I’ve been reading a lot lately – and neglecting my blog. I’ve just finished The Mother Dance: How Children Change Your Life, as well as So Sexy, So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids. Motherhood is a new topic of interest to me, as I am now seven months pregnant! And sexualization of women in the media is a topic that has been bothering me for a long time, but I haven’t found book that addressed my exact concerns until recently. I’ll come back to the motherhood theme in future posts, because I’ve got a lot of ground to cover on the sexualization subject.
Previous books I’ve read, such as Promiscuities and Dilemmas of Desire, were on female teen sexuality and double standards, often focusing on the dangers girls face in a culture that expects boys to “be boys” and girls to “say no.” A cultural pattern that assumes it’s normal for boys to have sex on their minds 24/7, and that girls themselves do not have desires, but must bear the sole responsibility for keeping sex from happening too soon. Read: girls have the sole responsibility for defending their all important virginity from being defiled. For, as we all know, a slutty girl is a bad thing, but there is no such thing as a slutty boy. Not to mention the new cultural phenomena of of girls performing fellatio on boys at “rainbow parties,” etc, which you’ve probably heard about on Oprah. In this new cultural pattern, girls are emulating the raunch culture of Girls Gone Wild and “performing” sex acts at parties. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture was about this raunch culture and the exaltation of sexiness above all other qualities and the emulation sex professionals as a source of “girl power.”
These books were informative, and gave me some insight into why Girls Gone Wild commercials made me so sick to my stomach, but they didn’t offer any solutions and they were missing an important piece that I just couldn’t put my finger on.
It turns out that the missing piece is media and advertising, and the realization that they don’t just affect teens and college women, but also girls and boys starting as young as preschool!
At this point, I’m going to advise you take a deep breath before going on, because it’s a big, and disturbing topic. The book begins with many scary stories about girls as young as four years old crying because they are not skinny and sexy and feel they must go on a diet, the majority of elementary school boys encountering pornography on the Internet, and several elementary school kids in Boston being suspended for playing “the rape game” on the school bus. It talks about gender polarization in advertising that has resulted from corporate research proving that you can hook little girls into being consumers at a young age by teaching them to be sexy at all costs, while selling violence to boys. There is a phenomenon called age compression in which girls are not only getting their periods earlier, but quitting play with dolls at much younger ages, and having fits of pre-adolescent rebellion in Kindergarten!
And the worst part – which I had unconsciously realized every time I turned on the radio and was appalled by the explicit sexual lyrics on rap songs, or even pop songs, in the middle of the afternoon! – is that the media which surrounds us doesn’t just affect its “intended” audience of teens and adults, but children are exposed to more of it than we can even begin to control on a daily basis.
See?! I told you it was disturbing, and many of you would probably rather not think about it for the rest of your lives. But, while it’s terrifying and overwhelming it’s extremely important to face it, because there are things that we can to to combat it.
The book does an excellent job of giving strategies for building closer bonds with your children at whatever age they are, in which you can foster a policy of open communication with them about these media images and how they feel affected by them. It gives advice for raising media-literate children, who by questioning the media, will not be such slaves to it. And finally, it gives a multitude of resources for coalitions that you can get involved in to make changes in media portrayals of girls and to the advertising directed at children in general.
Phew!!!! I’ve said quite a mouthful, and it’s only the tip of the iceberg. I expect my blog is going to be high-jacked by this subject for quite some time. I’ll try to break it up with pics of the delicious dinners my husband has been making!
Meanwhile, here are just a few of the websites you can explore to get involved in fighting the effects of corporate advertising on children:
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
Center for a New American Dream
Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment
Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME)
Alliance for a Media Literate America (AMLA)
Center for Media Literacy
Center on Media and Child Health
Common Sense Media
Media Education Foundation
Mind on the Media