Despite the unfortunate realities of abuse and oppression faced by Muslim women and non-Muslim women alike, women are an easy target for negative propaganda feeding anti-Islamic agendas. Having heard the old rhetoric on how “women in Islam are oppressed” and how the religion “forces women to stay at home,” it’s refreshing to hear a different perspective on the challenges women face on a global scale.
According to the American Psychological Association’s 2007 Report on the Taskforce on the Sexualization of Girls, females suffer greater challenges with self-esteem, are more susceptible to depression, and are held back in terms of learning math, sciences and athletic skills due to the sexualization (and objectification) of girls. This phenomenon, caused by over exposure to images of females in sexual poses, clothing, and roles in the media including, movies, music, videos, magazines, advertisements, etc. is the basis for this study reported in 2007. A very interesting and eye-opening conclusion was made in this report:
“Taken together, the work …suggests that sexualization practices may function to keep girls ‘in their place’ as objects of sexual attraction and beauty, significantly limiting their free thinking and movement in the world.”
Take the statement in for a moment. Ponder. Repeat. This study was not conducted by a right-wing Christian group or by radical “Islamists.” This research was conducted by a group of American Psychologists concerned with how the well-being of girls is affected by the process of making girls view their worth in terms of their looks.
Oftentimes Islam and Muslims are accused of suppressing women’s potential. What’s refreshing about this report is that the reality behind these societal problems is spelled out in clear letters. No more blaming foreign ideologies, religions, or followers of a particular faith. “Keeping girls in their place” and “limiting their free thinking and movement in the world,” is a massive home-grown problem channeled through the media.
Sexualization in the Media
Toys marketed to girls such as “BRATZ” with puckered lips, miniskirts, and fishnet stockings during Saturday morning cartoons demonstrates the pervasiveness of sexy images in the media. Images of women, or even just their body parts, are used to sell everything – from frozen vegetables, to air conditioning services and alcoholic beverages. The exploitive use of women is not limited to commercials and advertisements, but also music lyrics, clothing, and video games.
The byline for an article in USA Today on January 24, 2013 speaks to this very phenomenon: “Super Bowl XLVII auto advertisers hope to drive up sales with humorous and sexy ads.” This casual analysis of the use of women to sell cars points to the sexist and hedonic trends of the advertising industry. Advertisers want one thing: to promote their product. The result of how the promotion of their product affects their audience, unfortunately, is not a part of their concern. The negative impact of the use of sexualized images of women is our concern as the public.
Girls, pre-teens, and young adults begin to internalize these images as something they should emulate. Various studies show that the sexualization of girls leads to an increase in anorexia, low self-esteem, and sexual promiscuity, to name a few. The ill effects of this trend not only affect girls and women, but also boys and men. From a young age, boys also learn that girls and women are to be judged on their physical appearance. These detrimental attitudes translate into problems in adulthood, when men fail to find the “perfect woman.” The inundation of sexualized images creates an unrealistic mental image of what an ideal woman should look like and how she should behave.
What Parents Can Do
So what does this mean for parents, family members, and the community at large?
- Limit children’s exposure to sexualized images. Filter what movies, television shows, and other videos your children watch. Have you ever heard yourself or your peers say, “But what else are we supposed to watch?!” If we are to blindly watch entertainment without monitoring its value, then we would be like cattle, following the masses without using our intellect.
- Talk to your children, especially your girls, about the importance of education, being a good friend, and keeping physically fit. Having girls understand from a young age that their intrinsic worth comes from exhibiting positive values, not how well their looks emulate those on the screen, is vital to their healthy development.
- Teach your family about media literacy. Pointing out these negative trends to our youth allows them to see the world with discerning eyes. Just as we would teach our youth not to get suckered into fraudulent advertisements meant to scheme unsuspecting customers out of their money, we should educate them on the damaging effects of sexualization. Visit informative websites such as www.medialiteracy.com and www.projectunmask.com, a youth-led initiative educating youth on the damaging effects media plays on teen self-perception.
By taking a proactive approach to combatting the negative portrayal of girls and women in the media, we can begin to change the way the world treats and views the female gender.