Valerie Steeves and Jane Bailey. (2014). Living in the Mirror: Understanding Young Women’s Experiences with Online Social Networking. In Emily van de Muelen (Ed.), Expanding the Gaze: Gender, Public Space and Surveillance. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Our paper presents the findings of a qualitative study that explored girls’ lived experiences of watching and being watched online. Our participants’ reading of markers like makeup, clothing and boyfriends to signal femininity online demonstrates their facility with the heteronormative ideal, as does their ready acknowledgement of the link between the sexualisation of this pretty, thin feminine body and social power (Heilman, 2008). In this sense, the online world duplicates the offline world (Van Doorn, van Zoonen and Wyatt, 2007), as girls are required to negotiate with the “untroubled” status (Hauge,2009) of the type of body assumed to be most privileged by the male gaze. However, our findings suggest that social media not only replicate the centrality of this binary classification (Manago, Graham, Greenfield, Salimkhan, 2008), they amplify it, in three inter-related ways. First, commercial surveillance intensifies girls’ interactions with media representations and restructures the environment in ways that privilege heteronormative performances of girl. Second, the surveillance of family members and peers creates a gendered burden to care for and manage others’ expectations; managing this burden is complicated by the ways in which that same surveillance breaks down the boundaries between performances of various identities, particularly because the demands of mainstream performances conflict with other identities they inhabit. Third, the visual nature of social media alienates the feminine body through the hyper-visibility of the image of the body; this makes the body an object of judgment that is subject to scrutiny by others and the self, and exacerbates the negative effects of failed performances. Our results suggest that an account of surveillance that incorporates panoptic, synoptic and interpersonal forms of watching offers greater potential for better understanding the surveillant forces that tend to undermine the potential for digital media to rupture the male gaze theorized by Mulvey (1975).
Jane Bailey. (2014). ‘Sexualized Online Bullying’ Through an Equality Lens: Missed Opportunity in AB v. Bragg? McGill Law Journal 59(3), 709-737.
In AB v. Bragg, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that fifteen-year-old AB should be allowed to use a pseudonym in seeking an order to disclose the identity of her online attacker. By framing the case as one pitting the privacy interests of a youthful victim of sexualized online bullying against principles protecting the free press and open courts, the SCC approached but ultimately skirted the central issue of equality. Without undermining the important precedent that AB achieved for youthful targets of online sexualized bullying, the author ex- plores the case as a missed opportunity to ex- amine the discriminatory tropes and structural inequalities that undergird the power of this kind of bullying. Viewed through an equality lens, enhanced access to pseudonymity for tar- gets is not necessarily about privacy per se, but rather an interim measure to respond to the equality-undermining effects of sexualized online bullying—a privacy mechanism in ser- vice of equality.
Jane Bailey and Valerie Steeves. (2013). Will the Real Digital Girl Please Stand Up? In Hille Koskela and Macgregor Wise (Eds.), New Visualities, New Technologies: The New Ecstasy of Communication. London: Ashgate Publishing.
The decentralized nature of online content creation could afford girls a space in which to move beyond stereotyped definitions of girlhood traditionally propagated in mainstream media and contribute their own narratives with respect to what it means to be a girl. However, that potential is constrained by the nexus between commercialism and surveillance on web sites targeting youth and by criminal policy dialogue that uncritically incorporates mainstream tropes about adolescent and teen girls into their definitions of both the problems young women face online and the solutions that are required to protect them. Both work to support a sexualized surveillant gaze that limits the empowering potential of online performance for girls who have incorporated online technologies into their social world, and promote solutions that tend to reinforce paradigms of surveillance and control over individual behaviour and responsibility (including that of girls themselves), while leaving intact the business logics that promote media stereotypes and the commodification of girls’ sexuality.
Jane Bailey, Valerie Steeves, Jacquelyn Burkell and Priscilla Regan (2013). Negotiating with Gender Stereotypes on Social Networking Sites: From ‘Bicycle Face’ to Facebook. Journal of Communication Inquiry 37, 91-112.
Research indicates that stereotypical representations of girls as sexualized objects seeking male attention are commonly found in social networking sites.This article presents the results of a qualitative study that examined how young women “read” these stereotypes. Our participants understood Social networking sites (SNS) as a commoditized environment in which stereotypical kinds of self-exposure by girls are markers of social success and popularity. As such, these images are “socially facilitative” for young women. However, the gendered risks of judgment according to familiar stereotypical norms are heightened by the intense surveillance enabled by SNS.While our participants indicated that a mediatized celebrity culture inculcates girls with messages that they must be attractive, have a boyfriend, and be part of the party scene, girls are much more likely than boys to be harshly judged for emphasizing these elements in their online profiles. Girls are also open to harsh criticism for their degree of publicness. The risk of being called a “slut” for having an open profile, too many friends, or posting too much information suggests that continuing discriminatory standards around public participation may effectively police girls’ capacity to fully participate online and complicate their ability to participate in defiant gender performances.
Valerie Steeves. (2012). Hide and Seek: Surveillance of Young People on the Internet. In David Lyon, Kevin Haggerty and Kirstie Ball (Eds.), The International Handbook of Surveillance Studies. New York: Routledge.
Online surveillance purports to protect the child from unknown dangers, in keeping with moral panics about children and technology, and the neoliberal trend to download responsibility to individual parents and children. However, children report that online visibility enables them to explore a world that is increasingly closed to them because of the “risks” and “dangers” it entails, and to deepen their social relationships by watching and being watched by their peers. This makes the Internet an attractive medium for the identity play at the core of the work of childhood and adolescence. This work is complicated by the ways in which the online environment opens it up to the gaze of the corporations that own the sites children use. At the same time, the reflexive nature of online surveillance creates spaces in which children can resist both care and control by refocusing the surveillant gaze on the watcher.
Although data protection laws offer some protection, policy makers have yet to fully protect the online privacy needs of children. Online self-expression is linked to identity formation and a sense of self respect, and private online spaces give children an opportunity to develop a sense of autonomy and resiliency. Children turn to the internet to fulfill age-appropriate developmental needs for individuation, and respecting their developmental need for privacy will encourage them to go beyond the acquisition of “thin” procedural skills and develop a facility for deeper, “connected thinking”. Current policies do little to restrict the commodification of children’s private lives, and the ways in which children’s privacy and freedom of expression is are limited by organizations that turn them into objects of surveillance.