Shamed, ‘tagged’, and ‘exposed’: Gendered morality in the discursive construction of feminine and masculine sexting subjects
Amy Shields Dobson, Monash University, Australia
Laura Harvey, Brunel University, UK
This paper examines discursive and narrative constructions of teen ‘sexting subjects’; first in three education campaigns that deal with issues of cyber-safety in Canada, Australia, and the UK, and second in young people’s own talk about sexting practices drawn from qualitative research data. The three different titles of these campaigns (‘Respect Yourself’ from Canada; ‘Tagged’ from Australia; and ‘Exposed’ from the UK) are closely interrogated for the discourses on sexting they produce. Slightly different emphasis, but over-arching commonalities are found in these campaigns, which produce normative characteristics that constitute young ‘sexting subjects’. We explore the way female sexting subjects are normalised as: negatively ‘marked’ by their desire (Schneider, 1997) as sexually excessive (McClelland and Fine, 2008) and as self-blaming, melancholic and ‘psycho-pathologised (McRobbie, 2008). We explore how sexting discourses produce subjects ‘inherently at risk of sexual violence’ (Albury and Crawford, 2012, p. 465; Hassinoff, 2012) but how female ‘sexters’ in particular are positioned as in danger of ‘sexual self exploitation (Karaian, 2012). Ultimate responsibility and blame is placed on the individual teen girl to attempt to police and control herself, her images, her self-data, her body and her reputation vigilantly, in ways which have obvious parallels with sexual violence victim-blaming discourses (Albury and Crawford, 2012; Hassinoff, 2012; Powell, 2010).
In the second part of this paper we go on to explore how such moralised and gendered narratives are negotiated in complex ways by young people themselves, drawing on findings from a London based study on teens’ (aged 13-15) ‘sexting’ practices (Ringrose et al., 2012, 2013). We explore how young people employ moral discourses of gender and sexuality to understand and make sense of ‘sexting’ discourses and practices, exploring their views on the production of text and images representing girls and boys bodies. Our online ethnography methodology enabled us to discuss young people’s own Facebook and Blackberry images and text with them; and we focus here on ‘six pack shots’ of boys and cleavage shots of girls’ breasts, and the talk about and affect flowing in and around these images (Ringrose and Harvey, 2013). We look at how discourses of sexual morality and responsibility (Skeggs, 2004) are drawn upon to describe girls who produce, post or send ‘sexualised’ images of their bodies as having no ‘shame’, as ‘skets’ or ‘slags’, whist boys can gain value and ‘ratings’ (Harvey et al., 2013) both from images of their own hard masculine muscularity but also from being tagged in, posting and sharing (publishing/distributing) images of girls bodies. We conclude by discussing how young people trouble these gender normative sexting practices, for instance talking back to a culture of ‘slut shaming’ that has been much discussed in peer cultures (Tolman, 2002) and online peer networks (Albury et al. 2012; Ringrose, 2010).