All posts by Oksana Cobb

A film producer, director, screenwriter, human rights activist, and mother of two great daughters.

Call for Mothers of Teenage Girls

SURVEY / INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

Instructions: Please review the questions from three main topics of discussion below and answer from your own experience. Try to elaborate as much as possible.  It is not necessary to answer all of the question, just those you feel strongly about.   Please provide examples from your daughter’s life if possible. 

Video Interview: If you would like to discuss these in front of a camera for a future documentary, please call Oksana Cobb at 215-400-0233 or e-mail at oksanacobb@verizon.net to arrange the date and time of the video session.   Location: University of Texas at Dallas in Richardson, TX. 

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1)      SEXUAL IDENTITY

“Dare to bare” is a common exhortation in the spring and summer issues of many girl’s fashion magazines.  What are your views on girls showing more and more skin from tank tops and belly shirts to extremely short skirts and shorts at younger age?

Is there a difference between sexuality and sexualization?  Please elaborate. 

Feminine modesty has been chastised for decades as a form of patriarchal oppression.  Is stripping and bearing skin today a badge of sexual liberation? 

When younger girls today wear sexy outfits and enjoy attention from boys, is there a danger of having to perform sexually at a younger age?  What are the consequences? 

Just 10 years ago, it was unusual for 10 year old girls to go to a beauty spa for a full facial, manicure and pedicure.  Not anymore.  Beauty industry keeps lowering the age bar for its products.  How does this phenomenon contributes to objectifying women and their self-objectification?

Today’s hook-up culture free of commitment encourages sex without romance and courtship.  Does this have an effect on depression levels among young women? 

“I Kissed a Girl” 2008 song by Katy Perry quickly became number one the Billboard national charts where it stayed for 7 straight weeks.  We are in the age of lesbian chic.  The girls that are too young to have a sexual identity pretend to be bisexual.  It is no longer a taboo, in fact it is encouraged, makes girls more popular with boys.  The problem is: what is genuine and what is fake?  The girl-on-girl show is often times for the boys, for their enjoyment.  Do the girls confuse desire for attention with desire for sex?

Do girls today have a chance to simply be girls and not women or sexual agents at much earlier age? 

2)      CYBERBUBBLE

Many girls today love describing themselves as “party animals”.  Their whole motivation to attend all the parties and sleepovers is to post photos of the gatherings on Instagram, Facebook etc.  Is the photo record of social events on social media similar to a diary or is it more of a creating a mask, marketing a brand, performing and putting on a show to amuse others? 

Are girls staying true to themselves when they blog, post photos, comment, like other posts?  Or is it all about projecting the right image, an image what is perceived to be cool, hip, popular?

Do you find that despite hours spent in texting and social media each day, teenagers are more awkward in personal face-to-face communication? 

What is the iPhone 5 or smart phone means as a status symbol in school age children?

American teens today send an average of 135 messages per day via text and social networking sites. 

Does 24/7 connectedness today means no private life and private time?  The technological hyper connectedness with peers may mean for girls disconnecting from themselves.  Does this lifestyle deprive girls from break, breather, private moments to “just chill”, sleep and rest. 

ADHD misdiagnosis by doctors and self-diagnosis for mental disorders. 

Cyberbullyign phenomenon

Sexting consequences

Can girls deal with the pressure of being micro-celebrity and to have to constantly package a product of their ownself, a product that did not have a chance to develop yet?  How do girls handle claustrophobic world inside the cyberbubble? 

There are three general styles of parenting: Authoritarian (ultra strict), Permissive (very laid back), and Authoritative (firm but not excessively rigid).   Which style do you consider yourself to be in regards of controlling your child’s use of internet.  

3)      OBSESSIONS

Thinspiraton… The internet and social media are full of websites, blogs and visuals promoting anorexia, encouraging girls to stay strong while they starve themselves and glamorizing the cult of the ultra-thin.  What are real dangers to our children? 

Can sports become an obsession for girls and one of the only ways to define themselves?

Obsession with overachievement can be dangerous.  Why?  Overly-ambitiousness and perfectionism often stems from demanding, critical and conditional relationship with one’s parents. 

Use of alcohol and drugs as a means of compensations for something missing in their lives or results of abuse. 

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When Sweet Friendships Go Sour – Cyberbullying

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Image credits: http://uthmag.com/cyber-bullying/

We had previously discussed whether social networks can be considered communities and came to the conclusion in the class that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. are not communities per se.  They serve as online platforms which facilitate online community development.  Many adults for example are engaged in lively discussions in various online groups where they share interests, similar ideas and invest much time for building online peer relationships.   Some examples are online art communities, social activism and other belief / interest based communities.  

In the case of younger people and specifically teenagers, social media is an extension of their physical community.  Per Danah Boyd essay “Friendship”, “For most teens, social media do not constitute and alternative or “virtual” world (Abbbott 1998).   They are simply another method to connect with their friends and peers in a way that feels seamless with their everyday lives (Osgerby 2004).”   While adults can still separate the physical and virtual worlds, for younger generations those become increasingly inseparable and fluid. 

So we can assume that the social media friendships are a natural extension of the physical face-to-face relationships.  The online world lives in harmony with the offline reality.   Online, teenage girls do the same exact thing they have been doing – socialize with friends, share stories, gossip, flirt and simply “hang out”.  However, just like in real life, online friendships can go sour.  Sometimes “the best friend” of many years can decide to turn on a girl and engage half of the school in cyberbullying practices.  

There is nothing new about girls being mean to other girls, although feminism teachers today try to encourage women to elevate and support other girls which is the ultimate sign of strength and confidence.  However, gossips and nasty behavior have always existed.  What is new about cyberbullying is that the technology is used to inflict pain 24/7.   It can be non-stop, without a chance to escape.  Many girls are afraid to log on their social profile page to find nasty comments posted while they were offline.  A girl can be logged out from every social network yet still victimized online, and the awareness of that is equally traumatizing.  Watching the cell phone vibrate with nasty messages and worrying about potential insults posted online makes girls dwell and stress constantly. 

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In addition to cyberbullying being an around the clock phenomenon, its anonymity makes it even more dangerous.  Social networks with millions of their fake accounts make it difficult sometimes to track the true identity of the offender.  Mysterious mean comments, humiliations, fake invitations to non-existing parties, malicious threats and ultimatums coming from anonymous accounts make it hard to determine who is behind the cyberbullying. 

A decade or two ago, a girl that spread nasty rumors about someone else would be easy to track.  Also, girls would not resort to the most offensive techniques as speaking incredibly badly of someone would reflect badly on them.  However, cyberbullying does not have limits or restrictions that physical bullying would have out of fear or moral reasons.  A girl can easily pretend to be a boy and post something about receiving sexual favors from a girl who is completely innocent with the objective to tarnish her reputation.  Than a bunch of “friends” would join in with their insults and disparaging remarks.

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As a result of cyberbullying, many girls cry behind closed doors, can’t perform well at school, develop depression and health problems, start on the path of dangerous addictions and even resort to suicide.   The tragedy of cyberbullying is real and should have the immediate attention of educators and parents.  We must know what is happening online with our daughters and spread awareness about cyber abuse problems.  We need to teach our daughters to be strong and resilient and not let friendships (online or offline) solely define who they really are.  We as parents also need to make sure we do not allow our children to engage in supporting bullies or becoming bullies but instead teaching to help those children who may suffer from cyberbullying. 

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Image credits: http://uthmag.com/cyber-bullying/

“The Truth Shall Make You Free” ~ M. McLuhan

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Marshall McLuhan is a famous media determinist who believed in the power of media and technology to impact society.   He spoke against neutralists that do not assign positive or negative characteristics to technology and media and instead focus on the nature of the user and the purpose of using technology.  In his article “Media is the message”, McLuhan argues the approach of David Sarnoff who made the following statement: “We are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them. The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value.”  Marshall McLuhan calls this approach somnambulism, a view that completely ignores the fact that medium is the message.   Per McLuhan, it is quite a narcissistic interpretation of someone “hypnotized by the amputation and extension of his own being in a new technical form”. 

What does McLuhan mean by terms “amputation” and “extension”?   An extension occurs when an individual or society makes or uses something in a way that extends the range of the human body and mind in a fashion that is new.  For example, the shovel is an “extension” of our arms, a microscope is an “extension” of our eyes, a car is an extension of our feet etc.  Every extension of mankind, especially technological extensions have the effect of amputating or modifying some other extension. The extension of a technology like the automobile “amputates” the need for a highly developed walking culture, which in turn causes cities and countries to develop in different ways.

McLuhan believed that mankind has always been fascinated and obsessed with these extensions, but too frequently we choose to ignore or minimize the amputations.

According to techno and media determinists, technological and media processes cause social movements.  There are many critics of techno determinism, however it is worth listening to the concerns of the great scholar McLuhan who warned us about dangers of overextended technology.   In the case of cars, for example, the resulting amputations such as muscle atrophy, smog, and high-speed fatalities increase at a rate that challenges the benefits initially gained. 

On McLuhan’s gravestone are the words “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” We do not have to like or even agree with everything that McLuhan said, but we should nevertheless remember that his life was dedicated to showing men the truth about the world they live in, and the hidden consequences of the technologies he develops.  Per McLuhan, American society is too often preoccupied with external enemies like Stalin and Hitler for example in the World War II era.  At the same time, people failed to notice the threat of electric technology as “uniformity was applied to every level of education, government, industry and social life”. 

McLuhan claims that the real enemy is sometimes invisible and unrecognizable by the people.  Our conventional response to all media (“it depends how it is used”) puts people in a dangerous place according to the author.  Often another medium serving as a “content” makes the impact of the media very strong without consumers of that content even noticing the influence.  “Subliminal and docile acceptance of media impact has made them prisons without walls for human users”, said McLuhan.  That statement echoes the remark of Liebling in the book “Press”: “A man is not free if he cannot see where he is going even if he has a gun to help him get there”.  McLuhan finishes his article with a notion about slaves quoting C.G. Jung: “Every Roman was surrounded by slaves… Because living constantly in the atmosphere of slaves, he became infected through the unconscious with their psychology.”

In the article Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society, published in 2007 in the International Journal of Communication, Manuel Castels wrote: “Throughout history communication and information have been fundamental sources of power and counter-power, of domination and social change. This is because the fundamental battle being fought in society is the battle over the minds of the people. The way people think determines the fate of norms and values on which societies are constructed. While coercion and fear are critical sources for imposing the will of the dominants over the dominated, few institutional systems can last long if they are predominantly based on sheer repression. Torturing bodies is less effective than shaping minds.”  Was McLuhan on to something?   With mass and emerging media penetrating every aspect of our lives constantly, we have to keep asking ourselves:  “How are we being manipulated, to whose benefit?”  We are always to seek the truth to set ourselves free.