Recently, for my English class we had to write an essay about the “Power of a Word.” While a lot of my other friends were writing about words like “Hope” and “Love,” I wrote about “Sexualization.” Since I’m really passionate about SPARK and feminism, I figured writing about it would be easy, plus maybe I would be able to educate some of my classmates.
While I was writing it I realized that it had been such a long time since I really stopped and looked at what I was fighting against. I think I had taken for granted that everyone knew what sexualization was and why it was wrong. But in light of our recent media attraction and seeing how many parents and girls asked what exactly was wrong with sexualization, I realized just how important it is to go back to the beginning. Hopefully with this blog I can help remind some people (who might not necessarily need reminding) and teach some people who might actually need teaching. Because while sexualization is nothing new to us here at SPARK, sometimes it’s nice to have a refresher course.
Lets get technical, shall we? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, sexualization is a derivative of the verb “to sexualize,” which means to “make sexual; attribute sex or sex role to.” The suffix “ization” means the act, process, or as a result of making or doing. Therefore, in the raw, sexualization means the act, result, or process of attributing sex to something, turning it into a sexual object.
Ever since feminist literature became a “thing” in the late 1800s, the issue of viewing girls and women as sexual objects has been the subject of a lot of debate. While it’s not a new idea to see girls as sexual objects, using a word to describe this phenomenon is relatively new.
One of the first studies that brought sexualization to the public attention was the American Psychological Association’s Report on the Sexualization of Girls. The APA defined sexualization in four forms: “1) when a person’s worth is assumed to only come from his or her sexiness; 2) when a child is expected or encouraged to act or dress sexually; 3) when a person is treated as a sex object rather than as a whole person; and/or 4) when physical characteristics are considered to be the only indicator of sexiness.” With media and all things Internet becoming more popular, the need for media literacy and critics (like SPARK!) has brought sexualization into the public eye.
In advertisements, women pose in provocative ways and wear revealing clothing in order to grab male viewers’ attention. Women on television and in other forms of media are portrayed as ultra thin and sexually provocative. When we say that women are being sexualized, this is what we mean: women being viewed only for their bodies. In fact, it’s almost unheard of for an ad not to include sexualization.
Sexualization objectifies women. It breaks us down into parts and strips us of everything else. We are only worthy if we are sexually pleasing to men, it doesn’t matter what we think or have accomplished.
It’s not just women either, the sexualization of children is even worse. Advertisers think that if they can make products that treat young girls like adults then they can get them hooked on their products. This is why there is candy make-up for toddlers and bikinis for preschoolers. If children use these products when they’re young, they will develop brand loyalty and grow up as willing consumers. They are being turned into objects that are judged solely by appearance before they can even understand what that means.
Media also encourages us to self-sexualize. We take the messages we see around us and purposefully impose them onto ourselves. We wear revealing clothes and act in a sexually provocative manner because we believe it is the only way to get anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, women who self sexualize are more likely to have eating disorders and use harmful behavior because they don’t see themselves as worth anything more than their appearance.
Despite all of this, a lot of critics believe that girls either push sexualization upon ourselves, or that sexualization is a normal part of growing up. Sexualization has been linked to a culture of rape and to the increase in harm against women and young girls. This happens when women are dehumanized. Seeing someone as an object makes it is easier to treat them violently. Sexualization in the media teaches boys and men that it is okay for them to see girls as objects.
In the age of mass media and consumer culture it is easy to look past something as commonly seen as sexualization. But sexualization can be dangerous and detrimental to our society, especially to the young, impressionable girls living in it. It is only by understanding sexualization and its effect that we can understand how to change it. So learn to be aware of it and to question it. Once you get sufficiently irritated, help us fight it!