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Hollywood’s Sexualization of Underage Girls: An Insidious Form of Sexual Subjugation

2010/12/22
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The Parents Television Council recently released a report indicating that Hollywood is increasingly sexualizing young girls.  Shocking, I know.  But the PTC goes beyond just noticing the trend: their study quantifies numbers and types of depictions of sexualized underage girls and adult women.  The findings are clear:  underage female characters are depicted in sexual scenes more often than their adult counterparts, and the underage characters are more often depicted engaging in sexual behaviors, while the adults are more often involved only in sexual dialogue, rather than behavior.  One very revealing statistic:  only 5% of the underage female characters expressed any dislike for being sexualized.

The danger, which the PTC correctly identifies, is “sending the message to today’s young girls that their sexuality is their primary identity and most valued commodity.”  And it’s not just Hollywood’s TV shows that send this message, frankly.  It’s also Hollywood’s young starlets who, in real life, party nightly in the merest suggestions of clothing, who swing from one partner to the next, who make their very names by leaking “private” tapes of themselves having sex or perhaps having an affair, and then – far from being embarrassed – step out with their heads held high, wearing miniskirts without panties as if that is just the thing to do. 

Aw, you might say, my kids don’t get their sex education from Hollywood!  They get it from their parents!  Think again.  A Kaiser Family Foundation and Children Now study found that teens rank the media as their number one source for information on sexuality.  Some of the risks of this approach, according to the PTC, include “risks to a female’s cognitive, emotional, and physical development, as well as her self-image. Further, research shows that girls and young women who consume more mainstream media content demonstrate greater acceptance of stereotypes that depict women as sexual objects.”  But hey, don’t stop there!  What about underage pregnancy?  STDs, including AIDS?  Or becoming embroiled in a “sexting” scandal?  The risks are physical and legal, as well as emotional, and they impact boys as well as girls.

What this really is, is an insidious form of sexual subjugation.  It is a cultural education which trains males and females alike, from an early age, to accept and believe that females’ value lies in their sexuality alone.  Pretty and sexy and young is all that matters. Not brainy, not leaders, and certainly not plump, or middle-aged.  Women are only good for one thing.  And aren’t we falling for that as adults as well?  Take a look at the booming cosmetic-surgery industry.  We seem to have reached a point that shall brook no wrinkle or sag on a woman.  What the hell is that?

What ever happened to strong female characters whose value came from their bravery or their brains?  They might be sexy or not, but either way, it was neither necessary nor central to their characters.  Think Murder, She Wrote, or Hart to Hart, or Princess Leia from Star Wars.  Such characters are still out there, if we look for them.  We need more shows with strong female characters, like Bones or NCIS or Law and Order, and fewer shows that revolve largely around sex, like Twilight  or True Blood or Sex and the City.

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