LIBSCI 739: Tween Girls as a Consumer Demographic—Young Readers’ Agency and Escaping Passive Consumption

 

In Natalie Coulter’s conclusion to Tweening The Girl: The crystallization of the tween market (2014), she writes about the current corporate efforts to solidify girls 8-12 as a separate consumer market.

bratz
Bratz dolls are clearly marketed to children, but ads like these refer to a glamorous nightlife that belongs to older girls. The hyper accentuated accessories, makeup, and specific body shape of these dolls influences girls’ ideas about womanhood.

Coulter describes how this marketing has, since at least the 1990s, co-opted languages of empowerment and feminism to sell girls hyper-gendered products which focus attention on girls’ bodies and refer to their future heterosexual life as women. 

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Makeup tutorials geared toward pre-adolescent or adolescent girls get hundreds of thousands of views a day. These videos make children hyperaware of their body and encourage girls to self-surveil to the point it causes mental health to deteriorate.

Coulter invites speculation on the effects of having teen music, models, and body images projected onto pre-adolescent girls, while also reflecting on tween consumers as agents (Coulter 2014, p 145). Parents and educators have drafted screeds about how to rescue girls from the marketing campaigns which mold passive feminized consumers (Coulter 151). While adults can change regulatory practices in industries that have enormous power over teenage self-esteem, I think tween and teen girls are also capable of (conditionally?) saving themselves from the homogenizing force of global capital.

capital
an online meme, probably created by a teenage Internet user, which reframes an old labor cartoon to critique the way that “millennials” are routinely referred to as a separate demographic.

Young people are not always able to have a critical distance from their own consumption. At the same time, as Rothbauer notes in “Young Adults and Reading” in Reading Still Matters (2018), adolescents and children often are extremely active and thoughtful when engaging with media targeted at them. Rothbauer records LGBT teenagers reflecting on the way seeing depictions of LGBT teenagers in print makes them feel “normal,” and notes that many girls online are actively involved in writing communities centered on their favorite media.

hp headcanon
some Tumblr-based “head canons”  about Harry Potter which question how trans characters might exist in a book series where there are no trans people.

 

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Anthologies like 2018’s All Out (ed. Saundra Mitchell) highlight the stories of LGBT teenagers.

Teens online write their own stories, engage in active critique of misogynist tropes, and build relationships and working partnerships together as they generate free art for their own and others’ entertainment which can evade the awareness of marketing executives and fill clear needs. 

As more reading shifts online, girls are able to find each other and communicate in unexpected, creative ways that shift the culture of the future in new directions that serve them. This is limited by adult power over girls, but young girls’ agency is a threat to corporate and authoritarian power wherever they are able to talk.

 

Coulter, N. (2014). Conclusion. In Tweening the girl: The crystallization of the tween market. New York: Peter Lang, pp 141-153. 

Rothbauer, P.M (2018). Young Adults and Reading. In C.S Ross, (ed.), Reading Still Matters: What the Research Reveals about Reading, Libraries, and Community. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, LLC. 

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