FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 22, 2007
Carla Stokes: (404) 495-3542
STUDY FINDS BLACK TEEN GIRLS USE INTERNET HOME PAGES TO CONSTRUCT IDENTITY AND RESPOND TO SEXUAL MEDIA MESSAGES
(ATLANTA, GA—March 22, 2007) – A newly released study reports that some black teen girls are using their Internet home pages as a way to role play and try on identities. Unfortunately, the gender roles and images some girls choose to emulate online often resemble negative stereotypes of black women that are popularized and glorified in the media.
The study, titled “Representin’ In Cyberspace: Sexual Scripts, Self-Definition, and Hip Hop Culture In Black American Adolescent Girls' Home Pages,” was published in the March-April 2007 issue of the international journal Culture, Health & Sexuality.
Dr. Carla Stokes examined 216 home pages constructed by black adolescent girls residing in southern states with high rates of HIV/AIDS among black Americans. A subset of 27 Georgia home pages was analyzed in-depth and the findings were verified with an expert panel of black teen girls from the greater Atlanta area who were familiar with girls' home pages and hip hop culture. Dr. Stokes began researching girls’ home pages in 2000, after noticing that thousands of black girls were using their online profiles to construct identity and attract romantic partners in popular social networking web sites.
According to Dr. Stokes, "the study provides evidence that sexual images of women and girls in the media and American culture affect black girls’ self-image and sexual development.” She reported that girls in her study constructed sexual self-definitions and desired romantic partners and relationships that resembled stereotypical sexual and relationship roles portrayed in hip hop culture and on the Internet.
“Although some of the girls spoke out against gender role stereotypes, many of the girls described themselves as ‘dimes,’ ‘freaks,’ ‘down-ass chics/bitches,’ and ‘pimpettes,’ and some of the girls posted pornographic images. Some of the home pages also included homophobic content and aggressive comments and images directed towards other girls. From a developmental perspective, it is not surprising that girls are emulating images that are portrayed as desirable in American culture. But it is troubling to me that the girls were less likely to actively resist stereotypical representations of black women or challenge traditional gender role norms,” said Dr. Stokes. “The girls commonly expressed a preference for hypermasculine male partners that they described as ‘thugs’.”
"There are a lot of conversations about misogynistic rap lyrics and music videos and the potential impact of sexual images in the media on black girls’ self-image and sexuality. However, few research studies have investigated this issue and black girls have been overlooked in earlier studies of girls’ home pages. This study reveals that black girls are struggling to negotiate all of the messages they receive about sexuality and what it means to be a black girl,” noted Dr. Stokes.
“This study challenges the assumption that black girls are not technologically savvy. It also sheds light on black girls’ sexual attitudes and self-representations in home pages, and the creative and sophisticated ways in which girls use hip hop culture and multimedia technologies to express themselves and construct identity,” said Dr. Stokes.
The study recommends that parents, schools, health care providers, girl-serving organizations, religious institutions, and mentors should work with black girls to provide supportive spaces for them to critically analyze gender politics and media messages. “I encountered quite a bit of concerning information during my study. Many of the girls posted revealing pictures and shared intimate details about their personal lives. Some of the girls on the expert panel told me that their friends have created sexually explicit online profiles and home pages that their parents don’t know about. Internet safety should be included in the educational curriculum and parents should talk to their children about what they are doing and posting online,” Dr. Stokes said.
Dr. Stokes is the founding Executive Director of the Atlanta-based nonprofit organization, Helping Our Teen Girls In Real Life Situations, Inc. (HOTGIRLS), which builds on girls’ interest in hip hop culture and multimedia technologies. HOTGIRLS fosters healthy development in young black women and girls by training them in web design, media production, and health education. The young women and girls have developed materials to educate young men and boys about street harassment and violence against women and girls. The organization is preparing to launch a health and media literacy web site for black teen girls that promotes social action and positive images.
Carla E. Stokes, PhD, MPH
Dr. Carla Stokes is an educator, activist, girls' studies researcher, and founder of Helping Our Teen Girls In Real Life Situations, Inc. (HOTGIRLS). Her research explores intersections between black adolescent girls’ sexuality, body image, gender ideologies, hip hop culture, and online social networking.
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Helping Our Teen Girls In Real Life Situations, Inc. (HOTGIRLS) is an Atlanta-based 501 c(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health and lives of black young women and girls. HOTGIRLS educates girls about HIV/AIDS, violence against women and girls, street harassment, images in the media, and other issues facing women and girls of color. HOTGIRLS trains young women and girls in health education, technology, media literacy, leadership, and activism.