English Ph.D. Dissertations


The Girls of MySpace: New Media as Gendered Literacy Practice and Identity Construction

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English/Rhetoric and Writing

First Advisor

Kristine Blair (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Sue Carter Wood (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Gary Heba (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Stan Guidera (Committee Member)


While many composition scholars have eagerly embraced the promise of computers and other technologies in their pedagogical practices (C. Selfe, 1999, 2004; Wysocki, 2004; Sirc, 2002; Gee, 2003), not everyone views technology as a positive influence on writing instruction and production in this country. One particular genre under fire is social networking sites used by tech-savvy teens and others to post images, information, and diary-like blog entries. Latest estimates put the leading social networking site, MySpace, at 110 million active users with one in four Americans reported to have a MySpace profile (Owyang, 2008). The site is the fifth most visited site on the Web (Alexa, 2008) with millions logging on each day. It may, therefore, be negligent of those in composition studies to ignore a technological pastime taken up by so many of our students and based almost solely on users' composing practices involving both text and images. Although many have dismissed MySpace postings as nothing more than a teenage fad, the new medium's emphasis on multimodality, community building, and identity construction suggest this rhetorical practice is worth studying as one of the most prominent new media texts being utilized by young people.

This pilot study focuses on a sampling of profiles (the material "text" for MySpace) composed by females age 16-18 to interrogate the intersection of technology, gender performativity, and identity construction in this cyberspace. This pilot study is useful in classifying MySpace as the latest new media text being appropriated by women to build and expand their own notions of gender, specifically femininity, and also explores feminist research methodologies necessary for exploring such new media settings. Guided by the work of feminist researchers (Hill Collins, 2000; Naples, 2003; Sandoval, 2000) this study pays particular attention to the often marginalized group – teenage females – and the MySpace mode of communication that is so often marginalized within the academy.

Utilizing textual analysis, narrative, and some quantitative measures, the study considers rhetorical choices involving text, image, and design as well as ways such new media texts are influential in community building and performing modern feminine adolescence. With an emphasis on MySpace as a remediated new media text (Bolter and Grusin, 2000), this work explores the ways use of multiple media change both message and author (Manovich, 2001; Kress, 2003) and traces out this literacy practice as the latest used by women in constructing their on- and offline identities. A historical account of women's use of new media texts in recent centuries traces the lineage of women's appropriation of existing texts in the form of commonplace books, scrapbooks, autograph albums, note passing, and online texts. Relying on four guiding research questions, this work focuses mainly on the role MySpace plays in the performance of both womanhood and teenhood as well as ways utilizing the variety of media embedded within the MySpace application may shape users as rhetors and tech users as well as part of a larger community. The findings of this pilot study allow a better understanding of how teens are defining themselves and performing femininity within the MySpace community and may offer insight into future research and critical approaches to this and similar online communities and literacy practices.