abolished and replaced by a more reputable image for young girls.
We must demand strong teenage girl characters. We must demand new, interesting storylines. We must demand change. For change will not happen without us.
(SLIDE) These deadly representations of teenage girls in the media are a disease to our society. They have flooded the film and television industry for too long. Teenage girls are no longer driven by the desire to find a suitable male partner, or a social group to empower their self-worth. This isn't how it has to be. Enola Holmes is a great picture of how teenage girls should be represented in the media. We need change. Stand up for what is right and just. Stand up for strong representation of teenage girls. We as a generation can change these stereotypes in the media, so the question is: are you willing to support change?
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