Girls on Film: An Examination of Gendered Vocational Socialization Messages Found in Motion Pictures Targeting Teenage Girls

Article excerpt

As human beings, we are socialized into future gender roles, organizational participation, and individual identities through a range of sources. Children learn about and construct their future gender, relationship, and work identities by engaging in socialization processes with family members (Gibson & Papa, 2000), through schools (Brint, Contrevas, & Matthews, 2001; Oseroff-Varnell, 1998), and through messages presented in media (Fisherkeller, 1999; Teigen, Normann, Bjorkheim, & Helland, 2000). Consumption of media, including books, television, music, and films, is one particularly important source of identity construction (Garner, 1999; Jablin, 2001).

This study examines what girls are being told about themselves and their future experiences and opportunities through the medium of film. It begins with an overview of socialization literature and specifically the role that films play. Next, the results of a study examining the messages presented to teenage girls in films released between 2000 and 2004 are discussed. Finally, the implications of the messages, opportunities for future filmmakers, and suggestions for future research are presented.

Literature Review

Messages that we receive early in life teach us who we are supposed to be as adults. The next section begins with an overview of processes of socialization with a particular focus on anticipatory vocational socialization research, followed by a discussion of the role that media plays.

Processes of Organizational Socialization

We are subject to socialization processes from the time that we first enter into the world. Socialization messages tell us what to do, how to behave, and how to reduce uncertainty related to a situation or context (Oseroff-Varnell, 1998). The messages tell us how we are supposed to act according to our gender as well as to what we may aspire. Obviously these are related, since the way we are socialized into our gender roles may affect the way we (re)create work roles and opportunities (Steele & Barling, 1996; Wilgosh, 2001).

It is important that socialization messages be realistic in terms of what will be expected of us later. Without a sense of realism, we cannot make informed choices or anticipate challenges (Cribb & Bignold, 1999; Oseroff-Varnell, 1998). We are likely to be happier in our future jobs if we have realistic expectations about what they will entail. While socialization presents us with a set of acceptable norms and privileged power positions in relation to others, we are also presented with an opportunity to find a place for ourselves where we can feel comfortable and happy (Jablin, 2001).

Gendered socialization messages

We begin receiving messages about our gendered identities at least from the day that we are born. In the U.S., baby girls are often dressed in pink and baby boys in blue. Little girls are given dolls to play with, while little boys are given cars. Early socialization messages are situated in a dominant ideology that serves to produce and reproduce particular organizational activities and power relationships among the participants (Clair, 1996). From the first day of school, we are taught acceptable and preferable behaviors through rewards of gold stars and candy, which socialize us into a future of salary rewarded for labor that produces acceptable levels and quantities of work (Brint et al., 2001).

We are continuously told who we are, what types of jobs are considered "acceptable," and what it "takes" to have those jobs. For example, many working-class boys realize that their fathers expect them to work at the same company or industry that they do, messages supported by shared communal activities with other families in the same blue-collar line of work (Gibson & Papa, 2000). Such messages are supported by middle-class teachers with little understanding or appreciation of blue-collar lines of work (Willis, 1977). …