Name: Laura DiLibero, '09
Major: Rhetoric and Communication Studies
Activities: UR Cheerleader

You didn’t intend to participate in an undergraduate research experience. What changed?

As I went further into my major last semester, I wanted to explore how themes in the major tended to tie together in daily life. I worked with Dr. Paul Achter and determined how the news media attracts consumers by reporting on the disruption of gender norms. I analyzed news discourse about pop culture icon Britney Spears and argued that she interrupts the space created for the “female” stereotype in Western society.

The paper begins with an overview of studies and theories involving the content and structure of “gender,” performance and acceptance. Next, it highlights examples of Britney Spears’ changing images over the years to illustrate how media coverage of Spears reinforces gender norms. I discuss the benefits of understanding and being aware of these biases in our culture.

What made you personally interested in studying gender norms?

I was drawn to gender norms because my major (Rhetoric and Communication Studies) focuses on differences in culture and I took a really interesting Women & Leadership course last semester, so those two things sparked my imagination.

I definitely confront gender norms on a daily basis being a cheerleader. I wasn't as in tune with it until I started this research project, but it has been interesting to consider over the last year while I've been doing this research.

Why Britney?

I read two really interesting books about gender before I started my research, one by Judith Butler and the other by John Sloop. Those two authors sort of set the scene for my research and, like John Sloop, I decided I wanted to analyze a specific person and how they perform gender. I chose Britney Spears because her image has changed so drastically over the past ten years. I integrated academic discourse and recent tabloids that I picked up along the way. It was also fun to go back into newspaper archives and read what reporters used to write about Britney Spears and how that reporting has changed over time.

What did you take away from your research experience?

I think this research is important because it makes people aware that we live in a world full of restrictions and guidelines that force us to perform. While we don't always realize it, it's cool to take a step back and understand how it actually happens and what influences us. I don't think that these cultural structures are always necessarily a bad thing, but I think it's crucial to always be aware of them.

I have loved researching this semester because I was able to be creative and tailor my studies to exactly what I wanted to do. It was also nice to work on my own deadlines and time, but a little stressful to come up with all the ideas and formulation of the material!

What’s next?

After I graduate, I want to take my RHCS degree and do something in the field of media, perhaps in television. I think I will have a better idea of what I want to do after I complete my internship this summer. I will be a PR intern for Bravo Communications in NYC! I'm really excited about the experience.