Like me, you may not have noticed, but females are increasingly absent from the movies we watch. Of the 4,000 characters in the 101 top-grossing G-rated films from 1990 to 2004, 75% overall were male, 83% of characters in crowds were male, 83% of narrators were male, and 72% of speaking characters were male. As pointed out by the researchers of this study, “this gross under representation of women or girls in films with family-friendly content reflects a missed opportunity to present a broad spectrum of girls and women in roles that are nonsexualized.
I came across this alarming study while reading the American Psychological Association’s Report on the ‘Sexualization of Girls’ (http://www.apa.org/pi/wpo/sexualizationrep.pdf). I highly recommend this recent publication which covers a broad range of influences leading to the sexualization of American girls, including: toys, clothing, advertisements, movies, magazines, sitcoms, pornography, and beauty practices.
Here are some of the report’s points that stuck out to me:
– Our multi-billion-dollar beauty industry boasts: a tripling (from 2002 to 2003) in the number of girls 18 and younger who got breast implants (from 3,872 to 11,326); for older women the stats include: a 388% increase in botox injections (from three quarters of a million to almost 4 million annually), a 115% increase in tummy tucks (from 62,713 to 134,746 annually), a 283% increase in buttock lifts (from 1,356 to 5,193 annually), and a 3,413% and 4,101% increase repectively in upper arm and lower body lifts.
-The blurring of ages among females, revealed in advertisements and the toy and clothing industries. Some examples include: dolls wearing black leather mini skirts, thongs for 7-11 year old girls, and advertisements with adult women in pigtails and kneehighs, provocatively posed. Could such trends be responsible for our nation’s increasing desensitization toward promiscuity? sexist paradigms? childhood pornography?
– Studies show that higher-level thinking skills in women are impaired by their self-perception of sexual objectification. One such study assigned girls to wear either a sweater or a swimsuit, and while they sat alone in a changing room they took a math test. The results showed that young women in swimsuits performed significantly worse on math problems than the sweater-wearers. No differences, however, were found in men. Could our society’s sexualization of girls be responsible for the high numbers of girls who drop out of upper-division math and science courses? These numerous studies seem to say yes.
-This objectification is not just harmful to women. The report states, “Exposure to narrow ideals of female sexual attractiveness may make it difficult for some men to find an “acceptable” partner or to fully enjoy intimacy with a female partner.” One particular study reporteds that, “Across several studies, women and men exposed to sexually objectifying images of women from mainstream media (e.g., R-rated films, magazine advertisements, music videos) were found to be significantly more accepting of rape myths (e.g., the belief that women invite rape by engaging in certain behaviors), sexual harassment, sex role stereotypes, interpersonal violence, and adversarial sexual beliefs about relationships than were those in control conditions,”
The APA’s report thankfully assures us that we can rise about the degrading influence of media. Research shows marked success in teaching media literacy skills to children and adolecents. Kids who learn to see through the prevelance of the media’s gender-lies are more skeptical about the realism of images, are less likely to internalize the “beauty ideal,” and are less likely to hold stereotypical gender views. In addition, athletics and extracurricular activities can increase a child’s selfesteem, and give her an opportunity to build a self-concept based on what she can do rather than how she looks. Other important influences include parents (especially parents voicing ideas of media literacy while co-viewing media with their children), religion, spirituality, alternative media sources, and encouraged activism. We need not be passive consumers, subconsiously swayed by all we see and hear!