Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Talking about Miley: Why we need to invade Times Square

Let’s Invade Times Square

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.”

This point of view says to women that through the use of their bodies and sex appeal, they gain true power. On the surface, it looks like feminism by saying, “You can have power!” but spurns equality by reducing female power to sexuality.

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.

Girls are getting some very contradictory messages about where their value lies and what they can do to gain power. We say, “You can do it all” and media and marketers add, “As long as you’re sexy while doing 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.

  • Talk with your teen or tween about objectifying media. When you see examples of sexualization or objectification such as Miley and Thicke’s performance, point it out and open the door for ongoing conversation.
  • Encourage them to critique the media by asking questions such as: “What do you think of their performance? What messages do the words of the song send about women and girls? About men and boys? About relationships? About consenting to what happens to you?”
  • Encourage them to think about mixed messages in media. Do they think the performers felt strong and powerful while they were singing those words and doing those dance moves? Do the words sound like both the men and women in the situation are powerful? Why or why not? What messages are being sent about power for men and women? When I talked with my 14 and 12 year old daughters about this, they were shocked by the words of the song and the message of non-consent and violence.
  • As adults, we must work to change this culture that treats girls and women as sexual objects. This means challenging those messages from media and within our own microcultures, such as the schools, churches, or other groups that we’re a part of. Consent is a key issue that we must be talking about with our kids. Everyone has a right to say what happens with their own body.
  • We must teach both our sons and our daughters that women and girls are not sexual objects, that their bodies belong to them and them alone.
  • We must promote the idea that everyone, both boys and girls, has a right to say what they want in physical relationships. We must talk to our kids about healthy physical and sexual agency as well as mutuality. Any physical contact between people must be mutually agreed upon.
  • We must teach our children that no means no, and when someone is not able to give clear consent, that means no. It is never, in any circumstance, okay to do anything sexual to or with any person (male or female) who is not able to give clear consent.

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:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/brave-girls-invade-times-square

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, 343349.

Tiggemann, M., & Kuring, J. K. (2004). The role of body objectification in disordered eating and depressed mood. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 43, 299311.

Tiggemann, M.,&Slater, A. (2001). A test of objectification theory in former dancers and non-dancers. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 25, 5764.

8 comments on “Talking about Miley: Why we need to invade Times Square

  1. Laura McNally
    September 2, 2013

    This is such a fantastic post! Not only do you name the problems but you also name some solutions!
    Not sure if you allow it, but I’d love to reblog this page and cite you on my WordPress :) pls let me know
    Thanks!

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      September 2, 2013

      Thanks Laura. You’re welcome to reblog!

      • Laura McNally
        September 3, 2013

        Thanks!! Sorry I didn’t think my comment worked the first time. Looking forward to your future posts :)

  2. Laura McNally
    September 3, 2013

    Reblogged this on morethanimage and commented:
    A much needed perspective on the Miley Cyrus fiasco.. And how to move forward positively

  3. Pingback: Brave Girls Indiegogo Campaign 100% Funded | Girl's CEO Connection Blog

  4. Cherisse Flanagan, PhD
    October 7, 2013

    Jennifer, one of the things I love about coming to your blog is that I can read not only your own wise voice, but that it is peppered with good research. Exactly what I was looking for this morning as I gear up to go teach about the issue of objectification this morning.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      October 7, 2013

      Thank you, Cherisse, that means a lot to me. Let me know how your class goes.

  5. profreedan
    September 23, 2014

    ◾We must teach both our sons and our daughters that women and girls are not sexual objects, that their bodies belong to them and them alone.

    Burkas for everyone!

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This entry was posted on September 2, 2013 by in Recognizing, Series and tagged , , , , .

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