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Queer Girls and Popular Culture: Reading, Resisting, and Creating Media

Author: Susan Driver
Publisher: New York: Peter Lang, 2007
Review Published: October 2009

 REVIEW 1: Lisa Justine Hernández
 REVIEW 2: Alison Miller-Slade

I thoroughly enjoyed Queer Girls and Popular Culture: Reading, Resisting, and Creating Media by Susan Driver. It interweaves theory and popular culture to create a fascinating look into the world of queer girls. Driver uses queer, feminist, and postmodern literary theories to create a text-based hypertext of "interconnected cultural fragments" (233) that mediates the diversity of queer girls' experiences with representations of queer girls in popular culture. She reveals an unknown world of queer girl culture while providing further evidence of the importance of cyberspace for building community.

Although knowledge of queer theory and textual analysis is helpful for understanding the important contribution the book makes in bridging feminist theory and popular culture, readers interested in cyberculture will not be disappointed. Drivers' uses the Internet as more than a tool; making connections and creating community are central to her discoveries of queer girl culture. Using queer girls' own words gathered from email, blogs, web sites and some face-to-face interviews, allows Driver to illustrate the existing flaws in theories that fail to recognize the diversity of queer girl realities.

The book highlights primary research on the ways girls aged sixteen to twenty-three negotiate identity by examining popular culture representations in five types of media: TV, movies, magazines, internet, and music. The first two chapters provide context for Driver's truly original work in subsequent chapters. The first chapter, "Introducing Queer Girls and Popular Culture," provides an overview of the project. Driver explains her goal of maintaining the rich complexity of queer girls' experiences to "foster a way of understanding the prolific and articulations that crisscross borders of gender and sexual identity" (2). The discussion is helpful for those unfamiliar with feminist and queer research.

A further introduction continues in chapter 2, "Queering Girl Studies: Dialogical Language and Performative Desires." By reviewing the existing literature in girl studies, the chapter points out gaps and blind spots that the project seeks to correct. Driver establishes the usefulness of her decentered and non-hierarchical approach that relies on well-known feminist and queer critiques of normality. Her primary use of email and the Web to communicate with the girls makes her project unique and disrupts the hierarchy often maintained between researcher and subjects. By using a queer lens to focus on difference, normal assumptions about girls' gender and sexuality are called into question. While her use of the Internet to communicate helps avoid the tendency for theory to overshadow the girls' experiences, throughout the book, Driver continues to raise questions and maintain self-awareness of her own project.

Although each thematic chapter maintains a dialogic between theories and the girls' own voices, chapter 3 and 4 stress the ambiguity of girls' reception of popular culture. As in the five media focused chapters, the third chapter first analyzes existing theory and then provides a critical analysis specific media. The chapter also provides an interesting view of lesbian "coming out" movies by emphasizing the desire of queer girls who watch to see their own complexity portrayed. Chapter 3, "Willow's Queer Transformations on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Coming of Age, Coming Out, Becoming Powerful," focuses on one lesbian character, Willow. Driver explains girls' reactions and thoughts about Willow's development as a queer girl. Her online research allows Driver to call attention to the shortcomings of previous literature about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Analyzing the Kitten Message Board and other Internet fan sites for girls' posts, the chapter clarifies how queer girls are not passive recipients of popular culture.

Queer girl's ambiguous reception is further illustrated in Chapter 4, "Screening Queer Girls: Complex Intimacies within Independent Film," which focuses on lesbian "coming out" movies. The presentation of girls' reactions is interspersed with more theory and critique of existing writing on the four movies. By giving new attention to voices of queer girls, challenging the previous readings, and opening a sense of the rich and complex opinions of queer girls, Driver confirms her claims that queer girls disrupt attempts to be defined by lesbian movies. As both chapters 3 and 4 provide additional discussion about race and class assumptions made by both the show and its viewers, Driver makes an important contribution to the field by raising issues of racial and class privilege and encourages others to follow suit.

The remaining three chapters foreground the performative aspects of identity formations and offer new insights into queer girls' creation of alternative identities that resist both heteronormative and ageist assumptions. Chapter 5, "Uneasy Pleasures: Reading and Resisting Lesbian Magazines," explores gender-bending and queer girls' blurring of the boundaries between consumers and producers of popular culture. As Driver notes, "this chapter positions queer girls as readers who are invested yet frustrated with their status within lesbian magazines" (129). The girls resist the commodification of lesbian desire and the use of queer girl bodies to sell magazines and products to adults. Each of the three lesbian magazines discussed provide a unique perspective from which to analyze queer girls' reactions to lesbian magazines as contested spaces of mis/representation. While queer girls view the magazines as one avenue toward fulfilling their need for personal connections and the advertised online dating sites aid in such connections, the girls still desire their own queer girl magazines beyond adults' gaze.

In Chapter 6, "Performing Communities Online: Creative Spaces of Self-Representation," queer girls' online communities give a glimpse into a type of self-production not found in previous chapters. Driver discusses the acceptance of ambiguous gender queer identities and does an excellent job of explaining how the online queer girl communities allow diverse queer girl identities by providing space for birl, transgender, and gender queer youth. I see great potential in Driver's use of Sherry Turkle's work to conclude that "the contingent and arbitrary relations of Internet media link up with the transitional self-formation of queer youth girls online" (170). I share Driver's hope for Internet spaces that will reduce queer youth's isolation in society, but recognize the challenge for feminist writers learning to navigate transgender and queer girl configurations. I hope others use this chapter, which can be read alone, as a guide for future work about diversity in cyberspace.

Chapter 7, "'Your Music Changed My Life. I Needed Something Queer': Musical Passion, Politics, and Communities," reveals a rich and hidden world of queer girl music. I found it a quick way to catch up with the musical tastes of younger lesbians. Driver's work also explains how music offers girls a portable, personal, and private medium for managing their in-process identity formation. Integrating ideas from Ann Cvetkovich's An Archive of Feelings, Driver explains that music also offers girls a tool for self-understanding and healing (226). Using their own statements, this chapter gives a clear portrait of queer girls' rich voices. The queer musical scene's complex network of bands, lyrics, fan sites, concerts, and music is a crucial nexus for many queer girls. However, Driver is careful to point out critiques by queer girls of color about racial and class divisions (229). As with each previous chapter, this chapter could be developed into a book of its own.

Readers of Queer Girls and Popular Culture will gain critical understanding from Susan Driver's discussion of the racial and class assumptions underling popular media representations of young lesbian identity. However, the book's main contribution is illuminating how the web allows young girls to comment on popular culture's lack of diversity and to generate complex and shifting, in-process identities. By showing how queer girls use the Internet to challenge gender and sexual stereotypes, Driver opens a dialog for future work about the potential of cyberspace in building safe, diverse queer girl communities. As she provides a window into the possibilities of future queer girl power through her portrayal of current queer girls' critical and creative imaginings, Driver demonstrates to many mature queer girls, including myself, how this new generation is shaping their own destiny, something we can all be proud of.

Lisa Justine Hernández:
Lisa Justine Hernández (Ph.D., UT Austin in Comparative Literature) is an Associate Professor at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. She is a currently a visiting professor in Chicana/o Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and developing an online publication site called This Bridge Called Cyberspace: Online Publishing By and About Women, People of Color, and Social Identity Groups.  <lisah@stedwards.edu>

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