On the Sexualization of Young Women in the Media

You can blame the film industry for portaying young women as sex objects…or you can blame yourself. Especially if you are a parent of that sex object.

Parents must be more engaged in raising their sons and daughters. The public can place blame on film and television all they want for portrayals of the female form, and its effect on the self-image these young women create as a result of being exposed to the media. But if parents raise their daughters to be confident in themselves, to be skeptical of popular culture, and to take only what makes them stronger and better from what they watch, young women would be much better off in today’s society.

Transformers 2

From a young age, my mother and father instilled a particular truth in me: I am who I make myself to be. No other person or thing in society is responsible for who I was, who I am, and who I will become. While influence from external sources is inevitable and inherent to the human experience, it is my responsibility to take what makes me a better person, and discard what does not, while internalizing the reason why I chose to discard it – learning from the experience.

The USC Annenberg study on sexiness on screen conducted by Stacy Smith and Marc Choueiti found that “Hollywood continues to be a difficult place for women to find on- and off-screen role models, and provides some grim details about society’s sexualization of teenaged girls.” The Parent’s TV Council conducted a similar study called “Sexualized Teen Girls: Tinsel Town’s New Target.” These findings showed that television shows portray young girl in a sexual nature far more than they used to. While these studies provide evidence that the media is not helping girls to have what the American Psychological Association calls a “healthy” self-image as they relate themselves to the female characters on screen, we should also quantify or qualify what parents have done in response to these representations.

Gossip Girl

The USC study reported that in the top 100 grossing films of 2008, 39.8% of female characters were seen in sexy clothing, and 30.1% were shown with exposed skin. The PTC study reported that 49% of the characters participating in sexual depictions were underage females, compared to the 29% of the characters who were adults. The PTC study also found that only 5% of the underage female characters showed dislike of being sexualized, in any form. These findings can be combated.

If parents communicate to their daughters, their children, that these portrayals are not the norm, or that these portrayals are inappropriate for girls their age, that means something. If parents talk to their kids about what they think and feel about what they are watching, the discussion makes them think about what is truly important. It introduces the idea that the media is not always correct. It instills the idea that there is more to a woman than her body, more to her than just the way she is received by men, or other women. The discussion forces them to analyze what is most important to them. If they appreciate how beautiful a young woman can be portrayed, while understanding that sexual behavior should be reserved for those with the maturity to handle all that comes along with those experiences, parents have accomplished something there.

The House Bunny

I also believe that the less publicized part of the USC study is more important – their findings on female roles in the creative process of filmmaking. In films with male directors, only 31.7% of speaking roles go to women, whereas in films where there is at least one female director, 44.4% of speaking roles are female. While this margin might not be that great, the fact is that women’s voices are heard more often when a woman is at the helm. If parents instill more confidence in their daughters, to ask for and work for those roles, that percentage could rise. If parents instill in their sons that women are as much a creative asset as men, the percentage could also rise.

Smith said that females are still being marginalized and sexualized in film. Sex sells. This trend, so long as the movie business operates on money, will not change. But if parents continue to communicate with their children, continue encouraging them to ask whether a representation is truly accurate, their daughters will be better equipped to experience the media without being brainwashed by it. Parents must not disengage and allow their children to passively consume media without questioning what they see. A young woman will be able to see that she is responsible for her self-image and identity, not popular media.


Special thanks to Joe Cappo for help with my lead. 🙂

3 thoughts on “On the Sexualization of Young Women in the Media

  1. “But if parents raise their daughters to be confident in themselves, to be skeptical of popular culture, and to take only what makes them stronger and better from what they watch, young women would be much better off in today’s society.” Agree, wholeheartedly. However, I would imagine it becomes particularly difficult to ask that a skirt be lengthened, a one piece replace a bikini, or a crew collar replace a deep v-neck because of excessive cleavage, when there is a seven figure check on the table. As you said it’s a money thang. And I think it might take more than a few “good talks” from parents to create the change you mentioned. “If parents instill in their sons that women are as much a creative asset as men, the percentage could also rise.” SUPER IMPORTANT!

    I have also heard from many young women that their parents did instill great confidence in them, a confidence that values morality over money and yet these same young women say that because of the positive self-image they received growing up, they have the confidence to “celebrate” their bodies and not be ashamed or timid of female sexuality on or off screen. What if these young women feel that this expression of skin makes them stronger or better?

  2. Thank you for addressing this issue. There are a couple of things I’d like to add for your consideration, however:

    1. Although parents have a vital role in doing whatever they can to minimize the damage that media does by sending these messages to our daughters (and sons), we should also remember the influence that their peers have over their thought processes and their behaviors. Sure, it may SOUND good when I tell my daughters that they have value far beyond their sex-up body parts, (and make no mistake, I drill this into my two daughters’ heads on a regular basis), the sexual messages that they receive from their peers have a potentially far greater influence over their behaviors. Good luck making your children immune to peer pressure. But the most responsible parents, while reinforcing positive behavior at home, remain sensitive to the undesirable peer messages that their children receive every day when they walk out the door. Better yet, they participate in political activism to at least TRY to fight the companies that insist on doing this to our daughters.

    2. Even if we were to concede that parents alone are responsible for arming their daughters against these negative messages, men (young and old alike) are also receiving the same messages and acting out on them. The American Psychological Association (APA) has done extensive research on the matter, and in the Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, they devote section to the effects on men. More specifically, on the effect’s of men’s attitudes and behavior towards women. And to summarize, I’ll just say, It ain’t good. The report is available online (and I’d be happy to post a link to it myself, but forgive me because I didn’t check to see if you have a policy on posting links before commenting on your blog). I daresay that the imaging of sexed-up women that is so available to men communicates the idea that women are to be used for sexual consumption by men, and because women are receiving the same message, they are reinforcing the idea by acting out sexual behaviors. The implications of this are incredible.

    Great blog. I think it’s simply vital that we as a society begin to discuss these issues. I read recently that the violence (sexual and otherwise) that is depicted against women in the media has increased 124% over just the last few years. Considering the implications of this keeps me awake at night.

  3. 私は言うでしょう、シンプソンズチャックテイラーオールスターコレクション機能画面印刷グラフィックス反射の非常に人気のあるウィットを表示とユーモア。それは完全ですを最初に起動に探して正確なをデータベースに格納一般的に入力あなた検索クエリ様々な検索エンジン使用します。

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