In my post, Steubenville & Sexualization, I mentioned my frustration with high-powered women like Cameron Diaz saying things like, “Women want to be objectified” and now I add Miley Cyrus singing and dancing to a song that glamorizes rape. There are girls and women who have bought into the belief that their social power comes from their sex appeal. They have bought into the belief that to make themselves into the object of male desire is a fun and exciting thing. But what they don’t know is that when this idea becomes a reality, it is far from empowering. They have accepted the patriarchal bargain of participating in a system that hurts women in order to attain personal power.
Susan J. Douglas calls this Enlightened Sexism. In Douglas’ definition, enlightened sexism “insists that women have made plenty of progress because of feminism, indeed, full equality has allegedly been achieved, so now it’s okay, even amusing to resurrect sexist stereotypes of girls and women.”
You may be thinking, “But it’s all in good fun! What’s the harm in a girl or woman using her body to experience her power?” In fact, there are many who do argue that this type of self-objectification, of purposefully putting oneself on display for others to view and desire, is empowering. And in the moment there is a feeling of power, of being desired and stirring feelings within others.
But in the long run, there is a strong body of research that clearly shows that self-objectification is psychologically unhealthy. In fact, self-objectification has been linked to disordered eating both in college women and adolescent girls (Tiggemann & Slater, 2001; Slater & Tiggemann, 2002), to depression in both age groups (Teggemann & Kuring, 2004; Grabe, Hyde, & Lindberg, 2007; Meuklenkamp & Saris-Baglama, 2002), and to risk for self-harm (Meuklenkamp, Swanson, & Brausch, 2005).
In the study by Grabe and her colleagues, a link was found between self-objectification and depression for girls as young as 11 years of age. Self-objectification has also been shown to have a relationship with lowered cognitive and academic functioning in women and girls (Gay & Castano, 2010). Not so innocent is it? Not so much fun after all. In fact, self-objectification leads to some serious emotional difficulties.
A high school friend of mine told me that she felt angry and confused when she want to a Halloween party and saw that some of the other girls there were objectifying themselves. She doesn’t understand why the world around her promotes this self-objectifying behavior as popular and fun and, as she said, “almost creates a hunger for it.” She sees the “power” that these girls seem to gain from exploiting their own sexuality, and she doesn’t want to do that herself. But she’s also frustrated by it.
Here are some ideas for talking with your teens and tweens about Miley and Robin Thicke’s performance at the VMA’s and other types of objectifying media.
We must start talking about these conflicting messages openly with the kids in our lives. We have got to speak up and tell young girls that they do NOT have to use their bodies to gain social power, and we need to stand up to media and marketing campaigns that promote the idea that they do. Self-objectification is not healthy for girls and women, and it is high time that all caring adults take a stand against the sexualized views that tell girls that their power and value can only be found in their sex appeal. Girls are so much more than how they look, and it’s time we started treating them that way.
We need healthier media! Brave Girls Want is raising funds to invade Times Square to ask for more responsible media that promotes healthier views of girls and women. Please take a moment to support us in any way that you can! Visit our campaign at:
Douglas, Susan J. (2010). Enlightened Sexism: The seductive message that feminism’s work is done. Times Books: New York.
Gay, R.K. & Castano, E. (2010). My body or my mind: The impact of state and trait objectification on women’s cognitive resources. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 695-703.
Grabe, S., Hyde, J.S., & Lindberg, S.M. (2007). Body objectification and depression in adolescents: the role of gender, shame, and rumination. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31, 164–175.
Meuklenkamp, J.J. & Saris-Baglama, R.N. (2002). Self-objectification and its psychological outcome for college women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 371-379.
Mueklenkamp, J.J., Swanson, J.D. & Brausch, A.M. (2005). Self -objectification, risk taking, and self-harm in college women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 24-32.
Slater, A., & Tiggemann, M. (2002). A test of Objectification Theory in adolescent girls. Sex Roles, 46, 343–349.
Tiggemann, M., & Kuring, J. K. (2004). The role of body objectification in disordered eating and depressed mood. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 43, 299–311.
Tiggemann, M.,&Slater, A. (2001). A test of objectification theory in former dancers and non-dancers. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 25, 57–64.