Sexualization (or sexualisation) is to make something sexual in character or quality, or to become aware of sexuality, especially in relation to men and women. Sexualization is linked to sexual objectification. The term "sexualization" itself only emerged in Anglophone discourse in recent decades. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, the term was infrequently drawn upon by English writers to refer the assignation of a gendered frame to a particular object, such as the gendering of nouns (e.g., de Quincey 1909, 195). In contrast, the term "asexualization" saw greater use, as a synonym for sterilization in eugenics discourse from around the turn of the twentieth century. According to the American Psychological Association, sexualization occurs when "individuals are regarded as sex objects and evaluated in terms of their physical characteristics and sexiness." "In study after study, findings have indicated that women more often than men are portrayed in a sexual manner (e.g., dressed in revealing clothing, with bodily postures or facial expressions that imply sexual readiness) and are objectified (e.g., used as a decorative object, or as body parts rather than a whole person). In addition, a narrow (and unrealistic) standard of physical beauty is heavily emphasized. These are the models of femininity presented for young girls to study and emulate." Women who embrace their sexual desires are considered to be sexy and attractive to men who want nothing more than to have a woman as a sex toy. In the eyes of men, women that practice this behavior serve the pure purpose of providing satisfaction and showcasing their human nature. According to the Media Education Foundation, the sexualization of girls in media, and the ways women are portrayed in the dominant culture, is detrimental to the development of young girls as they are developing their identities and understanding themselves as sexual beings.
- Effects on children
- Effects on women of color
- Black women
- Asian women
- Native American women
- Latina women
- Cognitive and emotional consequences
- Products for children
- Culture and media
Reports have found that sexualization of younger children is becoming increasingly more common in advertisements. Research has linked sexualization of young girls to negative consequences for girls and society as a whole, finding that the viewing of sexually objectifying material can contribute to body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression and depressive affect. Medical and social science researchers generally deployed "sexualization" to refer to a liminal zone between sexual abuse and normal family life, in which the child's relationship with their parents was characterized by an "excessive," improper sexuality, though without recognizable forms of abuse having occurred. American Psychological Association also argues that the sexualization of young girls contributes to sexist attitudes within society, and a societal tolerance of sexual violence.
From 2003 to 2005, "sexualization" began to ascend to the status of an issue in the public eye. The cause of this rise was that it became positioned by a number of discursive actors as a feminist issue. This is not to say that a single "feminist perspective on sexualization" emerged in this period; among discursive actors mobilizing feminist discourses, or identifying themselves explicitly with feminism, there were a host of different views. Yet a particular, relatively cohesive position emerged after 2003 among a number of media discourses: these discourses tended to emphasize that, in the context of a commercialized and sexist culture, young women are unable to exercise meaningful choice even when they experience themselves as doing so. These media actors, in their problematization of sexualization, positioned themselves as the true heirs to the feminist tradition and its critical insights, in contrast to contemporary youth.
Consumerism and globalization has led to sexualization of girls occurring across all advanced economies, in media and advertisements, to clothing and toys marketed for young girls.
Effects on children
In 2006, an Australian report called Corporate paedophilia: sexualisation of children in Australia was published. The Australian report summarises its conclusion as follows:Images of sexualised children are becoming increasingly common in advertising and marketing material. Children who appear aged 12 years and under are dressed, posed and made up in the same way as sexy adult models. Children that appear on magazines are seen older than they really are because of the sexualised clothes they are given to pose in. "Corporate paedophilia" is a metaphor used to describe advertising and marketing that sexualises children in these ways.
In 2007, the American Psychological Association published a report titled Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, discussed below.
In 2010, the American Psychological Association published an additional report titled " Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls", which performed a study where college students were asked to try on and evaluate either a swimsuit or a sweater. While they waited for 10 minutes wearing the garment, they completed a math test. The results revealed that young women in swimsuits performed significantly worse on the math problems than did those wearing sweaters.The hypothesis is that individuals about to try on the sweaters had less pressure to look beautiful because they were not wearing revealing clothing therefore they performed better.
In 2012, an American study found that self-sexualization was common among 6–9-year old girls. Girls overwhelmingly chose the sexualized doll over the non-sexualized doll for their ideal self and as popular. However other factors, such as how often mothers talked to their children about what is going on in TV shows and maternal religiosity, reduced those odds. Surprisingly, the mere quantity of girls' media consumption (TV and movies) was unrelated to their self-sexualization for the most part; rather, maternal self-objectification and maternal religiosity moderated its effects.
However, in 2010 the Scottish Executive released a report titled External research on sexualised goods aimed at children. The report considers the drawbacks of the United States and Australian reviews, concluding:
[T]here is no indication [in the APA report] that the media might contain any positive images about human relationships, or that children might critically evaluate what they see.
The Scottish review also notes that:
[s]uch accounts often present the sexualisation of children as a relatively recent development, but it is by no means a new issue … While the public visibility of the issue, and the terms in which it is defined, may have changed, sexualised representations of children cannot be seen merely as a consequence of contemporary consumerism.
It also notes that previous coverage "rests on moral assumptions … that are not adequately explained or justified."
Letting Children be Children: Report of an Independent Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood (UK) The report 'Letting Children Be Children', also known as the Bailey Report, is a report commissioned by the UK government on the subject of the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood. The report was published in June 2011 and was commissioned as a result of concerns raised as to whether children's lives are negatively affected by the effects of commercialisation and sexualisation.
The Bailey Report is so-called as it was researched and compiled by Reg Bailey, the Chief Executive of the Mothers' Union, a "charity supporting parents and children in 83 countries in the world". The report asked for contributions from parents; children; organisations; businesses and the general public in order to consider their views and inform their recommendations and identified four themes that were of particular concern to parents and the wider public. These themes were:
The report returned recommendations based on the research from interested parties, on each of the key themes, in the form of "what we would like to see". On the theme of "the wallpaper of children's lives" it said that it would like to see that sexualised images used in public places should be more in line with what parents find acceptable, to ensure that images in public spaces becomes more child friendly. On theme two "clothing, products and services for children" the Bailey report said that it would like to see retailers no longer selling or marketing inappropriate clothing, products or services for children. What they would like to see on theme three "children as consumers" is comprehensive regulation protecting children from excessive commercial pressures across all media in-line with parental expectations; that marketers are ethical and do not attempt to exploit gaps in the market to influence children into becoming consumers and to ensure that parents and children have an awareness of marketing techniques and regulations. Finally in terms of "making parents voices heard" it would like to see parents finding it easier to voice their concerns to, and be listened to by, businesses and regulators.
There is a motion for a European Parliament resolution going through which gives the following definition of sexualization:
Effects on women of color
The sexualization of women of color is different than the sexualization of white women. The media plays a significant role in this sexualization. "The media are likely to have powerful effects if the information is presented persistently, consistently, and corroborated among forms. As a media affect, stereotypes rely on the repetition to perpetuate and sustain them." According to Celine Parrenas Shimizu, "To see race is to see sex, and vice versa."
In an NPR interview with Professor Herbert Samuels at LaGuardia Community College in New York and Mireille Miller-Young a professor at UC Santa Barbara they talk about sexual stereotypes of black bodies in America and how even in sex work, already a dangerous job, black women are treated much worse than their counterparts due to the effects of their oversexualization and objectification in society. Black women's bodies are either invisible or hypervisible. In the 1800s, a South African woman named Sara Baartman was known as "Hottentot Venus" and her body was paraded around in London and Paris where they looked at her exotic features such as large breasts and behind. Her features were deemed lesser and oversexual. There is also the Jezebel stereotype that portrays black women as "hypersexual, manipulative, animalistic and promiscuous females who cannot be controlled."
The image of Asian women in Hollywood cinema is directly linked to sexuality as essential to any imagining about the roles they play as well as her actual appearance in popular culture. Asian female fatale's hypersexualized subjection is derived from her sexual behaviour that is considered as natural to her particular race and culture. Two types of Asian stereotypes that are commonly found in media are the Lotus Flower and the Dragon Lady. The Lotus Flower archetype is the "self-sacrificing, servile, and suicidal Asian women." The dragon lady archetype is the opposite of the lotus flower, a "self-abnegating Asian woman…[who] uses her 'Oriental' femininity, associated with seduction and danger to trap white men on behalf of conniving Asian males." According to film-maker and film scholar, Celine Shimizu, "The figure of the Asian American femme fatale signifies a particular deathly seduction. She attracts with her soft, unthreatening, and servile femininity while concealing her hard, dangerous, and domineering nature."
Native American women
Starting from the time of white colonization of Native American land, some Native American women have been referred to as "squaw," an Algonquin word for vagina. "The 'squaw' [stereotype] is the dirty, subservient, and abused tribal female who is also haggard, violent, and eager to torture tribal captives." Another stereotype is the beautiful Indian princess who leaves her tribe and culture behind to marry a white man.
Latina characters that embody the hot Latina stereotype in film and television is marked by easily identifiable behavioral characteristics such as "'addictively romantic, sensual, sexual and even exotically dangerous' (Mastro & Behm-Morawitz, 2005, p. 125), self-sacrificing, dependent, powerless, sexually naive, childlike, pampered, and irresponsible (Arredondo, 1991; Gil, 1996; King, 1974; Lott & Saxon, 2002)." Stereotypical Latina physical characteristics include "red lips, big bottoms, large hips, voluptuous bosoms, and small waists" and "high heels, huge hoop earrings, seductive clothing." Within the hot Latina stereotype lies three categories of representation: the Cantina Girl, the Faithful, self-sacrificing señorita, and the vamp. The Cantina Girl markers are "'great sexual allure,' teasing, dancing, and 'behaving in an alluring fashion.'" The faithful, self-sacrificing Señorita starts out as a good girl and turns bad by the end. The Señorita, in an attempt to save her Anglo love interest, utilizes her body to protect him from violence. The Vamp representation "uses her intellectual and devious sexual wiles to get what she wants."
The American Psychological Association (APA) in its 2007 Report looked at the cognitive and emotional consequences of sexualization and the consequences for mental and physical health, and impact on development of a healthy sexual self-image. The report considers that a person is sexualized in the following situations:
Some cultural critics have postulated that over recent decades children have evidenced a level of sexual knowledge or sexual behaviour inappropriate for their age group.
The causes of this premature sexualization that have been cited include portrayals in the media of sex and related issues, especially in media aimed at children; the marketing of products with sexual connotations to children, including clothing; the lack of parental oversight and discipline; access to adult culture via the internet; and the lack of comprehensive school sex education programs.
For girls and young women in particular, the APA reports that studies have found that sexualization has a negative impact on their "self-image and healthy development".
The APA cites the following as advertising techniques that contribute to the sexualization of girls:
The APA additionally further references the teen magazine market by citing a study by Roberts et al that found that "47% of 8- to 18-year-old [girls] reported having read at least 5 minutes of a magazine the previous day." A majority of these magazines focused on a theme of presenting oneself as sexually desirable to men, a practice which is called "costuming for seduction" in a study by Duffy and Gotcher.
Cognitive and emotional consequences
Studies have found that thinking about the body and comparing it to sexualized cultural ideals may disrupt a girl's mental concentration, and a girl's sexualization or objectification may undermine her confidence in and comfort with her own body, leading to emotional and self-image problems, such as shame and anxiety.
Research has linked sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed mood.
Research suggests that the sexualization of girls has negative consequences on girls' ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image.
A result of the sexualization of girls in the media is that young girls are "learning how to view themselves as sex objects". When girls fail to meet the thin ideal and dominant culture's standard of beauty they can develop anxieties. Sexualization is problematic for young children who are developing their sexual identity as they may think that turning themselves into sex objects is empowering and related to having sexual agency.
Products for children
Some commercial products seen as promoting the sexualization of children have drawn considerable media attention:
The Scottish Executive report surveyed 32 High street UK retailers and found that many of the larger chains, including Tesco, Debenhams, JJ Sports, and Marks & Spencer did not offer sexualized goods aimed at children. The report noted that overall prevalence was limited but this was based on a very narrow research brief. Whilst this shows that not all High street retailers were aiming products deemed sexualized by the researchers, the research cannot be taken out of context and used to say that there is not an issue of sexualization.
Culture and media
Sexualization has also been a subject of debate for academics who work in media and cultural studies. Here, the term has not been used to simply to label what is seen as a social problem, but to indicate the much broader and varied set of ways in which sex has become more visible in media and culture. These include; the widespread discussion of sexual values, practices and identities in the media; the growth of sexual media of all kinds; for example, erotica, slash fiction, sexual self-help books and the many genres of pornography; the emergence of new forms of sexual experience, for example instant message or avatar sex made possible by developments in technology; a public concern with the breakdown of consensus about regulations for defining and dealing with obscenity; the prevalence of scandals, controversies and panics around sex in the media.
The terms "pornification" and "pornographication" have also been used to describe the way that aesthetics that were previously associated with pornography have become part of popular culture, and that mainstream media texts and other cultural practices "citing pornographic styles, gestures and aesthetics" have become more prominent. This process, which Brian McNair has described as a "pornographication of the mainstream". has developed alongside an expansion of the cultural realm of pornography or "pornosphere" which itself has become more accessible to a much wider variety of audiences. According to McNair, both developments can be set in the context of a wider shift towards a "striptease culture" which has disrupted the boundaries between public and private discourse in late modern Western culture, and which is evident more generally in cultural trends which privilege lifestyle, reality, interactivity, self-revelation and public intimacy.
Children and adolescents spend more time engaging with media than any other age group. This is a time in their life that they are more susceptible to information that they receive. Children are getting sex education from the media, little kids are exposed to sexualized images and more information than ever before in human history but are not able to process the information, they are not developmentally ready to process it, and this impacts their development and behavior.
Sexualization of young girls in the media and infantilization of women creates an environment where it becomes more acceptable to view children as "seductive and sexy". It makes having healthy sexual relationships more difficult for people and creates sexist attitudes. Sexualization also contributes to sexual violence and childhood sexual abuse "where 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused during childhood".
The Australian writers, Catharine Lumby and Kath Albury (2010) have suggested that sexualization is "a debate that has been simmering for almost a decade" and concerns about sex and the media are far from new. Much of the recent writing on sexualization has been the subject of criticism that because of the way that it draws on "one-sided, selective, overly simplifying, generalizing, and negatively toned" evidence and is "saturated in the languages of concern and regulation". In these writings and the widespread press coverage that they have attracted, critics state that the term is often used as "a non-sequitur causing everything from girls flirting with older men to child sex trafficking" They believe that the arguments often ignore feminist work on media, gender and the body and present a very conservative and negative view of sex in which only monogamous heterosexual sexuality is regarded as normal. They say that the arguments tend to neglect any historical understanding of the way sex has been represented and regulated, and they often ignore both theoretical and empirical work on the relationship between sex and media, culture and technology.
The sexualization of women being influenced by society is a problem that should be avoided due to its impact on how women value and present themselves. The way society shapes ones personal interest is presented in a book review of Girls Gone Skank by Patrice Oppliger, Amanda Mills states that "consequently, girls are socialized to participate in their own abuse by becoming avid consumers of and altering their behavior to reflect sexually exploitative images and goods." The belief that women are powerful and fully capable as men is stated in the text "Uses Of The Erotic: The Erotic As Power" by Audre Lorde stating that the suppression of the erotic of women has led them feeling superior to men "the superficially, erotic had been encouraged as a sign of female inferiority on the other hand women have been made to suffer and to feel opposed contemptible and suspect by virtue of its existence".