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Popularity and the cult of feminity : negotiating identity in youth culture Clark, Sheryl 2004

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POPULARITY AND THE C U L T O F FEMINITY: NEGOTIATING IDENTITY IN Y O U T H < ^ T U R E by S H E R Y L C L A R K B.A., The University of Calgary, 2001 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN P A R T I A L F U L F I L L M E N T OF T H E REQUIREMENTS F O R T H E D E G R E E OF M A S T E R OF ARTS in T H E F A C U L T Y O F G R A D U A T E STUDIES ; A N T H R O P O L O G Y We Accept this Thesis as Corrforming to the Required Standards T H E U N I V E R S I T Y OF BRITISH COLUMBIA AV^OST 2004 © Sheryl Laura Clark, 2004 A B S T R A C T Adolescence has been described by researchers as a period of gender intensification. Simultaneously, research has pointed to the often negative effects this transition has on adolescent girls including drops in self-esteem. This thesis details the narratives of twelve preteen and teenage young women as they approach and enter adolescence in Vancouver youth culture. The girls describe the ways in which they negotiate, accommodate and resist normative notions of femininity. It is found that despite differing positionalities of 'racial,' class and ethnic status, the young women are similarly swayed by their relation to the "popular" girl. This status is normatively 'white,' hyper-feminine and upper middle class. The young women define themselves by outlining what they are not, and who is 'other'. This reinforces social hierarchies and creates a tense and often rigid set of social classifications amidst peer groups. It is argued that such a hierarchical structure can be viewed as a crystallization of broader social patterns in Vancouver and Canadian society. TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract u Table of Contents - i i i Acknowledgements l V Introduction 1 Anthropology and Youth Culture 3 Girl Studies and Adolescence 4 Femininity, Gender and Girls 5 Methods • 7 Power and Girlhood 15 Femininity as Ideology 17 "Being a Teenager:" Social Idea and Lived Experience 19 School and Youth Culture '. •' -27 Popularity • 40 Conclusion 44 References 47 iii ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to thank a number of people for their dedication and support. First, Jillian Watkins and Jessica Chant from the Real Power Youth Society who allowed me to conduct the study with their organisation and were helpful and supportive throughout. I would also like to thank the Kivan Boys and Girls' Club where I was able to talk with many preteen girls and participate in the preteen girls club. Specifically, Alice and May Farrales were kind and insightful. I am grateful to my supervisor, Alexia Bloch, for her wisdom, encouragement and organizational skills, and to my committee member Dawn Currie for her sharp insights and steady push. Most importantly I would like to thank the many brave and intelligent young women I spoke with you were so open and analytical. I hope I can begin to capture their thoughts and hopes in my writing. iv Adolescence has been described as a period of gender intensification in which individuals learn the "socio-sexual scripts" of their respective genders (Jackson 1996; Galambos et al. 1990). Concurrently, research has pointed to the impact this adolescent experience has on girls. What is the relationship between gender, identity and coming of age in a Western culture? My study concerns the arbitration of identity and conduct in the lives of adolescent and preteen girls in Vancouver, Canada as they confront often-conflicting gender norms and societal standards of femininity. It is based on the narratives of twelve young women who describe their passage into adolescence and their sense of positionality during this time. The analysis is framed in terms of the girls' personal negotiations of "femininity" as a social construct including their resistance, accommodation and/or rebellion against the idea of a normative femininity. While such resistances are enacted at the individual level, they should be considered as they are structured within the frame of social institutions, which both constrain and make possible individual choices (Ortner 1995). The participants for this study, conducted over six months of research in 2003, were recruited based on their involvement with several youth-oriented programs in Vancouver, Canada. The young women ranged from ten to sixteen years old and varied in terms of 'race,' class and ethnicity. This diversity pays tribute to one girl's contention that "all girls are different," problematizing my queries about "girls" as though this were an internally coherent category. Anti-racist feminists have similarly criticized homogenous notions of womanhood by citing their inaccuracy and racist implications (hooks 1981; Shah 1997). For instance, scholars have pointed to generalizations that have taken "women" to mean "white women," marginalizing the existence of non-white women (hooks 1981: 8). 'Race' and other forms of difference such as class, ethnicity and gender play a crucial role in defining individuals and these are variously addressed within the young womens' 1 narratives framing the basis of this thesis. The concept of "intersectionality" is employed to theorize the embodied experience of multiple identities that reinforce and "mutually construct one another" (Collins 2000: 157). While social identities are inter-connected, they are also shifting and performative. "Community of practice" theory suggests that we examine both "positive and negative identity practices" employed by individuals instead of viewing social categories as static and fixed (Bucholz 1999: 203). The young women in my study offer many intriguing ideas about how their social identities are constituted, what femininity as ideology represents and how they conceptualise their own sense of girlhood. While gender and identity are comprised through myriad factors including family history, ethnic background and language, these are framed and made meaningful within specific socio-cultural contexts. Commenting on the contingent nature of gender categories, Davis and Fisher (1993: 7) note: "Like all other categories, woman is a fictive device— a device that is socially, historically and discursively constructed in relationship to other categories (i.e. women/men, white women/black women)." For the young women I spoke with, school and its peer culture represented the most important context of signification for their own identities in relation to other youth. Focusing on what Geertz (1973) has called the "shared meaning systems" of culture, we can investigate the patterns and interactions that make gender meaningful for young women. The "youth culture" these young women participate in represents the most important context in which gender and identity were given meaning and social significance. The forging of a personal identity is especially relevant during adolescence, when the individual establishes coherency of personhood, continuity and a sense of social place (Crockett and Silbereisen 2000). During adolescence gender identity becomes especially salient as gender relations take on newly sexual connotations. Individuals develop roles as gendered, sexualized beings within their societal context and young women test out and develop their identities as women, including their personal sense of ' femininity.' 2 I argue that as the girls conceive of and construct their own identities they use definitions of self in opposition to social "others." This perspective entails paying attention to the social categories that emerge in the context of youth culture as individuals strive to place themselves amidst their friends and peers. In the following sections I explore how identity plays out within these social groupings, especially as it relates to gendered, racialized and class-based categorizations. Anthropology and Youth Culture Anthropology has historically consisted of studies of the "other,"(non-Western, 'primitive,' etc.) using culture as a means of explaining differences that continue to unite us as human beings. Anthropological studies in non-Western cultures have often focused on adolescent rites of passage that provide a transition between childhood and full adult status (Jamieson 2001; Schlegel and Barry III 1980). In fact in cultures where 'youth' may be married or have children, the concept of adolescence is necessarily tenuous (Schlegel and Barry III 1991). While adolescence amongst Western youth has been characterized as an intense period of turbulence and stress, anthropologists have demonstrated that this is not necessarily so cross-culturally (Elwin 1947; Mead 1928; Schlegel 1973). Margaret Mead's fieldwork among girls in Samoa, describing adolescence there as a smooth transition related to flexible parenting strategies and permissive sexuality, is perhaps the most widely know cross-cultural study of adolescence. Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) set out to juxtapose American and Samoan female adolescent experiences. Using the "Samoan girl" as a useful other in the understanding of American adolescence, Mead sought to demonstrate the cultural constructedness of adolescence in Western society. While the racializing and theoretical underpinnings of Mead's study have since come under attack (Freeman 1983) it nevertheless represents one of the first serious considerations of adolescent girls as subjects of inquiry. Only recently anthropologists have begun to increasingly turn their attention to the experience of 3 adolescence in Western societies (Schlegel & Barry 1991). While sociologists and psychologists have more commonly studied adolescence, there is also a historical precedent within anthropology. In contrast to early studies of adolescents within their cultural settings, more recent ethnographies have come to focus on 'adolescence' in Western settings as a culture in its own right with unique norms, patterns of interaction, symbols and modes of speaking. The holistic approach of anthropology ensures that this does not negate the connections of 'adolescence' to the larger society, but rather that youth must be recognised and understood in their own context. One of the first examples of this type of ethnography is Paul Willis ' study of working class youth in Britain. Willis explored the unique social norms and behaviour that both characterized the young men's group dynamic and consolidated their transition to working class jobs (Willis 1977). Various ethnographies in recent years have continued to consider the unique, yet culturally contingent context of youth cultures such as fast food workers, school culture and debate Clubs (Fine 2001; Levinson 2001; Tannock 2001). Such approaches pay tribute to the internally coherent norms and beliefs of various youth cultures without neglecting their relationship to larger societal organisation. However, attention to gender differences have often become subsumed under the concept of 'youth,' which has been largely male-oriented. Girl Studies and Adolescence Feminist theorizing in the 1970s particularly resulted in a renewed interest in both women and adolescence. In her influential girlhood study, Angela McRobbie challenged male-oriented approaches to youth subcultures by situating working class girls in Britain as subjects rather than subtext (McRobbie 1977). Since the early 1990s, research on adolescent girls has both intensified and broadened theoretically. This heightened focus can largely be traced back to popular studies positing adolescence as a period of decreased self-esteem, authority and sense of self for girls (Orenstein 1994; Pipher 1994). Feminist psychological studies of preteen and 4 teenage girls in Western societies described adolescence as a "crossroads" in which young women come to lose their voice and authentic self (Brown and Gilligan 1992). These negative developments among adolescent girls have been attributed to a process of socialization in which the predominant patriarchal values governing gender roles come into conflict with the young womens' sense of self. While such studies have described young womens' turbulent coming of age stories within a demoralizing environment, they have been criticized for their neglect of the resistance strategies and personal agency young women simultaneously act out. Attempting to reclaim the power and utility of personal agency, recent girls' studies have focused on young women who succeed in both challenging and subverting hegemonic gender norms (Edut 1998; Leblanc 1999). Another critique of early girlhood studies has pointed to the demographic bias inherent in 'girlhood' generalizations. An overwhelming focus on white, middle class girls has served both to deny and undermine the experiences of non-white or working class girls. This insight has led to attempts to validate diverse experiences of girlhood in order to recognise both similarities and differences (Bettie 2003; Brown 2001; Durham 1999; Emihovich 1996). This thesis builds on earlier work to consider the ways in which gender, racial, ethnic and class identities are constructed in relation to one another. Vancouver youth culture provides a dynamic in which diversity is not simply segregated and differentiated but intertwined in complex patternings. F e m i n i n i t y , G e n d e r a n d G i r l s "One is not born, but rather becomes a woman" (1953: 267) — Simone de Beauvoir's famous statement marked a central turning point in Western understandings of "femininity" as a social construct. Since de Beauvoir's work, we have variously come to understand that femininity and other gender constructs are not simply reflections of an innate biological makeup. Gender is rather mediated by social forces, based on norms and social standards that come to 5 regulate its definition and its practise (Jackson 1996: 63). The constructionist theory of gender poses the question of process and mechanism. It asks how females come to define themselves as "feminine" and to conceptualize their own sexuality in relation to this role. This theory also focuses on the factors that influence this construction (Visweswaran 1997). The problematic of adolescent girlhood in a Western context has been directly linked to contradictions inherent within a normative, androcentric concept of adolescence that continues to set up gender expectations (Hudson 1984; Walkerdine 1993). Hudson describes the social contradictions for teenage girls as products of the subversive nature of adolescence and femininity in relation to one another. She writes, "in particular, adolescence is subversive of femininity; young girls' attempts to be accepted as 'young women' are always liable to be undermined (subverted) by perceptions of them as childish or immature" (Hudson 1984: 31-32). Femininity as a social script contains multiple directions for the proper comportment of one's gender identity. These norms encompass virtually all aspects of bodily existence and the physical ideals they aspire to have been highly criticized by feminists for their stringent and unrealistic demands (Brownmiller 1984; Wolf 1991). Brumberg describes the adolescent females' "body project," as a process through which young women have become increasingly unsatisfied with their physiques and physical appearances over the 20th century (Brumberg 1997). Tolman and Porche describe negative traits associated with female adolescent development, including "bringing an inauthentic self into relationships with others and having an objectified relationship with one's own body" (Tolman and Porche 2000: 365-366). Gender has been used as a concept to distinguish between the biological basis of one's sex, and the cultural elaborations that accompany this biological grounding. The etiological significance of the concept has since been problematised by questions of the causal linkages between sex and gender (Foucault 1978; Yanagisako and Collier 1987). Poststructuralist accounts of gender pose an alternative conceptualisation of the term. Butler's theory suggests 6 that g e n d e r s are d e f i n e d t h r o u g h t h e i r c o n t i n u a l p e r f o r m a n c e b y i n d i v i d u a l s a n d are m a d e i n t e l l i g i b l e t h r o u g h the c u l t u r a l c o n t e x t i n w h i c h t h e y a p p e a r ( B u t l e r 1 9 9 0 ) . U s i n g t h i s i n s i g h t , the c o n c e p t o f g e n d e r b e c o m e s r o o t e d n o t i n b i o l o g y b u t i n the c u l t u r a l c o n t e x t that f r a m e s i t . G e n d e r c a n b e c o n c e p t u a l i s e d n o t as s o m e t h i n g that a n i n d i v i d u a l p o s s e s s e s b u t r a the r as a r e f e r e n c e p o i n t f o r the n e g o t i a t i o n o f e v e r y d a y i n t e r a c t i o n s . T h i s i n s i g h t neces s i t a t e s a n e x a m i n a t i o n o f the c u l t u r a l c o n t e x t i n w h i c h y o u n g w o m e n p e r f o r m t h i s g e n d e r , a n d t h e m e a n s b y w h i c h i t i s m a d e s o c i a l l y i n t e l l i g i b l e . Methods M y r e s e a r c h , c o n d u c t e d b e t w e e n J u l y a n d D e c e m b e r o f 2 0 0 3 , c o n s i s t e d o f a n e t h n o g r a p h i c s t u d y o f a d o l e s c e n t a n d p r e t e e n g i r l s . A l o n g w i t h g e n e r a l o b s e r v a t i o n s o f b o t h b o y s a n d g i r l s i n t w o y o u t h o r g a n i s a t i o n s , I i n t e r v i e w e d t w e l v e g i r l s b e t w e e n the ages o f t e n a n d s i x t e e n . T h e s t u d y t o o k p l a c e i n the m u l t i c u l t u r a l s e t t i n g o f V a n c o u v e r , C a n a d a w i t h g i r l s o f v a r i o u s s o c i a l a n d e t h n i c b a c k g r o u n d s . It w a s b a s e d o n p a r t i c i p a n t o b s e r v a t i o n p r i m a r i l y w i t h t w o y o u t h s e r v i c e p r o v i s i o n o r g a n i s a t i o n s , the B o y s a n d G i r l s ' C l u b ( B & G C l u b ) a n d the R e a l P o w e r Y o u t h S o c i e t y ( R P Y S ) . T h e B o y s a n d G i r l s ' C l u b h a s b e e n i n e x i s t e n c e s i n c e the l a te n i n e t e e n h u n d r e d s a n d h a s C l u b l o c a t i o n s t h r o u g h o u t C a n a d a a n d the U n i t e d S ta tes . T h e C l u b ca te rs to l o w e r i n c o m e a n d o t h e r w i s e d i s a d v a n t a g e d c h i l d r e n a n d y o u t h , p r o v i d i n g s u b s i d i z e d m e a l p r o g r a m s , o u t i n g s a n d after s c h o o l p r o g r a m m i n g . I n V a n c o u v e r the p e r - c h i l d fee e a c h y e a r i s v e r y l o w ( $ 1 5 ) a n d c a n b e s u b s i d i z e d i f n e e d e d . T h e C l u b I a t t e n d e d w a s l o c a t e d i n E a s t V a n c o u v e r a n d d r a w s m e m b e r s a l m o s t e x c l u s i v e l y f r o m a n ad jacen t s c h o o l . M y r e s e a r c h w i t h the B o y s a n d G i r l s ' C l u b w a s c o n d u c t e d b e t w e e n S e p t e m b e r a n d D e c e m b e r o f 2 0 0 3 . T h e R e a l P o w e r Y o u t h S o c i e t y h a s b e e n i n e x i s t e n c e f o r a p p r o x i m a t e l y th ree y e a r s i n V a n c o u v e r a n d i s c o n n e c t e d to the w i d e r f e m i n i s t - o r i e n t e d P o w e r C a m p N a t i o n a l n e t w o r k . T h e R P Y S r u n s e m p o w e r m e n t w o r k s h o p s f o r h i g h s c h o o l g i r l s as a n a f t e r - s c h o o l p r o g r a m o n c e a w e e k . M y o b s e r v a t i o n s w i t h i n the R P Y S are b a s e d o n p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n t h e t w o - w e e k P o w e r 7 Camp held in July 2003. This camp was based in a West side community centre, drawing participants from the surrounding area. Six girls between twelve and sixteen years old participated in this two-week intensive series of workshops, activities and guest lectures facilitated by two female counselors. My data are thus based on participant observation at RPYS and the B & G Club, as well as on individual interviews of thirty to sixty minutes. I interviewed twelve adolescent girls as well as three adult female leaders employed by these organisations who described their own roles and the mandates of the service providers. Four of the girls interviewed were involved with the B & G Club and three were involved with the RPYS Power Camp. In addition, I interviewed three girls who participated in a co-ed leadership program run by the YMCA, as well as one girl who participated in a YWCA "Girlz Unplugged" workshop. A twelfth interview was held with a personal contact. The interviewees varied in terms of the girls' organisational association, residence within the city, ethnic background, age and socio-economic status. Access and Establishing Rapport My contact with the Real Power Youth Society began in January 2003 when I became a volunteer with the organisation. I served as a workshop facilitator with the RPYS for approximately four months between January and April 2003. After several months I approached the RPYS director and co-coordinator, who approved my study for the Power Camp 2003 session. After speaking with the girls in the camp, they too approved my presence and general observations, and several of the girls agreed to interviews. I was thus involved as a participant, facilitator and researcher simultaneously. While my original intention was to conduct interviews and observations solely through Power Camp, this became logistically impossible after future camps were cancelled. I was thus forced to seek contacts elsewhere approximately halfway through my study. This turn was ultimately valuable as both my research group and interests became more diversified and 8 complex. After explaining my study to the volunteer coordinator at a Boys and Girls' Club in Vancouver, she asked i f l would also like to volunteer with the preteen girls' club. At the risk of negating my "researcher" status, I decided that combining volunteer work and research would feel more ethically sound for me, in the sense that I could also "give something back." The Boys and Girls' Club approved my study and I was able to interview girls in the preteen Club, as well as make more general observations at the Club. Locations and Class Dynamics In particular, Power Camp and the Boys and Girls' Club were associated with social divisions between West and East Vancouver. Although the distinctions were somewhat fluid, as the girls' narratives suggest, the municipal areas of East and West Vancouver were associated with a difference in affluence and social class. East Vancouver is comprised lower income housing, a larger percentage of single parent families and greater ethnic diversity than West Vancouver, where English is more likely to be the first language (Clague 1988). Several of the girls involved in Power Camp attended private girls' schools and their parents were employed as lawyers, professors and journalists. In contrast, children and youth at the Boys and Girls' Club attended an adjacent public school. They came from lower income families (often relying on social assistance), and many had newly immigrated to Canada. The Club also has a relatively large urban First Nations membership. One of the counselors at the Boys and Girls' Club commented on the city's informal divisions, prompted by a preteen's favouring of the "East Side Girls" clothing line. During our interview I asked her about this comment. C: There is a stigma that i f you live on the east side, you're poor. From what I've heard there is a real dividing line between east Side and west side. On the west side you have the rich people, the rich middle class. But in the east side we have mostly working class. People say we don't have a ghetto here but East Hastings is almost like a ghetto, run-down housing. And there is more social housing in the east side than the west side. S: Do you think the girls are aware of that division? C: Probably, I think so. 9 Youth Organisations and Vancouver In some ways, my study became an ethnography of youth service provision in the city, specifically those programs directed towards preteen and adolescent girls. Both "Girlz Unplugged" and "Power Camp" have explicitly feminist aims and motivations, basing their provision on studies documenting adolescent girls' drops in self-esteem as they become teenagers. The workshops they organised in 2003 were empowerment oriented and Power Camp especially attempted to instill the girls with their own sense of knowledge and awareness, focusing on dialogue rather than lectures (The Real Power Youth Society, 2003). The Boys and Girls' Club provides services for both male and female underprivileged youth between the ages of five and eighteen. It functions as an after school drop-in centre for youth and children who engage in games, sports, tutoring and other activities with youth leaders and volunteers. Although the Club was originally male-oriented, it included girls in its mandate in the 1970s. While the B & G Club I attended held a variety of activities for both boys and girls, it became evident to the counselors that preteen girls were being neglected and thus were not attending. In early 2003, the preteen girls' club was formed in recognition of this need; it was held once a week after school. Approximately four to six girls between the ages of nine and twelve attended and participated in activities such as cooking, arts and crafts and drawing. While the formation of the preteen girls' club represented an attempt to cater programming to girls within the club, it was also a recognition that the remaining, "neutral" activities within the club were in fact gendered, particularly in the preteen and adolescent age groups. In a similar pattern, McRobbie describes the "historical marginalisation of girls" in Britain that has characterized youth service provision. Her work at a youth service club detailed the policing of proper femininity through derisive name calling (McRobbie 2000) and also the dominant presence of the boys, who were more vocal and active in the clubs. 10 Girls who participated in the mini preteen girls' club were cognizant of gender dynamics within the broader B & G Club. These participants were possessive of their space and attention in relation to both gender and age boundaries. They asked why girls' club couldn't happen every day and guarded their space by naming outsiders who were too young or male. Feminism and Youth Services Significantly, one third of the girls I spoke with were involved with feminist-oriented programs that dealt specifically with issues such as peer pressure, sexism, racism and self-esteem. In Vancouver and North America generally, programs targeting preteen and adolescent girls seem to have increased rapidly over the past several years. Both the RPYS and the Y W C A "Girlz Unplugged" programs attribute their focus on girls to studies that document young women's drop in self-esteem, such as the Symposium report of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women (1992). The philosophy of the RPYS as stated in their manual is as follows: The Real Power Workshop series is a nine-part workshop series for girls in the first two years of high school, a time when girls' self-esteem normally plummets. The Real Power Workshop Series serves as a counter-measure as well as a preventative measure to enhance the physical and mental health of adolescent girls (The Real Power Youth Society 2003). The Y W C A ' s "Girlz Unplugged" series has a similar description of their programming and its impetus, though they target girls between nine and thirteen years old. In designating their target population the RPYS specifically noted the lack of programming for girls thirteen to fifteen. "Girlz Unplugged" gives the following description of the program in their pamphlet: A fun and interactive series of workshop days which gives girls aged 9-13 the strength, knowledge and skills to address the issues they are facing as they become teenagers and provides adults with the tools and knowledge to help them.. .stand up and speak out assertively in this playful, interactive workshop for girls and grown-ups ( Y W C A 2003). The growing presence of girl-oriented programming has several connotations. Increasingly, girls in such programs are being equipped with feminist knowledge and 11 terminology that can help them to frame their experiences. Eleven year-old Polly, who had participated in the "Strong Gir l " workshop, critiqued media images of women in our interview by noting that many of the images had been airbrushed and otherwise altered, something she learned in the workshop. However, a risk of girl-oriented programs is that they may somehow defer responsibility for maintaining self-esteem and resisting social pressures solely onto girls themselves. The feasibility of such resistances in a media saturated, patriarchal culture can be daunting and perhaps ultimately blame-ridden. In this sense, the concept of "girl power" may set girls up for disappointment if they are unable to achieve this ideal (Smith! 999). In addition, the relational nature of gender seems to necessitate programming that is not simply directed at girls. Both RPYS and the Y W C A noted the lack of similar programs for boys and their desire to see this happen. Gender and Social Status The complications of girl-oriented programming highlight two critical factors that are also significant to my study and approach. First, the relational nature of gender constructs renders a singular focus on girls somewhat problematic. Second, the categorisation of 'girls' risks homogenizing individuals by overriding other internal and important differences. The girls I interviewed were themselves connected in limited ways. These connections included their identities as girls, their presence in Vancouver, their varying connections through youth organizations and their participation in youth culture. Accordingly, my primary focus interrogates gender as a social construct and privileges this aspect of the girls' identities. However, I also explore how other aspects of the girls' identities including age, language, race and ethnicity are variously contrasted and interconnected with one another in the social context of the girls' lives. The girls in the study belong broadly to Vancouver youth culture, negotiating their identities and interactions on a daily basis, though each girl is unique in her social status and individual traits. Several of the girls I interviewed led relatively privileged lives, attending 12 private schools and otherwise participating in upper middle class existence. Some experienced the social and economic disadvantages that tend to accompany minority status in a racially stratified society. M y designation of the girls' 'racial' identities is based on both personal observation and their reported family backgrounds. While I consider 'race' to be a socially significant category (and thus worth noting), it is nonetheless complex, socially constructed, and does not necessarily correspond with ethnic categories. Five of the girls were Euro-Canadian (white), four were Asian, three the children of Asian immigrants, one a recent immigrant from the Philippines, and three of the girls were of First Nations ancestry. The range of ethnic backgrounds reflects the diversity of Vancouver, a city with a total population of almost 2 million people. According to the 2001 census, approximately 36.9% of this population is considered a visible minority. Of the total population, approximately 17% are Chinese and 2.9% are Filipino (Statistics Canada 2001a). According to this same census, approximately 1.9% of Vancouver's population reported an Aboriginal identity (Statistics Canada 2001b). Positionality and Personal Connections My interest in youth culture and girlhood is based on both personal memories of my own adolescence and more objective academic curiosity. Feminist convictions have sought to compress the intellectual space between these two seemingly separate epistemological bases, challenging traditional notions of authority and knowledge (Monture-Angus 1995; Smith 1990). While I draw on my own knowledge base and personal experiences, these cannot be considered commensurate to the girls'. As a white, middle class graduate student, my socio-economic and ethnic status differs from that of many of the participants in my study. I am no longer an adolescent girl and indeed fifteen years have passed since I was the age of my youngest participants. My interviews and involvement with the girls demonstrated that while much has changed, certain themes remain constant from the 1990s into 2003. 13 Ethical Considerations As a research group, adolescent girls are seemingly ideal in their enthusiasm and loquaciousness and the girls were both accommodating and eager to speak with me. While I sensed that the girls looked up to me as an older female who was not in a position of authority in relation to them, I simultaneously had misgivings about their (at times overwhelming) accommodation. My misgivings are echoed in Angela McRobbie's writing about the ethics of interviewing research subjects who are rarely "taken seriously" and thus eager to share their stories in confined circumstances (McRobbie 2000). Brown and Gilligan also describe their own misgivings about the process of attempting to validate the subjectivity of young women through interviewing structures that seemed clinical and objectifying (Brown and Gilligan 1992). As much as possible, I attempted to elicit narratives from the girls describing their own concerns and categories of understanding and I modified my questions according to these patterns as my interviews proceeded. While recruiting girls for the study, I opted to interpret neglect in follow-up (after initial contact) to passive resistance rather than forgetfiilness or languor. This somewhat assuaged my concerns that girls would agree to be interviewed out of a sense of required "niceness," something I hoped not to take advantage of. Since all the participants were under the age eighteen, parental consent was acquired before each interview. Parents were informed of the goals of the study and the nature of the interview. They were also notified that the contents of their daughter's interview would not be made available to them for reasons of confidentiality. Often, I was able to speak to the parents myself but sometimes the girls simply brought home informational sheets and consent forms, which their parents signed. In order to protect their identities, pseudonyms have been used for the girls. The girls chose some of their own pseudonyms and I chose the others. In the following sections I consider girls' narratives according to a number of themes: power and girlhood, femininity as ideology, being a teenager and school and youth culture. The 14 latter themes also encompass several subcategories. These themes reflect the content of my questions as well as the girls' responses to them. Moreover they are framed so as to describe the young women's concepts of femininity and the social context in which they play out their own gendered performances. Power and Girlhood Studies of girls and adolescence have tended to argue that girls view their gender as a setback, an obvious handicap that they must struggle against (de Beauvoir 1953; Hoogland 1993). While the girls I spoke with often recognised these culturally constructed setbacks, many were quick to defend their status and the positive side of being a girl. Sixteen year-old Esther is a second generation Canadian whose parents emigrated from Hong Kong in the 1970s. During the course of our interview, Esther expressed her frustration with negotiating divergent cultural standards of girlhood and proper behaviour. Esther's thoughts about being a girl had transformed over time from her initial displeasure to a satisfied acceptance. Esther: Before I thought it was really troublesome because you had to do all this stuff that only girls have to do but now I think it's kind of cool because guys don't get to wear skirts and girls get to wear skirts and pants. And no one really makes fun of you when you pierce your ears all you want but some guys, they think it's gay or something. Yeah, I think being a girl rocks. Charlie was a recent immigrant from the Philippines, and fifteen years old at the time of our interview. Her thoughts on "femininity" related ambivalence between the potential power of femininity and the historical connotations of the concept. She mused over the concept. Charlie: For me it's like.. .it's better than being a guy. Like before, girls were so oppressed and femininity was not a good word back then, and now I think guys are jealous that they can't wear skirts. Because we can wear skirts and pants and we won't be called gay, but guys when they wear skirts, of course, it's the first thing that pops into your head. And I guess we have more power than the guys, that's why they were scared to have us vote before because probably they were scared since girls do have power and they didn't want us to know about it. So that's why girls got stuck being housewives and stuff and not getting the jobs they wanted but now we're taking over. We've had two women presidents in the Philippines. 15 Esther similarly related her concept and experience of girlhood to her ethnic background; though she spoke about the traditional limitations she perceived her gender to impose. "Sometimes it's kind of hard to communicate with my parents. 'Cause in Asian cultures they kind of, I don't know, like Grandmas they favour the males more over the females. And they don't really understand Canadian culture sometimes. So it's kind of like a barrier." While Esther felt that her gender was a liability within her cultural background, Charlie drew on examples from her heritage to prove women's potential for power. Both Charlie and Esther spoke about femininity by identifying the limits of masculinity and their own flexibility in contrast to rigid norms about what it means to be male, especially enforced heteronormativity. The fact that girls could wear skirts and pierce their ears was significant to the girls in that it conveyed an avenue of gender performance not available to boys. The notion of choice was mentioned by several of the girls. May and Lisa (both sixteen) were also both the children of Asian immigrants and had been close friends since elementary school. They asked to be interviewed together and shared similar thoughts on the benefits of being a girl. May: You're more close, there are more options. Sheryl: In what? May: Like fashion, style wise. Lisa: Also boys, they can't be wusses or whatever. And girls, they can be strong but they can also be shy and not outgoing, and no one will judge them. And girls can cry in front of people. But if a guy cried at school... May: He would get made fun of. As May and Lisa's comments exemplify, the girls tended to identify being female as an endowment of choice and power, expressing happiness that they were girls. At the same time, they noted several liabilities that accompanied this status. These included sexual harassment, self-consciousness, lack of privilege or freedom and (almost unanimously) getting one's period. Kelly noted that being a girl was better than being a guy during puberty since, "periods and such are much better than getting... certain things." 16 The girls' comments linking power and girlhood seem to embrace the concept of "girl power." By identifying the limits of masculinity the girls simultaneously affirmed their own worth and uniqueness. Interestingly, the girls' concepts of themselves as girls tended to be formed in direct contrast to the male experience. This finding supports feminist perspectives that 'girlhood' has a secondary status as a result of its position within androcentric social standards. While the derivative nature of the young women's narratives may hint towards this secondary status, their assertions regarding power and choice also convey a direct resistance. By embracing conventionally "feminine" attributes such as wearing a skirt or being emotional, the girls reject the notion that these activities are somehow secondary and in fact convey them as choices boys don't have. Thus the young women's relationships with conventional "femininity" can be viewed as both opportunistic and resistant rather than simply repressive or limiting. Femininity as Ideology Femininity was once viewed as something women inherently possessed or ideally achieved (de Beauvoir 1953; Brownmiller 1984). More recently, it has been re-conceptualised within feminist theory that has sought to acknowledge its complex and compound manifestations (Brownell and Wasserstrom 2002; Pyke and Johnson 2003). Tolman and Porche distinguish between multiple "femininities" and that femininity ideology which is linked with "the patriarchal system of the dominant White, middle class culture of the middle class", denying that this femininity is somehow "benign" or "natural" (2000: 365- 366). I would similarly like to distinguish between "femininity" as an individual woman's self-expression, and as a hegemonic ideology. While the "ideals" of femininity may act as an overt pressure on girls, many of those interviewed resisted these impositions, or negotiated them according to their own standards. In addition, the girls were cognizant of what these ideals were, manipulating norms in some facets of appearance or behaviour while at other times accommodating them. 17 Fourteen year-old Kelly is white and a self-described "punk" who consciously reacted against many conventional notions of femininity. Her approach might be described as both rebellious and opportunistic. During our Power Camp overnighter in a local park, the girls spoke in turn about feminine "rituals" such as shaving your legs or wearing makeup. Kelly was vehemently opposed to shaving her legs, calling the practise stupid and overly time consuming. She commented, "I feel pressure, but I just ignore it." At the same time, she talked openly about her happiness at being thin and having large breasts. She noted, " A l l you have to do to maintain standards of being pretty are to stay skinny, whereas for guys you have to body build and stuff. And I'm way too lazy to do that. Some of my friends aren't quite as much [as thin] and they get made fun of." Fifteen year-old Charlie who was conventionally pretty by her peers' standards, similarly saw thinness as a requisite of ideal femininity. Charlie described a friend as having the "ideal" female body type. Charlie: I'm so jealous of my friend because she has big boobs and generally when they're big it's hard to stay up because you have to have an equal amount of fat everywhere else. But she has like the nicest legs in the world, she has the perfect body. Her breasts are like 36C and her waist is about 26 and her legs are like, "Damn, I want your legs." I guess I want those legs because everyone else wants them, and more guys were attracted to her all throughout in grade six and grade seven. Yet Charlie's expectations of the male attention accompanying thinness were not borne out by personal experience. She related her confusion over standards of thinness and her sense of not measuring up, even though she received a large amount of male attention she received in high school. She said, "People say, 'be thin' so I wondered why me, why do people like me?" Charlie and Kelly both viewed femininity as a series of instructions that they could operate within. Yet it is also possible that "femininity" may not be an especially salient part of young women's identity. Twelve-year old Polly was white and middle class, the daughter of a 18 prominent social activist and'public speaker. When I asked her about being a girl she paused meaningfully and then responded: Polly: I don't know how I feel about being a girl. I'm not sure because most of my friends see me as a boy because I'm usually the one in the baggy pants and the one playing basketball with everybody and the one who mouths off to the teacher, so, I'm not really surc.Lots of my friends are tomboys; we all like what guys do. We don't like sitting around and cheerleading or something. We're the ones in the game playing soccer and stuff. The young women's comments demonstrate their ability to distinguish between the ideological tenets of femininity and their own lived femininities, though at times the two become blurred. While many of the girls expressed criticism towards unrealistic beauty standards, they nonetheless operated within a specific cultural context in which such ideals formed constraints and standards of being a girl. Charlie had difficulty reconciling cultural standards equating thinness and attractiveness with the male attention she received in high school, while Polly had to describe her behaviour and activities in terms of an "abnormal" type of femininity that is male derivative (tomboy). Thus the girls sorted out their sense of gender and identity amidst a pre-existing set of norms and expectations regarding both girlhood and adolescence. "Being a Teenager:" Social Idea and Lived Experience Hall's seminal study at the turn of the 20 t h century defined adolescence as an inherent period of "storm and stress," inspiring psychologists and child development researchers to focus increasingly on this distinct life phase (Hall 1904). Although several critiques of Hall's theory have been mounted, the cultural notion that adolescence is inherently stressful and traumatic remains with us. In revisiting Hall's theory one hundred years later, Arnett proposes a revised thesis, suggesting that while storm and stress continue to be associated generally with adolescence, this is largely applicable to the middle class majority culture. He qualifies this generalization by arguing that there may be decreased turbulence in non-Western cultures and among minority cultures in America (Arnett 1999). Historical and cross-cultural analyses point 19 to the constructed nature of "adolescence" as a distinct life phase or as particularly turbulent. The assertion that adolescence is a product of both historical and cultural contexts serves to de-naturalise its inherent "storm and stress," creating space for more political and context specific analyses of youth culture and its relationship to broader social trends. The cultural frame of reference allows a context for individual preteens and teenagers to experience and explain both their physical and social transitions. My concentration on adolescence is separated into three distinct aspects of this experience: embodiment and adolescence, adolescence as expectation and teenagedom. Embodiment and Adolescence The complexities of teenage life consist of multiple interweaving factors. Cultural anthropologists have tended to give priority to the social and ideological aspects of adolescence over hormonal and physical developmental shifts. The connection between physiological and social developments has remained a source of contention. As Butler asks, how do we begin to "link the question of the materiality of the body to the performativity of gender?"(Butler 1993: 531). Adolescence is a rich site in which to examine this question, ripe as it is with social and physical determinants of gender. Developmental psychologists have identified adolescence as a period of gender intensification, in which the norms of feminine and masculine identity become increasingly salient (Galambos, et al. 1990). While my questions focused on the social interpretation and significance of adolescence, the girls consistently made note of the physical changes that had accompanied this transition. One mother strongly emphasised the physiological effects that puberty has had on both her daughter and herself. Her daughter explained her understanding of the distinction between girl and young woman. Zelda: I think that I'm a young woman when I started my menstrual or something, because a young girl wouldn't start yet. When I was ten I started to get my attitude. I'm like, "What's wrong with me?" I was so nice... Well I had headaches (last year), but I didn't have backpains. And now I have headaches, some headaches. And a lot of back pains when I bend over. So it really hurts. 20 Zelda's painful experience is somewhat unique amongst the young women I interviewed but it is indicative of the extent to which girls mentioned the changing relationships they had with their bodies during this time. Each participant noted the physical effects of puberty (especially menstruation) in their social transition. They said things like "I got boobs" or "my body changed." While this suddenly heightened awareness of their bodies relates to physiological changes, I suggest that it is the social significance attributed to these changes which renders them important and worthy of social analysis. The young womens' heightened awareness of their bodies related particularly to the attention and significance accorded these changes. Not only did Kelly "get boobs" but these were suddenly a point of attention, at times unsolicited. She related the following event, Kelly: Once I was walking to the bus stop cause I was going to [my friends'] house. And I was wearing a tight top because I felt like being pretty. And it was a three-block walk and like five guys honked at me on the way there. And this one dude who walked by, he must have been about forty. He said, "Hey girl, how old are you?" And I was like, "Thirteen." So he said, "Oh you're too young." And I was like, whoah.. .When I told my boyfriend and his friends about that, they just laughed at me but I was like, "Hey, I was actually scared about that." And he was like, "I'm sorry." Eve related a more serious incident in which the sexual implications of her teenage status (though she was only twelve at the time) were overtly manifested. Eve: I almost got picked up by this guy. 'Cause I was using the phone and waiting for my Mom to come down the street and I saw my Mom and I waved hi. And the guy thought I was waving at him and he tried to pick me up. I was like, "What do you want?" And he was like, "You." And I was like "Sorry, go get your wife or something." [How old was he?] Older than me. And he was like, "Get in now!"and I said "No!" I punched him. I almost broke his window 'cause he did that, actually I did break his window. He was like "I ' l l give you a hundred bucks because you're young." I said, "Ew, you're a sick man." The implications of Eve's ethnicity in this incident can at best be surmised. Kelly (who is white) is refused by an older man because of her age, whereas Eve (who is First Nations) is told that her age makes her especially desirable (he will pay more). Would the potential John have solicited a twelve-year-old white girl for sexual intercourse? The jarring differences in the 21 severity of the girls' stories illuminate some of the racialized implications of gender and sexuality in Canadian society. Sexual harassment by older men created one of the ways in which girls developed a new-found awareness of their body and its social meanings. Harassment forms just one part of a social continuum in which young women related to their bodies. Incidents such as these can create a context in which women feel as though they themselves must monitor their body and the messages it sends out, even i f attention is completely unsolicited. Lisa and May explained the pervasiveness of this sexual attention over the past several years: May: It's usually like older... Lisa: Old, slimy guys. Pedophiles. May: And it's not even when you're dressed provocatively. Lisa: Yeah, it's just like a sweater and jeans or something. Given the intense social and sexualized attention to young women's, it is not surprising that this attention becomes internalized, translating to an increased awareness of the body's "messages." Charlie associated hypersensitivity towards her body with the onset of adolescence. Charlie: You're more aware, you're more aware of everything. Like before I could wear short shorts even though I was fat, I was a pudgy baby. But I didn't care i f l wore short or sleeveless or had messy hair, because everyone thought it was cute. Now i f you wear too short a skirt you'll be perceived as a slut, you won't be perceived as cute. You're more aware that people are looking at you, even though they aren't. I was walking to the library and it felt like everyone was staring at me, it's like this voice in the back of your head, "They're watching you; they're watching you." Before they thought you were cute and now it's like (raises her eyebrows in mock snobbery). It's like "Uh huh yeah, I know you're wearing that skirt, your thighs are so big." It's like " B A M , " that's how I would describe it. Lisa and May also related this increased bodily awareness to aesthetic social expectations. May: Like when you're little you wouldn't care about style or anything. But now you look through magazines and think, "Oh I like her hair" and wonder how you could get your hair like that. You see people wearing clothing and think, "Oh, I should look like that." Lisa: You're probably more aware. May: I think you're more self-conscious than when you were a kid. Lisa: About your appearance. 22 This heightened attention towards one's body has been described by feminist researchers looking at adolescence as well (Brumberg 1997; Harris 1999). An analysis of the social context in which this takes place makes it clear that this heightened awareness is both mediated and constructed by social circumstances. Charlie's suspicions about being "watched" can hardly be written off as idiosyncratic paranoia and both Eve and Kelly's experiences attest to the powerful gaze turned towards adolescent young women. While this attention can be exciting or flattering, it can also be scary and potentially dangerous. As the girls acknowledge the self-consciousness engendered by this attention, they are simultaneously critical and utilitarian towards the dynamic. Kelly tells us that wearing the tight top made her "feel pretty." This was a social power she felt sufficiently possessive of to critically distinguish who could and could not acceptably comment on it. Likewise, Eve's story forcefully portrays her critical condemnation of the situation while reinforcing her own power within the narrative, "I punched him, I broke his window." Whether or not this was her actual reaction, her explanation of the situation reclaims this agency. This is not to undermine the enormous power differential between a twelve year old and her potential John, or to suggest that women's critiques of unrealistic beauty standards mean that they will not be continually submitted to these standards within social judgments. The idea of embodiment serves to convey the powerful and all encompassing aspects of social existence that are experienced both mentally and physically as girls enter adolescence. As the girls embody these transformations, they also act out their intentions on the social world, critically reinterpreting the significance of their newly sexualized beings. Adolescence as Expectation "Being a teenager" had specific salience for each of the girls I interviewed. Both Charlie and Kelly said that rather than defining themselves as girls or young women, they thought of themselves as simply "teenagers." For these subjects, adolescence held a significant sway in their understanding and contextualization of their personal experiences and self-23 concepts. Those girls at the brink of adolescence (ages ten through twelve) looked towards this time as both an exciting and perhaps anxious prospect. Those in its midst noted the changes that had taken place during adolescence and the shift in their perspectives and sense of self from childhood. Twelve year-old Zelda is First Nations and attended the Boys and Girls Club after school. She contemplated her upcoming identity shift in becoming a teenager. Zelda: I feel very excited and very strong... And I feel sort of nervous. Because ahead in my life I don't know what's going to happen. I might have an accident or an injury. I might get into a fight. I might be in trouble or get bad grades. A l l those things. Sheryl: Do those things come with being a teenager? Zelda: Yeah, being nervous. Eleven year-old Natalie is white and also a member of the Boys and Girls' Club. Her family was struggling financially at the time of the study but had very close bonds. Natalie expressed more optimism about the upcoming years, but she was similarly swayed by the idea that things would be different in some significant way. She associated being a teenager with greater choices in terms of course offerings— she wanted to take electronics. Related to her anticipation was the reluctant knowledge that adolescence might take some things away as well. When I asked about the significance that being a girl might have in this transition, she noted, "Hmm, I think I'm going to stick with video games 'cause I like them, they're fun. Not all girls do, but some of my friends really like video games too." Natalie's assertion here about maintaining her "childhood" pastimes conveys a sense that giving up video games might be something she is expected to do during adolescence, that it is not considered wholly appropriate. Teenage status conveyed to the girls both responsibility and excitement, tempered as it was with cultural images of what "teenagers" do and say, and how the girls might live up to these expectations. Eve reasoned that teenage girls "smoke, they get serious with their boyfriends." Polly associated adolescence with "maturity, being older in your age and how you look and how you feel inside about yourself. I guess peer pressure comes to mind. Like smoking and drugs, being in cars and stuff" Thus, for these girls, becoming an adolescent carried with it 24 some ominous expectations about the use of intoxicants and sexual activity as appropriate social activities for teenage girls. The older girls in the study similarly echoed the sense that adolescence is as much a cultural idea as it is a personal experience, though often the juxtaposition of these two things was problematic for the girls. Teenagedom The somewhat wary anticipation of what was in store for the girls was experienced less dramatically for those young women already in their teens, but they were nonetheless aware of a shift that had taken place. Tara described the transition from grade seven to grade eight as a veritable shock to her system, one she hadn't quite anticipated. Tara: I developed so much in grade seven and it was so nice and then it was just gone. Part of me was thinking that it would carry on... I was believing that everything would just carry on like grade seven and it hasn't worked that way. I had in mind that it wouldn't be a transition, I was like, "Oh no, it's not a big deal." Evidently it was a big deal for Tara, all the more so since she changed schools and no longer attended school with her peers and friends from grade seven. Tara lamented the accompanying shift in her overall happiness and self-acceptance. "I'm not the happiest I've ever been. It's kind of a day-by-day thing, like get through and get your homework done and stuff like that. I don't know, everyday I didn't really... I felt better in the summer. It's kind of depressing. I don't know why it is, it just is." Kelly also struggled with day-to-day activities and overall happiness. She considered adolescence to be "a bigger chunk in her life," and while she found it exciting and fun, she also found it more complex and difficult to navigate. "Life in general, half the time is really great and half the time it really sucks and I don't really want to do anything and I'm just depressed a lot. But a lot of the time that's my fault because I'm pretty much boy crazy. And my whole world centres around boys and my friends." Kelly compared this to her childhood, when things were simpler and gender relations less fraught: "When I was a kid I was always happy and then I started thinking about boys when I got 25 older and that really messes up your life in a lot of ways." In addition to cross-gender relations, young women also addressed the notion of responsibility and decision-making in adolescence. Tara felt pressure surrounding choosing a career and forging out a life path during this fraught time in her life. Tara: Sometimes you feel pressured by it (being a teenager). Like you have to be doing it a certain way or something. I don't know, everything just has to come together. I feel it's kind of weird because this is the time in your life when you're supposed to be getting together what you want to do in the future and at the same time you're growing up. Everything's happening at once, and it's just like, this shouldn't be decided now. It should be dealt with later. Tara's concerns addressed the combination of both rapid change and responsibility for her future, dilemmas she felt unprepared to take on both at once. Sixteen year-old Esther similarly spoke about the stress she was undergoing in her attempts to balance the various demands of her life. Esther: I think being a child, the life is much more simpler. You don't have to worry about life or anything because in elementary it was just play. But after we grow up we get more responsibilities and have more problems in our life... I think some adults think that teen girls are troublemakers. They say that teens are confused about life and they don't know how much pressure we have. Like school and bullying and violence. These girls thus echoed concerns about the responsibilities and pressures of school and adolescence. Their concerns raise doubts about the "inherent" storm and stress of adolescence. In fact it would seem that societal expectations about their roles and the all-encompassing atmosphere of school and teen culture combine to create a situation that is both stressful and turbulent for girls. While suddenly entering into a highly regulated and unforgiving social milieu, they must simultaneously balance academics, parental relationships and decisions about their futures. Their sense of this political dynamic is established in comments regarding the loss of childhood, which conveyed their reluctance at giving up this status. This is not to say that adolescence doesn't hold excitement and enjoyment, though at times this expectation seems hegemonic as well. That one should be "having fun" and living out the "greatest years of your 26 life" represents a cultural ideal for teenage girls that they cannot always meet, especially when notions of "fun" are tied to chemicals, heterosexual dating and social acceptance. The ideal of social acceptance encompasses broadly the struggles adolescent girls go through in their need to fit in with peers. The repeated tales of friendship woes and personal desires to be part of a group almost merged into a single master narrative as the girls told story after story of backstabbing, social marginalisation and ostracism they had experienced. Simmons (2002) describes the hidden culture of "alternative aggressions" among young women she spoke with in an American middle school. Others have noted the consistent presence of such practices, suggesting they are a cultural rite of passage that many or even most North American teenage girls go through (Griffiths 1995; Merten 1997). These experiences are part of a larger hierarchical division in schools that separates popular student from social reject, white student from racialized minority and assimilated citizens from newly arrived immigrants. The social hierarchies form a complex network of class, ethnic, linguistic and status divisions through which each young woman must navigate and forge her own identity and sense of 'place.' The girls' narratives attest that those who neglect to do so risk ridicule and social ostracism. School and Y o u t h Cul ture Youth culture can be thought of as the combination of social interactions, conversations, modes of speaking, social symbols and actions of a group of adolescents. Within particular schools and districts, youth cultures take on their own unique character and the social milieu this creates becomes the site in which students negotiate their status and roles amidst peers. This peer setting has been deemed the "second curriculum" by youth researchers who recognise a separate set of norms and "lessons" apart from those set out formally by school administration (Best 1983; Davies 1995). Quinlivan writes: "Students within schools have a strong peer culture with its own constructions and learning processes which are equally as powerful as the enacted curriculum as it is experienced by students in the classroom"(Quinlivan 1999: 56). This strong 27 peer culture forms the primary structure in which students negotiate their identity. It is at the same time hierarchically organised into a highly class-conscious structure made up of social groupings such as "popular" and "nerd." The social groupings of adolescent culture uphold and define one another in relation to the others. Their relatedness provides insight into the construction of both gender and identity amongst adolescent girls. I organised my analysis of youth culture according to these themes: the importance of fitting in, the creation and proliferation of ethnicity and social groupings, and the normative effects of the "popular" crowd. Fitting In The importance of fitting in, which meant having friends and being socially accepted, was a self-evident aspect of adolescence and school politics that each girl I interviewed recognised. As Griffiths points out in her study of girls' friendships, peer acceptance is exceedingly important for adolescent girls (Griffiths 1995). Similarly, while each narrative I recorded was unique, the need to find social acceptance and a group of like-minded friends was common to each one. Theresa described her attempts to fit in "for once" when she first entered her new school, urging her mother to buy her lipsmackers (a flavoured lip balm) that were cool at the time. Theresa: I did the whole lipsmacker thing. It was good, I noticed that the more popular girls started talking to me more. They would say, "Oh yeah you're getting the hang of it." I had had the long skirt before because I didn't know what was the proper uniform; I was just the new kid. I got past it and figured it out. They were all so interested in makeup and I started hanging out with the popular girls because when a new girl comes they'll suck her in. Theresa's attempts to fit in required careful control of her self-image, including the use of makeup and the proper skirt length for her uniform. Her conformity to these standards meant acceptance into the much-coveted popular group, though this acceptance was short-lived. Theresa's former "friends" conspired against her when the leader of the group decided she didn't like Theresa. She was socially ostracized, rumours spread about her in school and even an "I hate 28 Theresa" website sprung up. This created a time of emotional turmoil for her, which she sought counselling for. Theresa's experience was not so unique and I met many girls who told me similar stories of rigid (and short lived acceptance) followed by social ostracism. Unofficial "uniforms" described by other girls in high school echoed this need for conformity in fulfilling social conventions. Lisa and May noted the importance of clothing for fitting in: Lisa: Our whole school is like Aurizzia [an expensive clothing shop]. Everybody dresses the same. You can go to school with the same outfit as like two other people. May: Yeah, I can be at school and see this girl walking and think like, "Whoa, I have that whole outfit." And it's just like jeans and a shirt. While older students can recognise these standards somewhat gradually, new students and especially immigrants may find they are suddenly thrown into this unforgiving environment. Charlie had newly arrived in Canada from the Philippines. She described her anxiety about fitting in the first day and adhering to the proper social norms. Charlie worried, " I've heard about people never getting a second chance to show who they are. I'm freaking out about that. Like what am I going to wear on the first day of school, what i f l wear something that's wrong? What i f l say something wrong, what i f l start babbling or something? I'm already worrying about that." Fitting in was less problematic among the younger girls, suggesting an age break at which social norms become all-important. Girls still in elementary school suggested that anyone could hang out with anyone else, though divisions and social place were still salient. Eleven year-old Natalie talked about the popular kids as a group with social power, but one whose boundaries were nonetheless permeable. She explained, "To be in the popular group you just have to be one of their friends. It isn't like a big challenge or anything. You don't get your head flushed in the toilet or anything. Anybody can be anybody's friend in our school. It's not like anyone is being picked on or anything." Eleven year-old Polly held a similar view of the social situation at her school and 29 the generally friendly atmosphere. She said, " In grade six and seven actually everybody feels not rejected except for maybe the wandering one or two kids out of seven hundred. But mostly they can all join the "in" crowd i f they want. So no one really feels rejected, unless they tell themselves that. That's grade six and seven." While Polly and Natalie recognised group divisions among their classmates, they saw these as relatively insignificant and permeable. However, further comments from the girls acknowledged some of the ways in which these groupings are mediated by language, race and ability. Natalie, who is 'white', commented on the racial differentiations in her school: Natalie: Well there is one group of darker people but it kind of blends in so nobody talks about it. Sheryl: Why do you think that is? Natalie: Well, Preetha, she doesn't really know how to talk, right? Sheryl: English? Natalaie: Yeah, so she stays with other people who can't talk who are the same skin colour. Like they talk a different language but it isn't really a big deal. There was this one girl who couldn't speak English but she turned out to be really nice once she learned how to talk. Natalie's comments highlight some of the subtle ways that racial privilege and hierarchy embed themselves within the school setting, here in the guise of linguistic ability. While Preetha can certainly speak, her linguistic distinction renders her a mute in the eyes of other white classmates in a society where English holds dominance and sway. Ten-year-old Ruby's analysis of the social stratification in her school is similar to Natalie's. Ruby also normalizes 'differences' between students, but in terms of physical ability instead of linguistic ability. Explaining the social groupings in her grade, Ruby said, "Some girls are like really popular in the class and there's another group that's just normal. And then there are the handicapped kids." In this instance, ability and power form the norms against which others are measured. Natalie and Ruby's comments establish some of the ways in which distinctions are made among classmates; the girls must navigate and sort out these distinctions before finding their own sense of place. 30 Theresa and Tara, both 'white', described the disjuncture they felt in attempting to sort out their social positions amidst peers based on ethnic and linguistic distinctions. Theresa spoke about her attempts to make new friends after her rejection from the popular clique. Theresa: There's this group of Asian girls and they all hang out together, I think because they speak the same language. They'll do a little bit of Englese, like English/Chinese thing happening. And halfway through their conversation they'll just like switch languages. They have a really good social group but also because of their culture they can discuss things and it's kind of hard for me to fit in with them. But I was friends with some of them for a while, they're all nice girls but as a group you can't really hang out with them, you're just kind of excluded. Tara recounted a similar tale when she moved into a new school in grade seven. She described her new friends: Tara: It's kind of weird because I've been hanging out with a lot of Asian people. In the beginning, in grade seven I had one Asian friend who was going to my high school and I wasn't aware that she knew a whole bunch of other people, like Asian too. So in the beginning lunch hour was spent sitting there listening to them babble on in their language. So it was really hard, it was really excluding. And I just didn't want to be left out anymore. And I knew that there were some people around that I could get to know. So I just kind of dropped them and met some new people, but of course they're still Asian. But they're nice and stuff, they try not to exclude you. They try to include you and it's just more open and friendly. Incidentally, Theresa forged a new group for herself with two girls whose connectedness was based on speaking Spanish and having recently arrived in Canada from South America. Although both Theresa and Tara found new groups of friends who were again ethnically distinct from them, their original discomfort was framed in terms of this ethnic difference— with the "Asian" girls. For many of the girls, forging a place within the school setting meant finding the appropriate ethnic setting. Twelve year-old Eve who was First Nations was strong-willed and independent, describing herself as "tough." She arrived at her new school to a social territory apparently already mapped out. Eve spoke about a group of girls who gave her dirty looks. Eve was uncertain as to why the group of white girls didn't like her, but she commented on the 31 implausibility of one Native girl hanging around a group of white girls, explaining the reason Native girls stuck together. Sheryl: Are there groups at your school who...? Eve: That don't like me? Yeah, a bunch of girls. Sheryl: What are they like? Eve: They're not popular; they're just not uncool. There are Native girls, though. Five of them. And they get along with me. Sheryl: Is that why the Native girls stick together? Eve: It's because they get along with each other and they don't want to try and make friends with other people, it wouldn't work. Sheryl: Why wouldn't it work? Eve: Like one Native girl with a bunch of white girls.. .(trails off here). Eve's sense of place (and displacement), speak of the unwritten but highly guarded boundaries defining social groups at her school. Sixteen year-old Esther also spoke about the importance of ethnicity for social groupings. Herself the daughter of Asian immigrants, Esther responded to a question regarding the uniting feature of her social group at school. "We're Asian. 'Cause our school is like ninety-nine percent Asian, and there are only three Caucasian students in our grade. It's kind of scary in a way." Esther then related her concerns about the ethnic composition of her school to gang rivalries and racial tensions, noting the recent death of a young man. While I was still conducting fieldwork in the fall of 2003, a Filipino youth was stabbed outside his school by a group of Indo-Canadian youth. While the police and press framed the event in racial terms, youth at the school protested this interpretation. Eve's concerns thus spoke to this type of violence but they seem to relate also to the "multicultural" makeup of Vancouver that has in fact become increasingly politicized since the 1970s with influxes of Asian and other immigrants. The regional and school segregation that has taken place has been the result of subtle internal and external migration patterns, as well as explicit "zoning" bylaws pushing Asian populations to specific areas of Vancouver such as Richmond (Smart and Smart 1996). In 1988, one study (Clague et al.) reported that while there was no statistical increase in the number 32 of visible minorities in Vancouver, perceptions of such increases were widely acknowledged in newspapers and public opinion. Vancouver's ethnic fault-lines, shrouded as they have been by gauzes of 'multiculturalism' and tolerance, seem to compress into a microcosm of differentiation within the school setting. Without the "political correctness" acquired in adulthood, teens spoke openly about the racial tensions, divisions and boundaries of their peer cultures, as well as the solidarity they felt amongst ethnically similar peers. Social Groupings Social categories, which emerge in the context of school peer cultures, form both a hierarchy and a network of groupings within which individuals strive to place themselves. These categories can simplify social interactions while also regulating the actions and self-definition of persons included in these groupings. In youth culture, the use of categories and labels may be even more pervasive as actors struggle to identify themselves and those around them. In the young women's narratives, ethnic distinctions were common but so too was the distinction between popular and normal, as well as other subgroups that sprung off from "popular" as the defining category of status. At times, ethnic distinctions and other groupings interconnected in complex forms. Esther distinguished the "popular" crowd in contrast to the "nerds," who received good grades. Charlie described the social groups at her school (in the Philippines) as: "The popular girls, the sports guys, the popular jocks, the muscles and the party guys." Her classification is interesting in that it refers mostly to boys' groups. She defined herself as a member of the "popular" clique. Natalie, who was still in elementary school, differentiated between the "lowlifes" and the "popular" crowd. She called her group the "funny, hilarious" group. Natalie explained their recent transition, "Well I used to be a lowlife but now we've taken a step ahead and made ourselves into the hilarious, so it's not like that anymore.. .We just like goofing off on our free time and we draw doodles, not making fun of anybody though." 33 Natalie's explanation.about the doodles revealed her desire to be perceived as nice, a trait she similarly emphasised in explaining how she comforted other "not so popular" girls when they were picked on. The girls' repeated self-descriptions as "nice" made sense in light of what they saw as a defining feature of the "popular" group— not nice. This resonates with past research on "popular" girls in an American Junior high school that investigated the diffusion of meanness as it mediated status and competition amongst this clique (Merten 1997). Tara's description of her friends reflects a similar foil against which she described her own social classification. Rather than defining what she and her friends were, she found it easier to define what they were not. Tara: Well they're not sluts or anything. They're not all stupid. I don't know, they're nice. Sheryl: What does nice mean? Tara: They're not judgmental; they're open to things. Tara's assertion that her friends at school were "not sluts" contrasted with her definition of the "popular" group— who she described as sluts. Kelly defined her group as the "punks" and similar to Tara she described this group in terms of what they were not (popular) as much as by what they were. She felt that it was only the "really preppy people who are mean." Kelly described her group in the following terms: " Pretty much we're just laid back and we like rock and heavy metal. We're pretty much the enemies of all the popular people. And a lot of us dye our hair." This was in direct contrast to the "popular" crowd who were mean, made fun of other people and threatened to beat others up, according to Kelly. In fact, most of the girls' self-definitions were made in direct or subtle contrast to the "popular" crowd. Charlie, who had been "popular" in her former school, was cognizant of this distinction when she defined herself as "popular, but not bitchy." The ability of "popularity" to form a standard against which all others measure themselves conveys a great amount of power and sway. This social power is infused not only with admiration but fear and resentment. The function of "popular" status was 34 normalizing not only in its social salience but also in its ability to delineate the social "other," who embodied stigmatized and transgressive social differences. Ethnicity and the Social "Other " While more recognised categories such as "punk," "nerd," or "popular girl" arose, social groupings were also highly racialized and based on both subtle and overt ethnic distinctions. The graded distinctions of these categories recognised an overwhelming concern with the social "other," both in terms of immigration status and perceived sexual "deviance." This strong aversion towards difference conveyed a powerful pressure towards normalization and conformity that seems a distinguishing feature of youth culture. Lisa and May were both second generation Asian-Canadians and attended Westside schools. When I asked about the social groups at their schools, they quickly launched into a detailed account of ethnic and linguistic hierarchies and differentiations. May: The friends I hang out with are mostly Asian but we speak English. And then there are the Hongers, the people who are from Hong Kong with crazy dyed hair. And then there are like the Taiwanese people and the Korean people. Lisa: I think the Koreans are in classes together so they all know each other. May: Then there are the CBCs. [What's that?] Canadian born Chinese, like me and my friends. You don't even have to be Chinese, just Asians who don't really speak the original language. And then there are the Asians who are from Hong Kong and another group from Taiwan who speak Mandarin and stuff. Esther, who was also second generation Asian-Canadian, could explain in similar detail the ethnic distinctions at her school. She brought up differentiations based on ethnicity and assimilation in response to my inquiries about cliques at her school. Esther: Do you know what FOBs are? They're kind of immigrants in a way and they're the English as a second language people. FOBs means fresh off the boat. They come from China or something. And then there's the Hongers who come from Hong Kong and speak Chinese to each other. I don't really know because I've never been called a FOB before but I think i f you don't adapt to the Canadian culture then you're a FOB or a Honger and i f you stick to your own culture then you're called a FOB or classified that way. 35 These clearly demarcated groups revolved around both national origin and language, simultaneously reflecting the pressure and accompanying status of assimilation. Charlie, who had recently arrived from the Philippines, knew of such distinctions and worried about which category she might be placed in. Charlie: Like my cousin, she called me "off the boat" once. I was like, "What the hell is that?" She said, "Off the boat is what we call Filipinos who just come here and they can't speak English very well, and they have all these accents." I said, "You think that's what I am?" And she said, "No, we just like thought." And I thought "off the boat," I'm scared of getting that stigma. Since Charlie had visited North America often and was born in the USA she had no visible accent or visual 'differences,' and fit in smoothly amidst the other girls at the two-week summer Power Camp. Still, she worried whether this would be enough to "pass" at school in the fall and save her from the stigma accompanying a term that denotes non-conformity and difference. This difference is not simply cast as uniqueness but is projected as a failure to assimilate within Canadian culture. Charlie's desire to conform and fit in extended into her own ethnic identity. Charlie: For me, generally I'm white. I am a white girl. Even though I'm Filipino. I have fair skin, I never got a tan. I went to this party and they all knew I was Filipino because my Mom was speaking like blah blah blah blah. And I was shy at first; and they were like " H i ! " And I said "Hi , my name's Charlie." And they were like, "Oh my God, you speak English so well, where's your accent? You're so white!" (Laughs) They were like "Why don't you have an accent, why are you so white?" And I said [sheepishly] "I was born in San Francisco and I come here every year." Given the intense pressure to fit in, one can certainly sympathise with Charlie's concerns and her desire to be perceived as normal (read: white). While all of the girls spoke of social groups at school, only the Asian girls emphasised distinctions within the 'Asian' category. Their awareness of these inner distinctions is evidence of the contingent nature of social classifications. Just as degrees of assimilation demarcated boundaries, so too did perceived sexual differences, which the girls were quick to distance themselves from. This 'difference' consisted of either too much sexuality - the "slut" or deviant sexual preference — "gayness." In an 36 analysis of the social salience of the "slut" icon, White argues that the slut stereotype is primarily a discursive, socially imagined status that is "rooted in the collective unconscious." (White 2002: 54-55). The young women I interviewed were similarly swayed by the cultural idea of the "slut." They referred to this dubious social status in attempting to outline the sexual boundaries of normalcy and acceptability, carefully scripting themselves into these 'safe' categories. Discussing the popular group at their school, May and Lisa noted the 'anomalous' presence of an Asian girl, who at the same time embodied deviant sexuality. May: There are only like two Asian kids in that (popular) group.. .the girl who is is a slut. Lisa: I don't know if she's well respected by her peers. May: Yeah, more like the guys are like, "Oh yeah, come over here." Lisa: It's just the clothes that she wears. Her shirts are really low and her boobs are pushed up. Just some rumours that go around. Theresa also recounted her brief friendship with a girl who embodied the "slut" archetype. Theresa: The only thing with Mary, she's like a slut.. .Mary went out one day and gave Sue's boyfriend head. So all the girls at her school now hate her, she sleeps around so much. Naomi's done the same when she hung out with Mary but Mary has slept with like four times as many guys as Naomi in a month, in like half a month. She's a disgusting child, that's how she gets her kicks with guys. Theresa's comments regarding the school "slut" revealed the contingency of this title. While no set number of sexual partners formed the boundary of acceptability, "four times as many" becomes self-explanatory as adequate justification for this status. Like the slut stereotype, homophobic rumours and labels also mapped out bounds of normalcy. Polly detailed similarly taken for granted norms of heterosexuality within her elementary school setting and the powerful means by which this was monitored. She described an incident at her school. " I saw these two girls and one girl was hurt.. .she twisted her ankle and didn't cry and she was leaning on this other girl. Since she wasn't crying someone saw them and thought they were gay. They called her, "Oh you faggot." Natalie described name-calling at her elementary school: 37 Natalie: Fights often have to do with something really bad, like a boy liking another boy or something. That only happened once. Sheryl: A boy liked another boy? Natalie: No, no! Somebody said he liked another boy and he got very embarrassed and the anger got to him and he got really mad. I don't think there's anything wrong with that though [a boy liking another boy]. It's just not the thing in our school. While both Polly and Natalie's comments were seemingly condemnatory of homophobic labels, their accompanying explanations nonetheless reinforced heterosexual norms. This pattern subtly undermined the notion of "choice," by assuming that all choices are equally weighted and acceptable. Natalie feels that there is "nothing wrong" with same sex desire, but it is simply "not the thing" at her school. What her comment negates is that same sex desire is simply "not the thing" at any of the schools the girls attended, or more broadly in societal sexual conventions. Heteronormativity and restrained (monogamous) sexual lust thus formed interweaving confines through which youth could explore or express their own sexuality. Despite the powerful connotations of such norms, their pervasiveness still permitted space for subversive and critical reinterpretations. Particularly girls who had been called these names or rumoured as such were more critical of both their accuracy and appropriateness. Kelly talked about her personal experience with the slut label: Kelly: One of my boyfriend's friends kind of hates me; I think he thinks that I'm stealing Tom or something. So he's always mean and tells Tom things that aren't true. I think he's trying to break us up, so since I flirt all the time he called me a slut. Sheryl: Why do you think [slut] gets used? Kelly: Well like whenever someone has a certain number of boyfriends in a certain amount of time or wears something low cut, then they get called a slut. Or if people just don't like them. Sheryl: Have you ever used the word? Kelly: Never against someone, just like, "Yeah, he called me a slut." I don't like using it, it's not nice. Kelly's concerns about the use of the label related to her hurt feelings surrounding the incident but also to the perceived arbitrariness of the word. Kelly reluctantly related her flirting to the use of the label, but also pointed out that it is simply used out of general animosity. When Theresa was called gay she developed a similarly critical stance. I asked Theresa about labels 38 and name calling at her all girls' high school. "I'm sure faggot would get thrown around 'cause I know it does at public school but since it's all girls... Well I'm sure some of them would probably be considered to be gay. I mean I don't know but I'm sure it does happen, but it's not my friends. But then some girls would consider me to be gay, but I'm not." Here the fact that Theresa herself had been called "gay" due to her nonconformist gender performance caused her to qualify labels that have come to define other girls at her school. While Theresa and Kelly's subtle resistances seem small and individually bound, they nonetheless limited the girls' willingness to use these labels against other girls, thus weakening their overall effect. Charlie similarly contemplated the "fairness" of name calling after she herself was labelled. Charlie: Oh yeah, I called my friend a bitch a lot behind her back... I called her a bitch, I did. And she called me a bitch because she thought I was spreading stuff about her and I was trying to leave them because I didn't think they were popular enough. And that was not good, that was the wrong way to go about it. It would have been good i f it was just "bitch" but it was "backstabbing, social climbingbitch." I just didn't need that. Charlie's attempts to defend her popular status thus seemed to compel labeling her friend. Charlie can thus justify the use of the label but finds the additional adjectives hurtful and excessive. Kelly and Theresa's experiences also attest to the often hurtful and constricting nature of categorizations and social labels as well as their insidious use in mapping out social relations. The use of binary definitions and social othering was instrumental in the forging of personal identities and self-definitions for the girls I interviewed. In a similar way, Kenny (2000) emphasises the pervasiveness of social othering within the school setting as well as the ethnic and racial implications of this process. In her ethnography of white, middle class suburban girls she writes, "Otherizing some people is a way of fashioning a self, even i f the differences are more elusive than simple binaries allow" (Kenny 2000: 179). Kenny's analysis focused primarily on racial othering, characterizing "queer" labels as racial euphemisms for discursively silenced but visibly segregated social "others." In contrast to Kenny's study, which 39 took place in a racially segregated suburb that was primarily white and upper middle class, Vancouver's youth culture has less visibly separated ethnic groups. Labels connoting "differences" thus convey broader normative functions and both heteronormativity and white racial privilege form the context through which individuals negotiate their identities. The ability to designate differences is sustained in contrast to normativity, which seemed to be embodied by the notion of "popularity." What does it mean to be "popular," and how did the girls envision this nearly phantasmatic status? Popularity While social classification systems varied by school and according to each girl's description, the idea of "popularity" remained constant in their narratives. Its regularity reflects the power and salience of this status. Popularity, like all other statuses, is a gendered identity embodied by distinctly masculine or feminine sensibilities and ways of being. In their work on gender norms and popularity amongst high school students in the United States, researchers have found distinct routes to popularity/social prestige for male and female students such as physical attractiveness for females and sports performance for males. (Carter and Suitor 1999; Adler, et al. 1992). Socioeconomic status was a common route to popularity for both genders. These studies of gender and popularity elaborate a definition of popular status that is both overtly gendered and class-based. My own research proved that race also provided a salient variable of categorisation in defining the "in" crowd. I take 'race' to refer not to biological categories but to social constructions built up around factors such as skin color and language which serve to socially differentiate individuals and groups. The young women I interviewed similarly elaborated stereotypical definitions of feminine popularity norms. Often the rigidity with which they defined these norms conveyed a subtle resistance and resentment towards them, revealing their awareness that they too were 40 being measured against these standards. Theresa, a self-declared tomboy, explained the definition of 'popular' at her private, all girls' school. Theresa: For my school what's considered popular is if you have a pretty good body and wear really tight shirts, halter tops, tight pants and all. And you go around looking really, really pretty and you're all into makeup. You have to have the right fashion sense and know who's hot and who's not. Pretty much they spend their lunch hours going over the magazines. Kelly also defined the popular group (who she deemed the preps) in terms of clothing, makeup and overall appearance, as well as the way they treated others. Kelly: They call us losers and stuff. And they're like "Oh my god, you're not wearing any makeup. Your hair is so raggedy and gross".. .That's the girls, and the guys are like, "I'm gonna tell somebody to beat up this person and then this person and then this person." Sheryl: What makes a person a prep? Kelly: Well they always wear like name-brand expensive clothes and are like "Oh my god" if you don't. And they kind of say "like" all the time. They think they're really popular and they're often really pretty. Kelly's comments revealed a resentment and even challenge to this popular status, as well as a veiled disdain for what it represented. Esther's comments about the 'popular' group were also tainted by her personal non-conformity to these standards. As Esther explained, "In our school there's this drive to be popular and to be the "in" girl. You have dyed hair, a really nice body. You can afford all these overpriced clothes, that's about it." Esther spoke later about her struggles with body image given the elevated status of "thinness" relating to popularity. Tara, who earlier defined her group as "not sluts," described a group of popular girls at her school that she did refer to as "sluts." Tara found that most of her new friends in grade seven were swayed by this popular ideal. She explained, "My friends, they were a bit judgmental, like they tried to be popular and tried to wear the trendy stuff and it was kind of icky. No one really knew who they were, they were unsure of themselves. It was really uncomfortable." In the context of this pressure and her own desire to be herself, Tara expressed a condescending view of the popular crowd. "They're just, I don't know. [They're] really kind of superficial and kind 41 of fake and wear lots of makeup and bad clothing. Like low tops and short skirts and stuff like that. I don't know, trying to get lots of attention." The girls' narratives thus drew out the overtly gendered nature of popularity as it is defined not only by perceived attractiveness but also by a form of hyper- (hetero) sexuality. This sexuality was manifest through tight, revealing clothing and "nice" (read: thin) bodies. The importance of "name-brand" clothing also revealed the class hierarchies of popularity since being able to afford this clothing acted as a prerequisite of popularity. While the gender and class factors of popular status were overtly apparent, the ethnic and racial variables were more embedded. Only two girls spoke about the relationship of popularity to racial status, but the importance of ethnicity in social group differentiations brought up in their interviews renders these connections especially intriguing. Lisa and May, who had once attended the same school, spoke about the anomaly of an Asian popular group at May's former school. Sheryl: Is there a popular clique at your school? Lisa: Not really because there are so many Asians that when people ran for student council at the beginning of the year, I didn't think some of those people would make it but they did. Because there is such a big Asian population. But I know if those people were at Point Grey they wouldn't be the biggest people. I don't know if they'd get nominated or even win. May: At Point Grey it's mostly the white kids who are the popular group. I think there are only two Asian kids in that group. Sheryl: Do you think that's a result of racism? May: It's not racism; it's just that the Caucasians kind of dominate over grade eleven. The girls' comments about popularity and its characteristics defined it as a kind of hyper-(hetero) sexualized femininity - thin, scantily clad and 'pretty.' And while this status is clearly gendered (to the point of a stereotype), Lisa and May's comments suggest that it is also implicitly racialized - as white. Eve's description of the white girls at her school similarly pointed to this conclusion. Her explanation about why the First Nations girls at her school stuck together detailed the unrealistic requirements of fitting in with the white girls. She elaborated on the reason one Native girl could never fit in with a group of white girls after I asked why that 42 wouldn't work. "Because, they want you to put miniskirts on like I told you. "If you want to be with us you have to wear skirts and makeup" (said in mock snobby voice). It's like "Uh, no. Bye." Eve's assessment of these gendered requirements revealed a distinct criticism, though she admitted that she sometimes wore makeup but not skirts. Eve also identified overt racism in her school, which none of the other girls readily perceived. The conventions of popularity the girls described encompassed a form of heightened 'femininity,' which relayed messages about who and what is considered desirable. However, these conventions were not simply premised on gender and have both a historical and cultural context. A cultural critique of these norms investigates the broader social significance of "homogenizing and normalizing images.. .whose content is far from arbitrary, but is instead suffused with the dominance of gendered, racial, class, and other cultural iconography" (Bordo 1997: 286). Bordo's critique reveals the ways in which social norms and ways of being are not simply a-contextual, but are instead loaded with social and political significance that renders them unequal and hierarchical. In light of such insights, Esther's criticism of "ideal femininity" takes on specific significance. The images she perceived in these media presented an iconic femininity she had to confront in her attempts to validate her own sense of being and worth within the disorienting cacophony of youth culture. She said, " I think in the movie industry, i f you're blonde, blue eyes, really big boobs, then you'll get famous instantly. I think there aren't many Asian actors in the media and that's not great... In a way it sends the message that Asians are a minority." Esther felt that as an Asian, she was not validated or even acknowledged within the media, just as her descriptions of the popular group did not coincide with her own sense of self due to body size and class conventions. Theresa's comments regarding the popular crowd's obsession with fashion magazines drew similar connections between "popular" status and the media. 43 The conventions of popularity—to be thin, 'pretty,' fashionably (and revealingly) dressed and heterosexual— represented some of the most forcefully homogenizing images of the youth culture these girls operated within. The forcefulness of these images is revealed in their ability to form the contrast against which all other social identities were cast. The gendered nature of these norms relates more broadly to societal standards, from which children and youth draw their own interpretations. One study of elementary school children in the U.S.A. found that gendered "popularity" norms synthesized from the larger culture socialized children while reinforcing hierarchical distinctions amongst them (Adler et al. 1992:170). As the girls revealed, the drive to be popular was highly influential but despite the powerful and normalizing effects of these conventions, the girls' comments revealed that they were not simply uncritically striving towards such 'ideals.' In fact, their descriptions and behavioural reactions to "popularity" revealed both resistance and at times disdain. Conclusion Femininity has been conceived of as an ideological construct encompassing cultural 'ideals' that denote how women should look and behave. According to some feminist theorists, dominant femininity norms include constructs such as thinness, beauty, niceness and heterosexuality. These ideals create a social context in which individuals seek to define their sense of self. Hoogland (1993:91) writes: "It is only by assuming a position, by (re) presenting themselves within the existing sex/gender system that individual subjects acquire a recognizable socio-cultural meaning/identity." These ideals raise interesting questions about the nature of gender, since most women do not in fact live out these standards at all or even most times. The young women I spoke with were well aware of these ideals, but most were also critical of them. The young women's narratives describe ways in which they varyingly resisted, accommodated and even enforced these standards in different ways among their friends and peers. Their personal negotiations took place most significantly within the normalizing 44 dynamics of high school politics — a set of structures that variously constrained and enforced gender norms. It is also important to recognise that while the larger social structure provides a framework for individuals' experiences, young women simultaneously drew from these frameworks while reinterpreting and contesting them as well. The young women could all objectively describe the conceptual premises of "femininity" and contrast these with their own experiences and identity. While this ability conveys a level of critique, these ideals nonetheless formed the basis against which their own experiences and identities were measured and compared. While at times the young women actively resisted these norms, they also occasionally embodied them, even using them as status symbols against which they could measure other young women. For instance, although Charlie recognised "bitch" as a hurtful term, she nonetheless employed it as a means of defending her own status. Thus, the process of performing gendered expectations represented a complex negotiation of symbols and behaviour enacted within the peer culture. The rigid and hierarchical structure of youth culture often meant that girls were strongly inclined towards labeling others in order to maintain and consolidate their own identities. Designations such as "off the boat" and "Honger" can thus be viewed as a means of maintaining status hierarchies for Asian students in an Anglo-dominant society where assimilation represents a form of cultural capital. Perhaps the most common thread among the young women's stories was their struggle to fit in, which meant positioning themselves amidst the social groupings of their school settings. Although each school setting is unique in its own way, the commonalities of hierarchical structures (such as the popular/nerd dichotomy) and social groups were evidence of an epiphenomenal social organisation that cut across district and school boundaries. In their attempts to define their place within this dynamic, the young women took up labels and identities including "popular," "lowlife," "punk," "normal," "hysterical," and "Asian." In the process of forging these identities, the young women came to define others in relation to themselves. For 45 example, in describing her friends Tara noted that they are "not sluts, not stupid" and Charlie said that she was "popular, but not bitchy." That young women are as concerned about what they are not as about what they are reveals both the power of normalizing discourses and the dynamics of identity formation. In her ethnography of a suburban middle school, Kenny suggests that girls can provide otherwise hidden glimpses into normative class and racial statuses due to their gender position, which renders them "members in bad standing" (2000:2). Kenny thus focuses on the inner dynamics of youth culture but views these as reflections of the broader tenets of middle class whiteness. Her study was conducted in a virtually all-white setting where difference was both invisible and overtly evident in its subtle coding. Because my study was not grounded in a single school or ethnic setting, ethnic relations and status hierarchies converge into complex social structures that similarly reveal the fissures and junctions of broader societal organisation. The social groupings the young women described were part of Vancouver youth culture. However, the complex dynamics surrounding ethnicity, gender, weight and racialization broadly revealed the less rigidly structured organisation of Canadian society in general. The girls' concerns with defining "difference" according to stringent standards, the importance of class as a social status and the powerful effect of normalizing discourses around ethnicity and sexuality can be seen both as internally coherent and as reflections of a larger hierarchical social structure that constructs both difference and normalcy. Youth culture, including its obsession with material goods, appearance, conformity and racial categories, can be understood as something that is an aberrant of the larger society. More provocatively, youth culture can be viewed as a crystallization of social standards and norms in a society which otherwise claims tolerance, acceptance and equality. We might wonder whether the "second curriculum" of school culture is in fact so secondary, or whether these are the true lessons individuals are expected to acquire in their socialization to full adulthood. 46 References 1992 Young Women Speak Out: 1992 Symposium Report. Pp. 1-40. Ottawa: Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Adler, Patricia A. , Steven J. Kless, and Peter Adler 1992 Socialization to Gender Roles: Popularity Among Elementary School Boys and Girls. Sociology of Education 65(3): 169-187. Arnett, Jeffrey Jensen 1999 Adolescent Storm and Stress, Reconsidered. American Psychologist 54(5):317-326. 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