5 Things You Can Do to End Sexual Exploitation of Women and Girls in the Media
by Jaimee Swift
During the UN Women’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), Together for Girls had the opportunity to collaborate on a CSW panel with the International Council of Jewish Women, U.S. Fund For UNICEF titled “Protect Our Girls: Sexualization, Exploitation, and the Media.” This article is an extension of the panel and centers on the ways in which people can participate in ending the sexual exploitation of women and girls. It also focuses on TfG’s Every Hour Matters campaign, which aims to increase awareness about the critical importance of quickly accessing post-rape care and calls on national and community leaders to ensure comprehensive services are available in all communities.
It is in movies, music and books. It is promoted in advertisements, magazines and on television. It is consumed daily by millions and its imagery is being viewed and applied to women and girls all over the world; mass producing stereotypical narratives and sexist social norms that attempt to shape the “value” and “worth” of girls’ and women’s bodies. What is this “it”? “It” is the sexual objectification and exploitation of women and girls in the media.
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, sexual objectification can be “roughly defined as the seeing and/or treating a person, usually women [and girls] as objects.” From this perspective, women and girls are viewed solely as objects of desire and for their bodies, instead of whole individuals who have emotions, personalities, and behaviors beyond the scope of the act of sex.
In 2010, the American Psychological Association (APA) released a report on the sexualization of girls in the media and found that massive exposure to media among youth creates the potential for massive exposure to portrayals that sexualize women and girls and teach girls that women are sexual objects. Examining various media, the findings proved girls are portrayed in a sexual manner more often than boys; dressed in revealing clothing, with bodily postures or facial expressions that imply sexual readiness. Women and girls are also more likely to be indicated portrayed in a sexual manner (dressed in revealing clothing, with bodily postures or facial expressions that imply sexual readiness) and are objectified (used as a decorative object, or as body parts rather than a whole person).
With these sexist, stereotypical models of femininity constantly being perpetuated in the media, the negative implications affecting the mental, emotional and physical wellness of girls are many.
Consequences for girls and women at-large include anxiety about appearance and feelings of shame, eating disorders, lower self-esteem and depression. The study also found that sexualization of women and girls can also have a negative impact on boys and men. According to the APA, objectifying girls/women and sex itself is integral to masculinity and these beliefs may jeopardize men’s ability to form and maintain intimate relationships with women.
While the sexual exploitation of women and girls is rampant, there are many ways that you can help combat the media objectification of girls. Whether it is through writing, petitioning or joining organizations that promote gender equality and balanced gender representation in the media, here are ways in which you can help stop sexual exploitation of girls.
1. Write for girl-centered and girl-led organizations that are combatting the sexualization of girls
SPARK, a girl-powered, intergenerational activist organization, is working online to ignite an anti-racist, gender justice movement—one article at a time. Standing for “Sexualization Protest Action Resistance Knowledge,” SPARK is a movement for girls, by girls who are creating innovative solutions against sexualization, objectification and images of violence against women that are present in media and society.
A Women’s Media Center sponsored-organization, SPARK is dedicated to articulating strategies, disseminating and calling for new research, and engaging girls as social change agents to challenge the impacts of sexualization in the fight for gender justice. Whether it is writing about the super sexualized images of female super heroes in comic books or discussing the effects of eating disorders and body image disturbance amongst adolescents, these young girl activists are “sparking” a much-needed dialogue on images that affect girls not only in the United States, but globally as well.
Are you a girl, woman or ally between the ages of 13-22 interested in raising your voice and writing about these issues? Visit the SPARK website and learn how you can join the SparkTeam!
2. Utilize helpful resources provided by organizations and initiatives that promote positive imagery of women and girls.
Founded by Academy Award-winning actor and advocate Geena Davis, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is the only research-based organization working within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate, and influence media producers to dramatically improve gender representation in films; to stop stereotyping girls and women; and to create diverse female characters in entertainment targeting children ages 11 and under. Offering educational programming for content creators, entertainment industry leaders, corporations, educational institutions and individuals focused on gender equality and the using non-stereotypical images of women and girls, the Geena Davis Institute provides gender equality lessons and symposiums to sensitive both current and future media content creators.
The Dove Self-Esteem Project is also bringing awareness to this issue by promoting body confidence all over the world. As the largest provider of self-esteem education, the project helps young people develop a positive relationship with the way they look. According to Dove, six in ten girls avoid participating in fundamental life activities because of concerns about the way they look. Globally, only 11 percent of girls would call themselves beautiful. Since 2004, the Dove Self Esteem Project has reached 17 million young people worldwide with self-esteem education, body confidence, and resources that are designed to help individual engage and support young people aged 7 to 17 on issues relating to self-esteem and body image issues.
Whether you’re a parent, teacher, media professional or youth, learn how you can get involved in changing how girls and women are portrayed in the media and also tackle low self-esteem in girls by utilizing the resources that the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and the Dove Self-Esteem Project offer.
3. Use social media to bring awareness about sexualization of girls and women
After sexually explicit and abusive tweets were directed at a 12-year old contestant on Brazil’s Junior Master Chef, thousands of women and girls flocked to social media to discuss the sexist norms that permeate Brazil. In response to the violent comments, a Brazilian, feminist non-governmental organization called Think Olga, created the hashtag #primeiroassédio (which means first harassment) and urged women and girls to participate using the hashtag to discuss their personal experiences of sexual assault and harassment. Countless stories were shared, revealing a chronic issue within Brazilian society in regards to how girls and women are represented in the media and beyond.
Another campaign called #WomenNotObjects is also taking a stand against objectification of girls and women in advertisements. When ad executive Madonna Badger googled “objectification of women” she found endless advertisements that hypersexualized women and girls to the highest degree. Addressing this issue head on, her advertising agency Badger & Winters—which focuses on communicating to women—made a commitment to never objectify women in their work and created a video mocking the myriad ads that use women as sexualized props to promote their brands.
You, too, can use social media to bring awareness about sexual objectification of women and girls in the media. Whether it is tweeting, sharing a post on Facebook, or creating your own hashtag, do not miss out on an opportunity to shed light on sexist images that affect women and girls every day.
For more information on these campaigns, follow them on Twitter @ThinkOlga and @Not_Objects.
4. Watch and support documentaries that address the issue of objectification and are creating solutions to the problem
The Women’s Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls in Hong Kong, is creating a documentary that is challenging the objectification of women and girls in Hong Kong culture. In collaboration with Women Helping Women Hong Kong, the documentary, “She Objects,” which is set to release later on this year, shows how women and girls are portrayed in media and advertising and the connections between sexual objectification and mental, emotional and physical implications, including eating disorders, low self-esteem, sexual harassment and violence.
Jean Kilbourne’s award-winning documentaries “Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Images of Women” and “Still Killing Us Softly” also focus on gender stereotypes in the media and its effects on women and girls. The 2011 documentary film Miss Representation by The Representation Project, highlights the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America, and challenges the media’s limited portrayal of what it means to be a powerful woman. Truth in Reality, a social advocacy organization, is also leading a documentary project called Redefining HERstory™, discussing the dire need to change the imbalanced media depictions of Black and Afro-Latina women and girls of color.
If you think the messages in these documentaries are important, spread the word about them on social media and consider hosting a watching party with your friends and family!
5. Petition or report media outlets that perpetuate hypersexualized imagery of women and girls
The 4 Every Girl campaign is calling on entertainment and media industry leaders to create an environment where young girls feel valued and are defined by health media images of themselves. Sign their petition to call on leaders in the entertainment and media industries to produce media images that respect, empower and promote the true value of every girl.
In addition, the Women’s Media Center is a pioneering leader in monitoring the media for sexism, launching petitions and holding the media accountable for an equal voice and equal participation. Have you read, seen or heard problematic coverage of women and girls in the local or national media? You can report it to the Women’s Media Center and they will review your complaint.
You could also go directly to the source of the advertisement and write a complaint letter to the company or organization behind it.
While these are only five ways to end sexual objectification of girls and the media, there are some many other opportunities to promote positive imagery and messages about women and girls. Whether it is educating others, volunteering with girl-centered groups, or just monitoring what you watch, you too, can take part in ending the sexual objectification of women and girls!