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Introduction

Exposure of sexual images to children has become the order of the day in the modern society. The most surprising thing is that this exposure continues to increase every day, as the young girls enhance their contact with mass media through innovative technologies such as cell phones and other computing devices. Research has shown that on average, a high school girl uses up to eight hours of some type of media on a daily basis (The Advocates for Human Rights n.d). Sexualisation is the process whereby a person or a certain cohort is viewed as a sexual object in nature. The idea of sexualisation of girls and young ladies is of great importance and relevance due to its rampant nature in many features of the modern societies. In addition, this topic is of great importance due to the effects that it can cause on the people that have already been sexualized.

Executive Summary

Sexualisation of girls and young women by media is exceedingly increasing every day. The harmful effects of sexualisation of girls and young women can not be underestimated at all. Many organizations have risen to condemn the practise and, at the same time, advocate for the rights of the girls and young women. Consequently, a task force, known as the APA Task Force on the sexualisation of girls, was formed to address these matters that have caused great public apprehension (American psychology association 2007).

The task force has been drawn in matters concerning the digital content that is passed onto adolescents and children through the mass media channels. The task force has made a number of strides in safeguarding the interests of children, especially girls, against advertising in the television and other related digital and print media (Gallagher 2008). In 2005, APA approved a policy resolution on Violence in Video Games and Interactive Media (American psychology association 2007). It aimed at addressing the effects of media violence on the youths.

However, this task force did not address sexualisation of girls in the media and, as result, the APA task force on Sexualisation of Girls was formed later on (American psychology association 2007). The task force was supposed to address theoretical frameworks behind sexualisation of girls and young women, its effect on the girls and their social, as well as economic life aspects. It was also expected to explore some of the positive options available that would help to offset the persuasive effect of sexualisation.

There are a number of elements of sexualisation, which differentiate it from a healthy sexual life. According to the American Psychological Association, there are four main areas that are used to differentiate sexualisation from healthy sexual life. They are applied in provision of evidence for sexualisation (Gallagher 2008). First, a person becomes sexualized if he or she supports a greater part of his or her self worth on sexual behaviour, ruling out other qualities or traits. Moreover, sexualized individuals believe that physical beauty and sexual appeal are similar, and that there exist no other aspects that make a person look pretty (Gauntlett 2008).

There is a way in which sexualized people are treated by other people in the society, thereby forming the other two features of sexuality. For instance, when other people use a person as a sexual object through acts such as prostitution or pornography, the individual is already sexualized (American psychology association 2007). Finally, a person becomes sexualized if he or she is exposed to sexually explicit materials without his or her own consent. This mostly happens among children, especially young girls.

David Gauntlett is a Professor of Media and Communication at the University of Westminster in the United Kingdom. He specializes in the field of media and identities and the daily application of digital media. Through his works of art, he provides a terrific account of how inventiveness, expertise and the society interconnect in the twenty first century.

In the recent past, women have come out strong defending their niche in the society. This has made them increasingly successful and assertive, as they triumph in all fields dominated by men. However, despite their hard work in defending their title and integrity, the media is working antagonistically against their endeavours. The media is and has been sexualizing the roles of women and girls. Therefore, it will be of great importance to analyze David Guantlett’s contribution to the issue of media effects on the sexualisation of women and girls.

David Guantlett argues that the way women are treated in the society has a direct relationship with having an enjoyable life. Having this in mind, David argues that the way magazines usually publish topics related to what women usually look for in men depicts women as people who prefer generalization in terms of taste and preferences. According to him, it is not ideal as all men cannot be turned to a stream of identical men (Gauntlett 2000).

One of the most recent developments in pop culture is the surfacing of the phrase ‘girl power’ used in the mainstream culture. This phrase has developed into a language endorsed by many including educationalists, journalists, as well as the government. Magazines for the proposed young girls are emphatic in will-power that women must accept their duties and go out there in the open and do what they are supposed to (Gauntlett 2000). According to David, women are easily influenced by the information from articles in magazines, thereby ending up being outrageously sexy and sassy.

 David describes the recent movies as positively featuring the role of women in society. For instance, he mentions qualities such as self confidence, toughness, female intelligence and emotional independence that are featured in these movies. These features show that women have the capability to stand on their own without depending on men, as it has been in the past. Female pop stars use their financial success and inner strength to inspire other women that self belief and development is the key to realizing autonomy and personal development (Gauntlett 2008).

 David notes that women become disturbed by the idea of being independent and tough. Therefore, according to him, women result in being perfectionists. He also notes that some women become extremely tough, such that they end up deviating from the main goal of personal autonomy and development. In other cases, women try to be perfect in everything they do. For instance, he quotes that some Britney Spears fans effort to upgrade their image and lifestyle, but they get it all wrong as they wear impossible shoes and excessive make-up (Gauntlett 2008).

The character depicted today by the girl power represents the general interpretation of feminism by the mainstream culture. According to McRobbie, the popular feminism is like the popular songs played on the radio that is friendly though having shallow content in the message. She supports David by agreeing that media has contributed a lot to the language developed by women. This language has been facilitated by the media and has led to women developing their own words such as ‘snogging and shagging’ (Gauntlett 2000).

According to David, the media is to be held accountable for the campaign it has carried out in bringing out the diversities in sexualities. These diversities are exhibited by bisexual campaign for the gay and lesbians. He argues that television shows are now embracing characters who are lesbians. He adds that the latest series of operas and drama series have accommodated for these characters. To him, the society is gradually accepting women as lesbian thanks to the TV shows broadcasted every day (Gauntlett 2008). The media has made it worse, since some of the programs are usually for family viewing, and he strongly condemns the new role given to women. He reiterates that the media is the only avenue that such acts of sexual diversities can be eliminated.

Buttler, an author, does not make direct reference to the media, but she relates the activities of the media in regard to sexuality, and she argues that the media has a lot to play in the sexualisation of women and girls. For instance, she highlights examples of advertisement made in the television. She argues that the advertisements usually depict women as objects. For instance, in the advertisements of cars, women usually stand naked beside the cars as a promotion strategy (Gauntlett 2000). Therefore, women are seen to have no morals and values in them. It is worth mentioning that the characters from these advertisements do not depict the general character of all women. These advertisements have been seen all over the media industry, and they continue being displayed on and on. Nevertheless, the media industry still plays other roles that remain a challenge to the area of women sexuality.

Furthermore, David highlights that the media conveys messages that relate to identity, sexuality, gender and lifestyle. It is imperative to measure the impact of media on the society. It is evident that a lot of people wait for the media to announce the latest inventions so that they could act. Therefore, the media has a dominant influence upon its audience. It is intriguing to note that the relationship between the audience and the media exhibits a direct relationship. In this case, the behaviour of one leads to a great influence on the other.  Some critics argue that media should consider offering services that are reassuring in nature and that contain positivism in all aspects. However, this view can not hold as the media makes a kill out of the advertisements and the messages.

Currently, sexual content covers over 82 percent of television programs (Papadopoulos 2010). These programs are the most popular among the young women and girls. This high degree exposure to sexual content is considered to shape how young people view and approach sexual interactions. This practice is also associated with high likelihood of engaging in sexual relations in the future.

A closer and more elaborate examination of this trend requires an elaborate approach. What has been generally employed is an evaluation of a large cohort of teenage girls on their sexual activeness with regard to watching television. The analysis involved finding a relationship between the level of their exposure to sexual content in the mass media and their commencement of sexual experimentation.

Evidence for the Sexualisation of Females in the Media

It is clearly evident that, almost every form of media addressed, including music videos and lyrics, movies and magazines, gives sufficient proof of the sexualisation of women. In addition to this list, there is the internet and video games which form other avenues for sexualizing women. Research shows that over 80 percent of young people use internet everyday, and most of them do not have parental guidance (Papadopoulos 2010). Studies show how in almost all advertisements made in the digital and print media, women are the ones mostly sexualised in comparison to men. Sometimes, even when the advertisements are targeting similar audiences, they differ in their sexual content if they are done by men or by women.

Public messages that lead to sexualisation of girls originate not only from media and related advertising, but also from the interpersonal connection of the girls with other members of the society (Gallagher 2008). For instance, parents usually pass a message to their daughters that physical appearance is the most significant objective for any girl. Some parents even encourage their daughters to undergo plastic surgery in order to achieve this goal. The society has also contributed to sexualizing girls and young women by encouraging them to maintain standards of thinness and sexiness (Machia 2008). Sometimes it becomes traumatizing for ladies who are unable to conform to this physical appearance due to reasons that are beyond them.

Furthermore, when girls buy outfits and products that are intended to make them look sexy and attractive in order to imitate the celebrities who occupy their social influence, they are simply victims of sexualisation. Self- objectification occurs when girls and young women assume the role of an observer, and then they treat themselves as objects to be looked at and assessed for their physical outlook (Papadopoulos 2010).

Multiple Media Avenues

Besides watching television, these young women and girls were exposed to sexual content through music videos, movies and magazines. Most of the lifestyle magazines were found to have sexualized young women and girls in a great deal. It is apparent that the magazines not only have high sexual content, but also a specific type of sexuality is attributed to (Papadopoulos 2010). It has been established that such magazines gratify sex and, at the same time, underestimate the risks and consequences involved.

Additionally, music videos are other materials with high sexual content. Through the appealing nature of music, it plays a significant role in convincing people to accept a given idea. Therefore, when it comes to wooing masses to buy the music videos, images of nearly nude women are used (Gallagher 2008). This is a clear indication of how women have been used as sexual objects to satisfy other people’s needs.

Furthermore, movies are a common channel for sexualisation of the feminine gender. After a close examination of most of the movies watched by the teenage girls, it was determined that more than three quarters of them had sexual content the explicitness of which has been increasing over time. As a matter of fact, sexuality is portrayed in the movies as a relaxed and risk free act (Gauntlett 2000). Women are mostly depicted as sexual objects, a phenomenon that is expected to have great implications on those viewing the film.

Young girls are usually represented as sexually mature and sexy, while, on the other hand, adult women are portrayed as sexy young girls. This is done through the use of grave facial expressions, nudity, hair styles and general make up. On the other hand, images of adult women in the mass media are posed to look like young girls (Machia 2008). Perhaps, this is to allow them not to become invisible in the modern society which gratifies sexiness in women.

Sexualisation of girls and young women within the media ranges from the sexual exploitation of the women working in the industry to the kind of content that is made public through the media. This ranges from the advertisements that have made women and girls sexuality as their object of communication to the programmes and articles circulated by the media houses (Bello 2003). There are various characteristics of sexualisation as opposed to healthy sexuality, which is an important part of physical and mental wellbeing in promoting relationship and bonding, where there is reciprocated respect between consenting partners (APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls 2010).

According to a report by the American Psychological Association, there are four conditions that evidently portray sexualisation. When a ‘person’s worth comes from his or her sexual appeal or behaviour, to the exclusion of other characteristic’, a person is held to a paradigm that associates physical attractiveness with being sexy, ‘a person is sexually objectified meaning she is made into thing for others’ sexual use contrary to being perceived as an independent person capable of independent actions and decisions’ or ‘when sexuality is imposed upon a person’. These conditions need not be all there to show proof of sexualisation (APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls 2010).

The forth condition is especially prevalent in sexualisation of young women and girls. Girls are forced by the media to have access to nothing else except advertisements that exploit women sexuality on a daily basis. For instance, advertisement of innerwear for girls may expose women in lingerie and statements that depict one as not being sexually appealing if they don’t wear them. Young women, especially those working in the media houses, like television reporters, are usually made the objects of attraction to that television network. They are forced to wear certain clothes and to maintain a certain body size all in the name of making them attractive (APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls 2010).

Consequences of Sexualisation of Girls and Young Women by Media

Psychological Effects of Sexualisation of Females

The media has shown innocence in the way it has portrayed women as sexual objects for pleasure of by other people. It is a detrimental tool to cultural development, where people in the society gradually adopt values concerning the humanity that correspond to descriptions seen or messages heard mainly through the digital media. The question of raising girls who reach their time for marriage while still virgin is of great concern (Gallagher 2008).

The media might not necessarily change people’s attitudes towards certain things, but its influence is exceedingly great. A theory by Marx who saw the media as reconfirming the principal beliefs of subordinate nature of women to men is coupled with a feminist approach, which depicts the superior nature of men (Machia 2008). This implies that when adult females are portrayed as young sexy girls, and, at the same time, little girls are depicted as sexy young women, is an appeal to men to view them as sexually available.

Psychology has many theories that explain the harmful effects of sexualisation of girls and the young women. From the cognitive domain self- objectification detract from the ability to concentrate and focus on a person’s attention. This leads to poor performance on mental activities, such as mathematical computation or logical reasoning. The comparison of the body to sexualized cultural ideals disrupts mental capacity (American Psychological Association 2010). This is the reason behind dismal performance of girls in the field of mathematics.

The objectification undermines confidence and comforts within one’s body, leading to negative emotional consequences such as unnecessary shame, anxiety, and self disgust. Since the media might emphasize on the slimness in women as a way of sexual attractiveness, whoever does not meet these qualities is always emotionally disturbed (American Psychology Association 2007).  These individuals consider their whole self as deficient and prefer hiding or disappearing from the eyes of the society.

Self-objectification also leads to appearance anxiety where women adjust their appearance, thinking they will look much better. This gives room to girls’ fashion such as mini-skirts and various forms of jewelleries (American Psychological Association 2010). They will wear this type of clothes to attract the attention of others. Young women generate anxiety over their appearance after viewing idealized bodies of women in the media. Self-objectification can create feelings of disgust towards one’s physical appearance. Some girls may have a feeling of inadequacy in their physical outlook. They tend to fear critics that are enhanced in their manner of grooming (American Psychology Association 2007). Some may feel dissatisfied by their body weight and shape which does not conform to sexy look. Some tend to think that a fairer complexion is a sign of beauty and go ahead to bleach their faces using chemicals that are hazardous to their health.

Furthermore, sexualisation leads to three mental health problems in girls, namely, eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. Many are now expressing a negative attitude towards breastfeeding and towards some functional aspects of their bodies. Sexualisation leads to change of eating habits, thereby resulting to eating disorders. Girls will eat in a manner likely to control their body weight and shape. Additionally, self-objectification may impact negatively on mental health of Adolescent girls. Some girls start experiencing depression and low self esteem at their teenage period (American Psychological Association 2010). These girls may turn to consumption of alcohol and smoking.

Self-objectification in girls leads to diminished sexual health in adolescence girls. The negative perception of one’s sexual appearance limits pleasure drawn from the sexual experience. This can make it difficult for a woman to perform safer sex practices (American Psychology Association 2007).

When girls begin to construct identity, they are more likely to lose their self esteem. Those who think they do not look appealing in the eyes of other people have much lower self-esteem. On the other hand, those who get positive cultural messages that promise their popularity, effectiveness and social acceptance have a much higher self esteem (American Psychological Association 2010). 

Impacts on Others in the Society

Men watch television and other digital media as much as women do. Apparently, the increased sexualisation of girls and young women is a potential contributory factor to child sexual abuse and rape cases, which have become rampant. In addition, it becomes hard for men to get their best partners who they can enjoy intimacy with (American psychology association 2007). The concept of media priming suggests that repeated exposure of sexual content to young girls makes them crave for sexual experimentation, thereby getting into sexual activity at premature age. Such behaviours make them vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies, risk of contracting Sexually Transmitted Infections, as well as HIV/AIDS (Machia 2008).

Furthermore, when men are exposed to images with high sexual content, they end up making judgments that they would not have otherwise made. Once a person accesses information, he or she is influenced to generate ideas that were not present initially. Thinking about sex and having constant exposure to images of sexy young girls and women triggers men to sexually abuse them. Studies conducted in this field show that women who have been sexualised, easily accept myths about rape and sexual assaults among other stereotypes related to unacceptable sexual behaviours (Machia 2008). There are various theories that have been employed to test the evidence behind effects of sexualisation. The negative effects of this practice ranges from problems with cognitive performance, intellectual and physical health, sexuality and convictions.

Sexuality

Sexual health is a crucial aspect of a healthy development and general body fitness. Nevertheless, evidence shows that sexualisation of girls and young women, has harmful effects on their sexual development and function. Self objectification is associated with a weakened sexual health among teenage girls. Repeated and consistent exposure of narrow ideals of attractiveness is linked with impractical and detrimental expectations regarding sexuality (American psychology association 2007). More so, negative effects of sexuality experienced during teenage period results to sexual problems later in the life of the individual.

Attitudes and Beliefs

It has been established that consistent experience of sexualisation among girls and young women affects their conception of femininity, as well as sexual life. Females who are addicted to sexual media content normally have a strong support for sexual stereotypes that portray women as sexual entities. This affects even their concept of what parameters are used to measure the value of a woman (American psychology association 2007). They regard appearance and physical beauty as the only thing that adds value to a woman.

Positive Alternatives and Recommendations

The media can focus on furnishing young women and girls with tools to understand and resist detrimental effects of media. This could be done by showing articles about empowerment of women and girls without necessarily invoking sexuality. This kind of empowerment could focus on education, for instance, showing successful women who are national figures with a shining career or running successful businesses as a result of their education. This could help to show the girls that their sexuality is not the basis of their success in life; rather it is the potentials that are in them (World YWCA 2010).

The advertising organizations could work out professional guidelines and codes of behaviour and other forms of self-guideline to promote the presentation of non-typecast illustrations of women. For instance, images showing more concentration on certain body parts as opposed to the full person should be addressed and, preferably, banned from exposure (APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls 2010).

The media houses should also portray an unbiased gender perspective on all issues of concern to communities, consumers and civil society. They should be more sensitive when writing articles and editing programmes, and think about the way it may affect a girl who is trying to develop a self image, or a young woman trying to make in a society as the one they portray in the media (World YWCA 2010).

The media should also boost women’s contribution in decision making at all levels of the media. Media jobs should not be held at decision making level by men alone, because they only use their own point of view, disregarding other perspectives from women. Having women decide on how they should be portrayed in the media can have a positive impact on the content that is sold to the public. This could even change the way society perceives a woman and what it expects of her (World YWCA 2010). The media houses should generate and circulate media materials on women leaders, which should not be limited to knowledge in balancing vocation and family tasks to act as role models to young women and girls. ‘They should also establish professional guidelines and codes of conduct that address violence, degrading or pornographic materials about women in the media including advertising’ (APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls 2010).

Schools and colleges ought to implement and affect a school based media literacy guidance programmes. Young women and girls should be taught on how to question the images displayed by the media outlets. The perfect blemish free face on the media should be questioned by the girls before accepting that it is possible to have such and going after products to look like that. They should be able to question the products that advertise a perfect face by asking themselves about the other effects it may cause. They should be taught to accept their personality and physique before accepting what is shown on the media. This should help the target of such advertisement and programmes to resist acting on their appeal without thinking about it.

Music artists, especially women, should promote the beauty of a woman as a whole, as opposed to focusing on showing their physical beauty. The women in that career should focus on writing lyrics that promote a woman’s identity on the potentials and inner beauty of her personality, as opposed to exploiting their own sexuality to increase their audience. Exposure to sexual content in the media does not wipe out all that the girls have learnt from their family and society. It is, therefore, important for parents and society to instil good moral values when the girls are still young, hence, intervening on the risk of misinterpretation of sexuality as portrayed by the media (Bello 2003).

The media houses should disseminate content showing other alternatives to attaining beauty, since this is one of the sectors that has bound women sexuality to the media with a strong capability to be sexualised. They should, for instance, show that it is not always the physical appearance that gains the women respect. This is because women are driven to pursue an unattainable beauty ideal. For a woman to be perennially young and beautiful, it is not a must that they apply makeup and undergo cosmetic surgery with a dyed hair. The media should focus on alternatives that can enable a woman to maintain her appeal for her age, like eating healthy and getting enough rest. This should, however, not be accompanied again by images of women with unrealistic parameters on how to gauge the success and effect of the alternative (Bello 2003).

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