Subcultural focal concerns often transgress such codes, provoking media instigated moral panics centred around femininity. There follow examples of subcultural representations of females and a consideration of whether ‘.. girls are present in male subcultures, but are contained within them, rather than using them to explore actively forms of female identity.. ‘ [Brake M.
1980, p141] During the 1950s, the media promotion of the Bardot ‘motorbike girl’ [McRobbie A. 1991, p8] was cited as instigating a moral panic concerning acceptable modes of femininity and female sexuality.In reality the situation was far removed from this, illustrated when the masculine nature of biker culture is taken into account.
Despite a much lauded show of defiance against convention the motorbike girl remained a fantasy figure. The codes of the subculture decreed that females could never succeed in penetrating its masculine core, they remained relegated to the role of pillion rider. [Brake M.
1980, p144] In the following decade the Mod subculture co-existed with the rise of teenage consumerism, where employment opportunities for teenagers subsidised subcultural participation. The Mod style of appearing ‘..neat, tidy and apparently unthreatening.. ‘ [McRobbie A.
1991, p8] enabled conformity to a suitably respectable image. Although these criteria were equally applicable to both sexes, the onus concerning physical appearance was placed firmly on girls. Pressure to conform to fashionable body images and imitate conventional stereotypes of femininity persisted, Twiggy for example, exemplified the ideal role model and body shape to aspire to. Media and societal influence of this nature leads to the question of whether the Mod subculture provided the liberating experience which has been attributed to it. [Brake M.
1980, p144] The sobering description of the female Mod with ‘.. her mask like make up, her flapping bell bottomed trousers, her flat chest, her painted staring eyes.. ‘ [Cohen S. 1990, p186] could be interpreted as Cohen’s attempt to reflect the absolute reality, although this negativity is directed only towards females. Subcultural activities remain gender segregated; male Mods portrayed as fighting participants, female Mods as occupiers of scooter backseats.
The middle class Hippy counter culture of the 1960s provided a space for experimentation with different beliefs and alternative lifestyles.However liberating this involvement was for females, it is essential to bear in mind that this culture ensured female participants were contained within the sphere of traditional codes of femininity. [Brake M. 1980, p144] Popular stereotypes of females as ‘earth mothers’ or ‘flower children’ [Cohen S. 1990, p184-6] illustrate the available roles. Pressure to conform to a preordained feminine identity, through an emphasis of the traditional values of the female child rearer and domestic provider, proved more beneficial to male Hippies than to females, mirroring gender divisions in working class youth subcultures.
Perhaps the only subculture to provide girls with a medium through which to voice opinions and reject accepted codes of femininity was that of Punk, which emerged during the 1970s. The adoption by female Punks of provocative clothing coupled with ‘threatening’ make-up and hairstyles provided an antithesis to conventional femininity. Employing cosmetics to express feelings, rather than to appeal to the male gaze, ensured codes of female prettiness and passivity were contradicted and challenged.This ‘confrontation dressing’ and the subsequent parody of a societal obsession with the female body acted as an outlet through which anger and distrust of established social norms could be expressed. [Davis J. 1977] The restraint of females in other subcultures was contradicted by the aggressive image which Punks cultivated. The representation of the female in this subculture as an individual who refused ‘.
. to be intimidated into submissive femininity.. ‘ [McRobbie A. in McRobbie A. ; Nava M. 1984, p148] provides the most positive model of female involvement in the subcultural context.
Redressing the Balance The failure of subcultural theory to account for female experience reveals that the ‘gang of lads’ model is deficient in providing an explanation of the dynamics of the female peer group and subcultural participation. [Griffin C. 1986, pp21-3] Apart from the female group being fundamentally different to the gang, in terms of numbers of members and the relationships within, societal and peer constraints placed on females result in greater policing of their behaviour than that of males.Differences in the social structure of female friendships ensured difficulty in pinpointing large groups or specific gangs of girls, leading to the conclusion that girls experience more fluid and intense friendships than males. [Griffin C. 1986, p22] As well as the study by Griffin, other female researchers have purposefully focused on girls and female experiences of youth, moving beyond the boundaries of subcultural studies. Of particular significance is the ethnographic work of Anne Campbell  who investigated the focal concerns and activities of girl gang members in New York.
Particularly emphasising the way in which female identity is lived through the experience of gang participation and negating the assumption that the gang exists as a wholly male phenomenon, her study drew attention to the impact that poverty, sexism, racism and limited opportunity structures have on girls. Alternatively, concentrating her study on British girls, Angela McRobbie [1991; 1993] studied the ways in which girls won cultural space for themselves and employed strategies of resistance in the environments of the school and the youth club, through the hidden deviance of a show of ‘..silence, unambiguous boredom and immersion in their own private concerns..
‘ [McRobbie A. 1991, p48]Through such strategies the girls transposed their friendship group from the confines of the parental home to the freedom of the outside world. Pioneering studies, such as the previous two mentioned, have posed a challenge to the tradition of subcultural studies. The supposition that female youth culture is confined to the home environment has contributed towards the lack of study of females and the coping strategies formed to deal with the demands of adolescence.Providing a voice through which the subjective experience of females can be heard necessitates the employment of research methods which are geared towards revealing the formerly hidden experiences of relatively powerless societal groups.
[see for example; Reinharz S. 1992; Roberts H. 1981] Appropriate research techniques include the oral and life history methods, particularly for studies of retrospective subcultural involvement with participants in the first wave of Mods and Punks, for example. [Roberts H. 1981; Tedstone C.1995] For more contemporary work, the ethnographic study and/or the employment of observational study, supplemented by in-depth interviews, would serve to contribute to understanding the lived reality of girls.
The undertaking of an ethnographic study, complemented by recorded in depth interviews, [Campbell A. 1990, pp279-80] or an observational study, supplemented by diary keeping and group and individual interviews, [McRobbie A. 1991, pp37-8] can only aid in increased understanding of the experience of female youth.Employing these unconventional research methods can emphasise wrongful assumptions made about female behaviour while also challenging conventional research concerns of objectivity and researcher neutrality. To do so would contribute towards female experience being ‘.. included as an integral part of our understanding of human behaviour, rather than as a footnote to the lives of men.
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Journal Articles Griffin C. It’s Different For Girls Social Sciences Review, Vol. 2 No. 2, Nov.
1986, pp. 21-5 McRobbie A. Shut Up and Dance: Youth Culture and Changing Modes of Femininity Cultural Studies, Vol. 7 No.
3, Oct. 1993, pp. 406-26.