As a female entrepreneur, I want to lend a voice to the Time’s Up Movement, and the grassroots Me Too Movement. I’m so proud of the women who have stepped-up to end sexual harassment and abuse. These are courageous movements spotlighting the power imbalance, that have traditionally kept women locked into inequality, shame and fear in the workplace. While the Time’s Up Movement is focused on building defense funds, legislation and advocacy, it has become a clarion call to men and women in business and industry to once and for all, end sexual misconduct and persistent harassment.
Women and girls are increasingly sexualized in the media. Music videos, reality shows, video games, ads, and wide-spread porn sites impact the way women and girls are depicted and treated. As women find their voice against sexual harassment and abuse, I hope we also evaluate ourselves in the process.
Women are willing participants and consumers in the production and consumption of media which sexualizes women. No doubt, the Women’s Lib movement, for all its good, also spawned sexual liberation — in part demanding parity with male counterparts. But, while a bite of milk chocolate might be tasty, a steady diet of it will wreak havoc on the body. Like too much chocolate, the saturation of sexualized women in media comes at a cost. The message permeating our culture is girls need to be sexy, not powerful; noticed and not respected.
Young Girls Are Harmed By Sexualized Media Portrayals
The American Psychological Association reports that the proliferation of sexual images of girls and young women in the media are harming their self-image and development, creating negative feelings about their own body, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression, and unhealthy sexual self-image. As Spark blogger, Ness Fraser puts it, “These messages tell young girls that the most important thing to be in life is sexy, desirable, and for lack of a better term, f-able – no matter what age you are or how inappropriate that might be.”
Boys Normalize Violence Against Girls
According to The American Association of University Women, “just as the media may influence how girls behave as sexual beings, sexualized and objectifying images can shape boys perceptions and expectations of women. It would be no surprise then that boys may feel they are entitled to women’s bodies or that it is ok to sexually exploit girls.” Boys see how their bodies are portrayed in relation to girls and learn to believe success or attractiveness is tied to dominance, power, and aggression. Media, fashion, music and culture affect a boy’s perceptions and expectations of girls and women; and when these boys grow up to be men, their dominance, power and aggression can influence values and behavior with adult impacts.
Women who don’t participate or consume sexualized media are not immunized. In one study, researchers randomly assigned men to view sexualized or neutral images of women. They were then told that they would have to rate the female experimenter for a task unrelated to the images. When the men had just viewed sexualized images of different women, they rated the experimenter, even though she was modestly dressed, as less competent and intelligent. This is known as the Sexual Objectification Spillover Effect. When men view sexualized images of women, there are detrimental consequences about how women in general, are perceived.
Serious Facts Not to Ignore
According to UNICEF approximately 60,000 adolescent girls die each year as a result of violence, and 120 million girls in the world today – about one in ten – have been victims of rape or forced sexual acts. In the United States, an estimated 11 percent of high school girls report that they have been raped. And globally, according to data from the Together for Girl-supported Violence Against Children Survey, one in four girls experience sexual violence before age 18 and about one in four girls’ first sex was forced. Since 1998, nearly 18 million women in America have been raped. In 2016, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission statistically predicted one in four people are affected by workplace sexual harassment.
Research published in peer-reviewed, journals between 1995 and 2015, in a total of 109 publications that contained 135 studies provided consistent evidence that both laboratory exposure and regular, everyday exposure to sexualized media are directly associated with higher levels of body dissatisfaction, greater self-objectification, greater support of sexist beliefs and of adversarial sexual beliefs, greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women, and leads both women and men to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality, and humanity.
To be sure, never should any woman be “slut shamed” for any form of harassment or abuse. As women, we cannot, however, ignore our responsibility to lead healthy lives and to teach our children to respect themselves and others. As we make choices of what we participate in, and what we choose to consume, let’s also say time’s up to objectifying ourselves.
Women need to re-evaluate their participation and consumption of sexualized media. Women need to say “no”. No, we will not let you use us in provocative images that harm our younger sisters and little brothers. No, we will not strip down for you to notice but not respect us. No, we will not take money to entertain you in ways that objectify us and embolden your dominance, aggression and power against us. No, we will not confuse love and acceptance with abuse of power – not in the workforce, not in our communities, and not in our families.
Sexually objectifying portrayals of women have life-altering impacts. As women, let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard too, and ensure we are doing our part to protect, empower and promote the true value of girls and women.
About The Author
Cynthia Mitchell is a serial entrepreneur, consultant and speaker specializing in start-ups. With more than 30 years experience in media, technology and education, Cynthia has worked with leading brands including Time Warner, ABC/Cap Cities, Maclean Hunter, Times Mirror, Meredith Corporation, Mutual of Omaha and Kaiser Permanente among many others. With a customer-centric ethos, Cynthia’s depth of expertise across business disciplines is an exemplary and unique skill set for new ventures. Contact Cynthia at cyndimitchell.com.