chapter  38
7 Pages

Media and bedroom culture

BySiân Lincoln

The concept of a ‘bedroom culture’ was first introduced to youth cultural studies in the 1970s by Angela McRobbie and Jenny Garber (1975). They set out to ‘add on’ the missing dimension of gender to accounts written by the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies that primarily documented the subcultural activities of young white males using the concept of social class. In their now canonical paper ‘Girls and subcultures’, McRobbie and Garber outlined the reasons why teenage girls were absent in these accounts and what they were doing as an alternative. For example, McRobbie and Garber cited methodological issues between male researchers working with female participants, their interactions with whom were recorded as being difficult because the girls were mostly ‘giggly’ and ‘passive’ (p. 1). As a consequence girls were frequently considered as ‘hangers-on’, associated to subcultures only through their boyfriends. However, McRobbie and Garber surmised that teenage girls’ invisibility in these accounts did not mean that they were not participating, but rather that their subcultural lives were being lived out in an alternative domain: that of the home. More specifically, McRobbie and Garber argued that teenage girls were primarily using the

home as a site for youth cultural activities because pursuits such as listening to music and reading magazines fitted, necessarily, into their everyday domestic roles and responsibilities. In this respect, girls, McRobbie and Garber argued, did not necessarily have the time and the space of their male counterparts to give the level of commitment required to be a ‘member’ of a streetbased subculture, but instead opted for a culture that could be accommodated easily in their domestic environment and responsibilities, and into their leisure time. ‘Bedroom culture’ by definition was low maintenance and could easily be dipped in and out of by the teenage girl, requiring little more than a record player and permission to invite friends. In McRobbie and Garber’s account teenage girls could participate in bedroom culture

through their engagement in the media and their associated commercial products and goods that were marketed specifically to female teenagers. These included media texts such as teenage girls’ magazines and pop music that, McRobbie argues in her later work, cater to a distinct girl culture (1991, p. 11). In her analyses of such texts McRobbie illustrates how teenage girls’ magazines, especially Jackie, provide ‘maps of meaning’, through which a particular feminine ideology is presented, one that encourages the romantic encounter with a male counterpart, but

within the ‘safe’ worlds of fantasy and romance, rather than in real life, on the dangerous streets. Through a coding of Jackie, McRobbie demonstrated how (heterosexual) ‘womanhood’ and ‘girlhood’ (1991, p. 84) was mapped out through popular teen media and mapped on to the lives of their young teen readers. This ‘map’, according to McRobbie, was one that was essentially ‘closed’, in the sense that the uses of teenage girls’ magazines were predominantly dictated through their pages with little room for interpretation or adaptability by the teenager girl in the ‘real world’. In this sense, then, McRobbie identified a set of ‘codes’ operating in Jackie that, she argued, enforced this structured femininity. These codes included: the code of ‘romance’, the code of fashion and beauty, the code of pop music and the code of personal life. What McRobbie’s codes revealed was that the teenage girl was expected to pursue and

aspire to that all important moment of the romantic encounter that would eventually open up the pathway to life as a wife and a mother. In pursuing this, the teenage girl was able to use magazines as a resource, picking up tips on fashion and beauty in her quest to attract a man. Further, such magazines provided a reference point to overcome common issues and problems associated with growing up and becoming independent. To this extent, engaging in bedroom culture was a solitary activity as undertaking various forms of beautification in the quest of finding a man was best done alone, or at least that’s what the pages of magazines such as Jackie would tell their readers. What McRobbie’s analyses also revealed was the seemingly passive way in which teenage

girls engaged with media texts. For example, discussions about pop music in teenage girls’ magazines tended to focus on the male pop idol and associated poster-gazing (1991, p. 126), rather than the teenage girl as a gig-goer, a musician or as someone who was genuinely interested in the music itself. Instead, listening to pop music was a useful mechanism through which to create or further enhance the fantasy worlds of love and romance; to fantasise about that romantic clinch with a famous pop star or idol. McRobbie and Garber’s study is now considered to be canonical in the field. It is noted to

be particularly ground-breaking because it addressed the position of young women in youth cultures as well as bringing the context of the domestic into the equation: youth cultures and subcultures could exist in the private domain as well as the public. Further, although not explicitly addressed in their study, the media were considered integral to teenage girls’ youth cultures in private space, playing a key role in the construction of a bedroom culture and the shaping of teenage girls’ leisure time.