The Sexualization of Girlhood
The popular culture gives girls contradictory messages about womanhood and sexuality and masks the violence that is perpetrated against them. The media disseminate a vast number of messages about identity and acceptable forms of self-expression, gender, sexuality, and lifestyle (American Psychological Association, 2007; Gauntlett, 2002), while the adolescent culture often also yields inaccurate and uninformed expectations about sexuality. Further complicating the realities of gender messages are societal conditions that girls are raised in: growing divorce rates, chemical addictions, casual sex, and violence against women—all have had a profound impact on the development of women’s roles.
Dr. Mary Pipher’s study of adolescent girls, Reviving Ophelia (1994), examines the challenges for young women growing up in a looks-obsessed, media-saturated, “girl-poisoning” culture. Increasingly, girls have been sexualized and objectified in every facet of the popular culture—advertising, movies, music videos, and video games—leaving few protected spaces where they can claim a true and wholesome identity.
Wolf (2002) argues that some girls’ self-esteem may be predicated on being admired by boys, usually for their physical beauty or sexual availability. Adolescents become increasingly influenced by their peer culture as they begin to form a new identity. And vulnerability to peer groups generally peaks in early adolescence and remains important as individuals move through high school into young adulthood. Lack of knowledge and awareness of one’s sexual identity makes one more susceptible to peer pressure (Levy, 2005). This realization peaks in adolescence during a time when middle school girls sense their lack of power in society but generally are unable to articulate what they sense.
According to Pipher (1994), “bright and sensitive girls” are most likely to understand the implications of the media around them and be alarmed, yet they lack the cognitive, emotional, and social skills to handle this information. “They struggle to resolve the unresolvable and to make sense of the absurd” (p. 43). Less perceptive girls miss the meaning in sexist ads, music, and shows entirely, thereby aiding their subordination in a consumer-based society that capitalizes on their experiences.
© ______ 2010, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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