What we can do about the media’s sexualization of young girls

| May 24, 2008 | 3 Replies

At Alternet, Tana Ganeva reports on Gigi Durham’s new book, concerning the corporate media’s sexual objectification of girls. Durham characterizes the overall problem as the “The Lolita Effect,” which is the media’s sexual objectification of young girls. Here’s an excerpt:

In 2006, the retail chain Tesco launched the Peekaboo Pole Dancing Kit, a play set designed to help young girls “unleash the sex kitten inside.”

Perturbed parents, voicing concern that their 5-year-olds might be too young to engage in sex work, lobbied to have the product pulled. Tesco removed the play set from the toy section but kept it on the market.

As M. Gigi Durham points out in The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It, Tesco’s attempt to sell stripper gear to kids is just one instance of the sexual objectification of young girls in the media and marketplace. Some of the many other examples include a push-up bra for preteens, thongs for 10-year-olds bearing slogans like “eye candy,” and underwear geared toward teens with “Who needs credit cards … ?” written across the crotch.

Perhaps it’s because I have two young daughters, but this issue has been strongly on my radar for a few years. I truly can’t believe what I see in mainstream stores and on the streets. I’ve previously addressed some of these issues here , here and here.

Ganeva’s article includes an interview of Durham.

Durham was asked what is driving this movement to sexualize young girls, she blames parents for not leveling with and protecting their daughters, but she also focuses on corporate profit-seeking. It’s the

marketers’ realization that they could cultivate cradle-to-grave consumers by targeting very young kids by getting them to buy into the frames that older women have been persuaded to buy into for a long time, such as trying to achieve unattainable bodies and present themselves as highly desirable to men.

What kind of conversations should parents have with their daughters to nullify the harmful effect of the media?  Here’s Durham’s answer:

The media are for-profit enterprises, and we need to recognize that from the start. Whatever they do to represent any aspect of human experience, it’s going to be connected to generating revenue. When they represent sex and sexuality, very obviously it’s going to have a commercial motivation behind it… [A]ny adult can start a conversation with their kids, even when they are really, really young, even as young as 2, which is what I’ve done with my kids. Not even specifically about sex, but about the selling intent behind advertising and comparing what goes on in real life compared to fiction and helping them sort out facts. You can start getting them to be critical of the media when they’re very young.

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Category: Consumerism, Sex

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. Erika Price says:

    Whether it's a child's pole dancing kit or a box of cereal featuring cartoon characters, it seems pretty clear that parents have to inoculate their children against shrewd marketing tactics beginning at a very young age. Children pick up on commercial messages and parrot them back, and learn to adopt the messages as their own ideals if they don't quickly learn otherwise. While most parents probably just respond to this stripper pole business by reminding their children of how terrible sex is, a smarter response would be to teach children to question all advertising ploys. It sounds like Durham's answer is exactly that.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    The July 2009 edition of the Harper's Index (Harper's Magazine) reports that 46% of six-to nine year old Americans girls wear lipstick or lip gloss.

  3. Annabelle Garza says:

    I think, being a teenager who stumbled upon this, that while I agree wholly that, I am admitting this, girls my age are wayyyy to young to be getting into sexually marketed products. I see girls walking around in tiny skirts, the cheerleading uniforms have gotten SKIMPIER (I feat I would have thought impossible) and if you're even the slightest bit at a HEALTHY weight, you're fat. You're not supposed to eat at lunch, you're supposed to watch the boys play football or basketball and look pretty and sexy and run around bringing them water in low cut t-shirts and way too tiny little short shorts, and when you're at home you're supposed to work out until you pass out so that you're body is always trim and pretty. In the locker rooms, girls are always changing in the open, wearing lacy thongs and bras and really, it's just disturbing. We're too young for this. I used to be very self conscious because I was never the thin girl or the girl with large breasts or the girl who only wanted sex, I was the girl who really didn't care, she just wanted to wear a little eye liner because it made HER feel good about herself. But then I realized, why does it matter what every bbody else thinks? I'll find someone who isn't just using me for sex that likes me for me. So I guess I was able to look past the media. I wish other girls could, too.

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