Growing Up In a Sexualized World and What To Make of It

First of all, I know that this is a taboo subject. I debated long and hard before beginning this post. I started once and deleted it. I’m an educator. Anything I say can and will be used against me, read by my employers, students and parents of students. Talking about sexualization could be a risky subject.

“I started once and deleted it.”

I stopped because I feared that this could impact me negatively. If that doesn’t say how much educators are afraid to say something in case they get it wrong or have their name attached to something “bad” then I don’t know what does.

But here I am, I made my mind up that I am going to write about this, risky or not. My ECS 200 class required a community volunteer section, and the program I worked with was Planned Parenthood Regina (PPR). When I began working there I was uncomfortable because I didn’t know how to interact with people about this topic because I am an educator. My view shifted over time to I need to be able to discuss these issues with my students, regardless of whether I teach a Sex Ed class or not, because I am an educator. The fear that I would say or do something wrong became replaced with the fear that I might miss out on a discussion that could help these adolescents. Whether or not I talk about it in my classroom, the world my students live in is one with hyper-sexualization. Children are increasingly leaving their childhood behind earlier and earlier to become sex objects. It changes society, and it affects the behaviours of my students.

Photo Credit: oc_layos via Compfight cc
Ads feature women dressed like this to sell everyday items

Whether or not I talk about it in my classroom, the world my students live in is one with hyper-sexualization. Children are increasingly leaving their childhood behind earlier and earlier to become sex objects.

The link to the video that was shared in class today can be found here, or watched below.

I took a lot away from this video. I was taking notes while I was watching the video because some of the ideas were shocking to me. Here is a list of the quotations with my comments:

  • “Pop culture is fast becoming porn culture” due to the sexualization of celebrities and society in general. This is a concept that we are familiar with in every day life. You go to the store and the magazine rack is filled with headlines meant to attract readers through sexualization. Ads on TV feature women with unattainable features – and they are unattainable because the majority of them are photoshopped beyond recognition and come complete with a professional makeup artist. Music artists, both female and male, are being sexualized because “sex sells.” The females are wearing skimpy, revealing clothes while men wear clothing that suggests a more masculine figure.
  • “[Miley Cyrus] has to be visible in a society that is hyper sexualized… You have two choices in a hyper-sexualized society: to be F-able or invisible.” Looking back we have all seen the rapid and drastic ways in which Miley Cyrus transformed herself from a children’s actor to a teenage pop culture’s music idol. It actually disgusts me that media makes regular women feel so inferior to other women because of the way that they are sexualized. Especially at this young age girls should not be made to feel that the only kind of attention they can get will be in response to sexualizing themselves.
  • “Their (adolescents) tolerance for sexuality is very, very high… should there be a level of shockability?” This quotation references the way that society and our culture has made everything we encounter relate to sexuality in order to increase sales. It is as if the media cannot be bothered to come up with a new or original way to sell products outside of sex. Because young people are exposed more and more to this kind of behaviour, it is less shocking for them.
  • “Girls are often showing up (to school) dressed in a highly sexualized way.” Short-shorts, mini-skirts and crop tops say it all. Enough said.
  • “There is one way to be female in this culture and it is a way that sets them up for all sorts of abuse.” The idea that females have to be provocative in order to be a woman (and there is a difference between being female and being a woman) is what began that whole idea that “if women dress like that, they are asking for it.” The “it” here being sexual harassment in one form or another. Just as no guy or man deserves to be diminished by their masculinity, girls should not feel pressured to make their femininity public.
  • “As girls are bombarded with images that reinforce their value as sex objects, boys learn that is just how to treat them.” This was a big issue with me. It is now a top priority in parenting that parents teach their kids to respect themselves (targeted to girls) and to respect others (targeted towards boys). But it can’t just end there. We as teachers need to make sure we reinforce ideas of equality and justice.
  • “Teen girls can’t help but get the dominant message in pop culture: act sexy for boys.” This is a strong message directed to young people, and both guys and girls alike expect this sort of sexualized behaviour from others as well as themselves.
  • “Pornography was shaping the way I thought about my body before I even knew what pornography was.” The context of this quotation was from a young girl who basically remembers that she started shaving her legs because it was a social norm to look good for guys.
  • “Everything is saying promote yourself, flaunt yourself, exhibit yourself”
  • “To kids, private is increasingly public…online.” Adolescents show so much of themselves online – both personal details and intimate photos in some cases.
  • “If every photo on your camera or phone was instantly sent to mom and dad, would you take as many photos?” This is food for thought. I would like to use this phrase with my students some day, perhaps as a journal entry to see how kids respond.
  • “In spite of living in a hyper sexualized world, girls still hold out hope for the happily ever after ending.” Girls still want guys to be romantic and sweet, and in return guys want to be romantic but “even if they crave romance, porn may rob them of their ability of it” (last quotation directed towards guys). Because sexuality is so prevalent in our society, young males are finding it increasingly confusing as to what romance is and how it is different from a sexual encounter. There is little understanding on how to separate the two (sexual objectification and romance) in order to build a meaningful relationship.

To show an example of both how sexualization is used in our society, and how I would show it in the classroom I have included this final video. If we switch the gender roles it shows students how ridiculous society’s expectations of young women are. While the video still sexualizes women, it is nothing compared to the role reversal that the guys experience (and women in a lot of videos and media).

We would never ask a man to take his clothes off, parade around and perform for women, but girls are expected to do it everyday.

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This entry was posted in Social Justice, Uncategorized, WGST 100: Introduction to Women's and Genders Studies and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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