Perusing the About-Face site awakened my prankster spirit. I love the idea of girls and women coming together to throw a wrench in the advertising wheel. The spirit of culture jamming is so positive and creative, it inspires me. It’s something girls can do together or on their own, on the internet or IRL. A means of getting active in their own way that’s relatively accessible to most girls in the US. Even if they don’t have the internet, girls can modify ads at bus stops or collage with magazine inserts. I really appreciated what Kathy Bruin, the creator of About-Face said about being propelled toward culture jamming. Bruin “wanted to make a statement that would be louder than just writing Calvin Klein a letter,” a sentiment I can definitely relate to (qtd in Merskin). In addition to being fed up, culture jamming is a way for girls and women to get active, further resisting their assigned role of passivity. Envisioning yourself scrambling up scaffolding to deface billboards, or waiting at bus stops to attach an ad on the side of a bus” is definitely a far cry from arranging make-up in the bathroom or setting the table (disclaimer: I’m not saying these are negative things, but they fall pretty neatly in line with gender role expectations) (qtd in Merskin).
I can see how websites that “openly ridicule the dominant ideologies of female adolescence reproduced in mainstream girl magazines" are comparable to zines in terms of challenging mainstream cultural representations of gender, class, race, age, and sexuality (qtd in Merskin). I can also see how girls creating their own personal sites are engaging in play that affords them a sense of agency in lives that are otherwise constricted, as Reid-Walsh and Mitchell describe in “A Virtual Room of One’s Own.” Representing girls’ personal sites as a virtual “room of one’s own,” where she is free to create and explore on her own makes sense, and I think it’s great that girls have an online outlet for expression and self exploration, but this has to be just one aspect of a growing culture of independent girls. The action can’t end there. I may have made an AOL homepage when I was 10, but my participation on the internet might have stopped there because I never joined up with other girls online. It’s neat that girls who make personal sites are using free sources to play with consumer products like neopets and boy bands, but, especially since girls are largely using reproduced images, it’s important that their play has room to grow beyond these images.
Even if girls are the puppet masters, so to speak, they are still encountering the same images over and over and so are really still boxed in. Since they may not have access to any alternative media or radical circles, the knowledge that they can be producers of media is imperative – but often unreachable. The gap I see between these personal sites and sites like about-face.org is where the rocky terrain exists. Girls need to know that sites like A-F exist, that other girls are facing the same trials and dealing with them in a proactive way. This way those girls who may not be inclined toward pranks or creativity know how easy and fun it is to brand-slam and make advertising into something that works for them.
The comments by girls on the A-F site really illuminate this point. People commented, saying they were so glad to know that they weren’t alone in their experiences; one commenter even said that she now had her life back. Another said that the site content inspired her to start her own site. I guess my point is that any sort of resistance or activism can’t end at the personal. We can each do our own part to resist and change society, but we need to energy and camaraderie that comes from a group to stay active and engaged, and to know we aren’t going crazy. There has to be a way to link girls and these empowering sites.