13 March 2007

On the Sexualization of Girls

A psychology professor friend emailed me a recently published copy of the American Psychological Association’s Task Force Report on the Sexualization of Girls. While the findings may not be startling news to many, the report makes for fascinating reading. Let me offer a few quotes/conclusions:

"Virtually every media form studied provides ample evidence of the sexualization of women.”

"In study after study, findings have indicated that women more often than men are portrayed (in the media) in a sexual manner (dressed in revealing clothing, with bodily postures or facial expressions that imply sexual readiness) and are objectified (used as decorative object, or as body parts rather than a whole person). In addition, a narrow (and unrealistic) standard of physical beauty is heavily emphasized. These are the models of femininity presented for young girls to study and emulate.”

Specific examples are even presented:

-Skechers “naughty and nice” ads that features Christina Aguilera dressed in schoolgirl pigtails, with her shirt unbuttoned, licking a lollipop.

Bratz dolls (see picture above) dressed in sexualized clothing such as miniskirts, fishnet stockings, and feather boas.

Thongs sized for 7-10 year olds, some printed with slogans such as “wink-wink”.

And the report’s “Consequences” section was what we might expect. The research linked sexualization with “three of the most common mental health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed moods.” In addition, frequent exposure to these media images that sexualize girls and women also affects how girls conceptualize femininity and sexuality.” The study finds that girls and women heavily exposed to these stereotypes are the ones that place an emphasis on “appearance and physical beauty” and tend to make those traits the focal point of their value system.

Other societal problems stemming from sexualization include:
-fewer women entering science, technology, engineering, and math
-increased rates of sexual harassment and sexual violence
-increased demands for child pornography

Now here is the one that really concerned me…and the one I want to rant about for a few minutes: “Exposure to narrow ideals of female sexual attraction may make it more difficult for some men to find an “acceptable” partner or fully enjoy intimacy with a female partner.

Yes, men and boys are also deeply affected by the sexual objectification of girls and women. How many American dads take the time to teach their young boys about the sexual problems that women face day-to-day? Isn’t it about time that men start doing their part to change the way society objectifies women? This is not just a women’s issue—it’s a societal issue.

I see college-aged men (boys actually) each and every day, and they appear unwilling to even consider this an important issue. They rationalize their fraternity-like behavior with a variety of excuses:

-Advertisers and/or the ubiquitous “market” can do whatever it pleases.
-It’s just those feminists complaining again, why do they hate men anyway?
-Girls aren’t really affected by that sexual objectification stuff. And this is a fascinating one because the guys generally get one of the young ladies in the class to agree. The interesting thing is that the female who they use as their spokesperson is, more often than not, a young lady with low self-esteem that says whatever the boys want.

What can men do—plenty? Here are some of the things that I think important, and I would appreciate comments from other men (and women) about we (especially white men) can do to help stop the sexualization of young girls and women.

1. Question your buying choices. Don’t buy products that advertise using female sexual images and stereotypes. And don’t shop at establishments that use this form of cohesion.

2. Question the media--especially the ultra-sexist sports media. Just because you like football doesn’t mean you need to accept the objectification of women in beer ads and other marketing ploys.

3. Listen to women—they live with this crap every day. And when they try to help…listen. Try to understand by shutting up, not getting defensive, and not being so egotistical as to think their concerns are about us.

4. Call out other men on their sexist behavior, jokes, and other crude antics. Speak up against the locker room mentality that seems to dictate American male actions. This one is difficult….”they might not like me anymore.” But what’s really more important? Think about it.

5. Encourage every young girl that you know to study math and science. And convince as many as you can to NOT try out for cheerleading; and to QUIT using makeup.

6. Understand white male privilege. If we fail to own and accept that privilege, we will never understand these sexualizing issues. Just because white males SAY they don’t feel privileged, doesn’t mean they aren’t!

7. And once and for all…..there is no fucking reverse sexism. This is the biggest crock of shit that the fratboy-types attempt to impose on a compliant male public. As one writer so persuasively argues, “The fact that an individual man can be harmed by an individual woman does not override an entire misogynistic social system.”

8. Stop whistling, gawking, drooling, and staring at women. Leave them the fuck alone.

9. Act like an adult with some class.

10. Start becoming part of the solution.

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