Sexualized Images in Media Harm Women and Girls, Duh!!

Sometimes its hard not to laugh at these headlines because they are so obvious.  I guess it is nice to have some research to back up the obvious–hence this report from the American Psychological Association on the negative effects of media sexualization on women and girls.  First, they operationalize sexualization:

The provocative research included a study of published research on the content and effects of virtually every form of media, including television, music videos, music lyrics, magazines, movies, video games and the Internet. Researchers also examined recent advertising campaigns and merchandising of products aimed toward girls.

Sexualization was defined by the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls as occurring when a person’s value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another’s sexual use.

Then later they lay out the negative effects:

• Cognitive and Emotional Consequences: Sexualization and objectification undermine a person’s confidence in and comfort with her own body, leading to emotional and self-image problems, such as shame and anxiety.
• Mental and Physical Health: Research links sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women—eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed mood.
• Sexual Development: Research suggests that the sexualization of girls has negative consequences on girls’ ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image.

The report also suggests families and health professionals take an active role in countering this trend.  They even suggest media literacy classes.  What is missing, unfortunately, is any direct accountability for media outlets.  The report does not suggest that media stop doing this; rather they suggest that we teach girls and young women how to cope with it. 

What do you think?  If we really wanted to take on patriarchal media capitalism, would it work, or should we focus more on teaching girls/women how to cope?  What kinds of actions could people use to get media outlets to change?  What about the good old fashioned boycott?  Is that dead?  What do you think?

Here is the link to the APA study.

This entry posted in Feminism, sexism, etc, Gender and the Body, Gender and the Economy, Media criticism, Popular (and unpopular) culture. Bookmark the permalink. 

32 Responses to Sexualized Images in Media Harm Women and Girls, Duh!!

  1. 1
    Kaethe says:

    There is a statement in the last paragraph of the press release:

    “As a society, we need to replace all of these sexualized images with ones showing girls in positive settings—ones that show the uniqueness and competence of girls,” states Dr. Zurbriggen. “The goal should be to deliver messages to all adolescents—boys and girls—that lead to healthy sexual development.”

    I think it’s incredibly lame, and that there’s going to be many more “Saving Your Daughter From the Patriarchy Is Your Job” sorts of books, rather than an sort of direct political action.

  2. 2
    Sailorman says:

    Yuck.

    Until things change, saving my daughters from the patriarchy IS my job. And a hard job, at that. And, mind you, one which requires vigilance against both men and women–I learned early on in the process that I really can’t trust most people to support the views I want.

    What do you think? If we really wanted to take on patriarchal media capitalism, would it work,

    Sadly, I doubt it. I don’t see things easily changing though, mostly because those changes (if managed legally) essentially amount to restrictions on expression, which are fairly hard to manage well.

    Furthermore, managing those changes socially is unlikely to succeed IMO. It would take a very anti-capitalist standpoint for a company to avoid the existing patriarchy (in which ‘sex sells’ and ‘images sell’ and so on) in favor of a model which appeals to a smaller segment of the population.

    or should we focus more on teaching girls/women how to cope?

    Yup.

    What kinds of actions could people use to get media outlets to change? What about the good old fashioned boycott? Is that dead? What do you think?

    You know, there is probably one thing which would work. I’ve said it also for things like rape advocacy: BE SPECIFIC. If you cannot develop a specific mechanism for distinguishing what is and is not allowed, then your boycott is much less effective.

    If you want to be effective, YOU do the work. YOU say “this is what we want you to stop doing_____” in nice, specific terms which any idiotic network exec can understand, and which cannot be twisted.

    Good luck though. perhaps if you attempt to do this you’ll understand why laws like these are so damn hard to write.

  3. 3
    hf says:

    The definition you give certainly makes it sound harmful, but it doesn’t sound all that operational. I wondered how they determined sexualization well enough to test their theory. So I checked the executive summary and found this condition: “sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person. All four conditions need not be present; any one is an indication of sexualization.” How on Earth did they measure inappropriateness?

  4. 4
    anon says:

    patriarchal media capitalism I think patriarchal is unnecessary in your description. I think your complaint is rightfully with capitalism. I suspect there are many men and fathers that would agree completely with you that the media is sexualizing their children. I suspect there are many women that work for these media companies and a good portion of those self-identify as feminists.

    Check out what the farkers at FARK.com think of Bratz.

    In short, the study is obvious, and what is not so obvious is why you would blame this on a patriarchy and not just blame it on the profit motive. Is your blame misplaced? If so, does it make your efforts to combat this less effective?

  5. 5
    Rachel S. says:

    anon,
    Why can’t it be both profit and patriarchy? Are they not using the objectification of women to sell their products, to make a profit? Thus, we are talking about patriarchy and capitalism. It certainly isn’t matriarchal capitalism.

    From my way of thinking it really doesn’t matter if it is women or men running the ad agencies. They can both exploit patriarchy for corporate profit. Women can a do participate in sexism just like men.

  6. 6
    Brandon Berg says:

    If companies can make a profit doing these things, then the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the consumers who make it profitable. Capitalists sell what people will buy.

  7. 7
    anon says:

    You have shown no evidence that a patriarchy is to blame. I prefer using Occam’s razor: the simplest explanation is probably the correct explanation. If capitalism can provide a solution to all of the questions, then there is no need to add in a patriarchy.

    While we are talking about the objectification of women, what media advertisers try to do for any product is to get us to objectify it. Take a look at “yuppie porn”, or the “pornification” of any product. That doesn’t refer to the sexualization of that object, it refers to exploiting defects in our brains so that we will objectify that object.

    I see manipulated, distorted, highly objectified imagery of women, but I also see manipulated, distorted, highly objectified imagery of men, of cars, of trucks, of neighborhoods, of hair products, of computers, of alcohol, … of everything.

    This is what advertising students, and marketing students, and media students study. How to manipulate us.

    Media and media capitalism seem to provide a good explanation of what we see here and I fail to see that anything more can be added by tossing in “a patriarchy.”

    Can you find something in this problem that isn’t caused by typical media capitalism?

  8. 8
    anon says:

    It certainly isn’t matriarchal capitalism.

    I don’t think it has to be either patriarchal capitalism XOR matriarchal capitalism. I just think it’s an example of unethical, amoral capitalism. (As opposed to what I think can exist, an ethical, moral capitalism.)

    I don’t know of any mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, or other members of society that really want to see young children sexualized. And yet, we all agree it happens more and more. If anything, wouldn’t a so called patriarchy want to see their daughters dressed in neck to floor Sunday dresses?

    What’s happening seems to be happening in spite of any apparent patriarchy.

    I think what is happening is just exploitation of vulnerabilities in the human brain by unethical, profit seeking monsters.

  9. 9
    anon says:

    Going out on a limb here, because I don’t understand what “third wave feminism” is, if we are not seeing a patriarchal/matriarchal capitalism, how come we know we aren’t seeing a third wave feminist capitalism?

    http://www.tpmcafe.com/blog/coffeehouse/2007/feb/20/reporting_feminism_are_we_our_own_worst_enemy

  10. 10
    Rachel S. says:

    anon, “I just think it’s an example of unethical, amoral capitalism. (As opposed to what I think can exist, an ethical, moral capitalism.)”

    Yeah, and what makes it immoral, and why are men not being targer by this?

    “third wave feminist capitalism” I suppose there is a little bit of that, but it pails in comparison to patriarchal capitalism.

  11. 11
    anon says:

    Since I think we agree it is girls being primarily targeted by this, I won’t answer why men are not being targeted by this, but I will say that boys are! http://www.abercrombie.com/anf/index.html sexualizes boys. Boys are also hit with advertisements for steroids and products that promise to make them appear more virile. Advertisements for weights and weight machines. Advertisements for guns and motorcycles. Advertisements for cigarettes.

    It’s not sexually mature girls or women being targeted, the starting age is way way way underaged girls.

    That’s aspect one of why I say this is immoral.

    Aspect two gets to the yuppie porn aspect. If homosapiens evolved to become distracted and attracted to shiny things, than it is unethical to create advertising that exploits that to create false senses of value. If homo sapien males evolved to pursue young females that look healthy enough to bear children, and homo sapien women evolved to pursue older powerful looking silver backs, than it is unethical to create advertising that exploits this to create false senses of value. And immoral to hype the messages by photoshopping images of women to extremely unrealistic and even unhealthy limits.

  12. 12
    anon says:

    I think capitalism has enough sins (*) that there is no need to bring other isms into it to figure out why we see a race to the bottom in terms of media.

    (*) I’m not a communist thank you, I think capitalism has many many benefits.

  13. 13
    anon says:

    Let me ask, the APA described this as a problem with media, not as a patriarchal problem. Their recommendations were to educate people about the media, and not to educate people about a patriarchy. If the APA didn’t think that a patriarchy had something to do with this, are you distorting their findings by claiming something they would not?

  14. 14
    Donna Darko says:

    It’s in the report:

    American Psychological Association on the negative effects of media sexualization on women and girls.

    Hence capitalism and patriarchal.

    Sexualization was defined by the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls as occurring when a person’s value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another’s sexual use.

    Patriarchy includes the objectification of females for male sexual use and when the value of female comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics. You could argue some ads sexualize males for female use but there are many more representations of females as sexual objects than male. The study included the content and effects of

    virtually every form of media, including television, music videos, music lyrics, magazines, movies, video games and the Internet.

    and females are sexually objectified at a much greater frequency on television, in music videos, music lyrics, magazines, movies, video games and the internet.

  15. 15
    Donna Darko says:

    Patriarchal capitalism is also to blame in pressuring men to take steroids, appear more virile, purchase weights, weight machines, guns, motorcycles and cigarettes because patriarchy reinforces traditional male and female gender identities and roles.

  16. 16
    Robert says:

    Patriarchal capitalism killed my dog, shaved Britney’s head, and never puts the fucking mayonnaise back in the fridge after it makes its BLTs.

    God, I hate that.

  17. 17
    anon says:

    The APA says that PAS doesn’t exist. What does the APA say about “the Patriarchy?”

  18. 18
    anon says:

    Patriarchal capitalism is also to blame in pressuring men to take steroids, appear more virile, purchase weights, weight machines, guns, motorcycles and cigarettes because patriarchy reinforces traditional male and female gender identities and roles.

    In a world where we eliminated this patriarchal capitalism, what would capitalism look like?

  19. 19
    anon says:

    Robert, I don’t think it’s fair to blame Patriarchal Capitalism for Britney’s head shaving behavior. Law Professor Ann Althouse says that shaving a woman’s head is the ultimate suggestion that a woman is more beautiful than others and points to Natalie Portman and Demi Moore (and I will toss in Natassia Kinski.) So I think it is clear that it is third-wave feminism that is to blame for Britney’s head shaving and underwear behavior.

    It confuses me that Britney is a apparently third-wave sex positive feminist now. Is it really possible that she is a third wave sex positive grrl gone wild?

  20. 20
    anon says:

    If women were culturally compelled to buy all that hair product and do all that stuff to their hair because of the Patriarchy, I think that shaving your head must be a sign that you are throwing off the Patriarchal Shackles. But that might just be 2nd wave feminism, and it could be that 3rd wave feminism might be reclaiming the right to buy hair products at which point Britney’s head shaving is a patriarchal response.

    But her not wearing underwear? Definitely 3rd wave feminism.

    Offtopic: the number “3″ in this font is just gorgeous.

  21. 21
    Chris says:

    Can someone please define the “Patriarchy” for me as I don’t seem to be getting this concept that is so prevelant in feminist discussions

  22. 22
    Rachel S. says:

    I’m trying very hard to be civil here because I really don’t have a great deal of time to defend my view from a bunch of sexism apologists, who want to minimize the harmful effects of sexism and patriarchy on women.

    Simply put, patriarchy means male dominance and the social systems that uphold male dominance. It is my contention that capitalism is one of the social systems that upholds patriarchy.

  23. 23
    anon says:

    I don’t perceive anyone here apologizing for sexism. I see a group of people trying to find operational, measurable, testable definitions for A) Patriarchy, and B) 3rd Wave Sex Positive Feminism.

    I know I am ignorant, but I don’t see the value in having a concept like patriarchy and finding it at fault unless there is an operational, measurable, testable definition behind it. Otherwise it just seems like a vague bogeyman that distracts from concepts that are operationally understood.

    Similarly, I think girl gone wild videos are pretty horrible things, but I believe I understand that for some young feminist women, similar behavior may be part of reclaiming their rights. I am trying to understand when a woman exposing herself is part of a sexist display and when it may be part of a feminist behavior.

    I think it should be easy for you to be civil, because no one here is attacking you personally, people here are trying, in good faith, to continue the discussion you started. I would think you would be flattered (in a good way) that people think your ideas merit their time and participation in discussing (I know I would be), and that you have an opportunity here to help refine your own understanding of your ideas as well as to help enlighten others. All in all, that seems to be a win-win (though I admit I may be viewing this in a patriarchal context.)

  24. 24
    Sailorman says:

    Rachel,
    While I agree with you on the media issues you write about…

    What are you having trouble being civil about? If your main contention is that capitalism is USED to support patriarchy, well, OK. But of course that doesn’t mean capitalism is inherently patriarchal (which you seem to be arguing) as it could just as well be used to support something else.

    Patriarchal people in a capitalist society will practice patriarchal capitalism. Patriarchal people in a socialist society will practice patriarchal socialism.
    And so on.

    So I agree it’s a problem.
    But I also think that some of the above posters are making an obvious point: because patriarchy does exist in the U.S., then plain old ordinary capitalism drives folks to play into that patriarchy.

  25. 25
    Ampersand says:

    Anon, of the 24 posts on this thread so far, 12 have been by you. There’s no formal rule about this, but in general I think it’s problematic when one person dominates a thread so much. Please try to cool it a bit.

    In addition, something about your tone does seem a bit… mocking at times. If that’s not what you intend, then perhaps that’s something you should work on.

  26. 26
    anon says:

    I apologize for dominating the thread so much — I thought I was trying to respond to questions that had been asked of me.

  27. 27
    mandolin says:

    Robert:

    “Patriarchal capitalism killed my dog, shaved Britney’s head, and never puts the fucking mayonnaise back in the fridge after it makes its BLTs.

    God, I hate that.”

    Sailorman:

    “What are you having trouble being civil about?”

  28. 28
    Donna Darko says:

    The APA report clearly found “operational, measurable, testable examples” where capitalism and patriarchy worked together to cause negative cognitive and emotional consequences, mental and physical health problems such as eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed mood in girls and negative consequences on girls’ ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image:

    The provocative research included a study of published research on the content and effects of virtually every form of media, including television, music videos, music lyrics, magazines, movies, video games and the Internet. Researchers also examined recent advertising campaigns and merchandising of products aimed toward girls.

    Sexualization was defined by the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls as occurring when a person’s value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another’s sexual use.

    Then later they lay out the negative effects:

    • Cognitive and Emotional Consequences: Sexualization and objectification undermine a person’s confidence in and comfort with her own body, leading to emotional and self-image problems, such as shame and anxiety.
    • Mental and Physical Health: Research links sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women—eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed mood.
    • Sexual Development: Research suggests that the sexualization of girls has negative consequences on girls’ ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image.

  29. 29
    Donna Darko says:

    The report also zeroed in on instances in which a person’s value came only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and was made into a thing for another’s sexual use in the media.

    How often are males valued only from his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristicsand made into a thing for another’s sexual use in the media on television, music videos, music lyrics, magazines, movies, video games and the Internet?

    On television, men are not valued only for the sexual appeal to the exclusion of other characteristics. They’re usually a doctor, a lawyer, a detective, a CEO, a plumber. Men in music videos usually write the music and are doing something besides looking good. Men usually write music lyrics and are not sexually objectified in them. Men are not sexual objects to the exclusion of other characteristics in magazines. They are doing something and not just posing. This is not the same as gay porn or the occasional women’s entertainment magazine of course. The hottest guys are in the gay men’s magazines anyway. In movies, video games and the internet,women are sexually objectified not men. There aren’t many websites dedicated to the sexual appeal of men. Porn was not part of the study.

  30. 30
    Lola says:

    Someone wake me up when it’s time to discuss the boycott.

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  32. 31
    KayaCamilla says:

    Many people rationalize male magazines as a form of entertainment and a source of information. Although these are true, a crucial social implication is backfiring. Male magazines diminish the role of women in the society. Although women are gaining power in all aspects of life, other aspects especially in print media are still under fire. Women commercialization is very eminent to magazines targeting male consumers. Its purpose is to lure a prospective buyer by putting sexy women in their front cover, thus, these women or sexy models act as a boost to a magazine�s over-all packaging.
    Consequently, women are virtually seen as whores or pleasure-givers to the readers. This kind of art propagates erotic attitude towards women in general. Since media has a vast influence over the society, the effect is very damaging. If this kind of negative publicity to women continues, it would not be surprising that we will go back to the age where female are seen as inferior compared to its male counterpart.

    http://kayacamilla.com