Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Stockholm Syndrome in Media

You can imagine that the sexed up photos Vanity Fair published of Miley Cyrus have been a topic of discussion at New Moon, just as on this blog. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments so far on the topic - they're well worth reading.

Kathleen Kvern and I were talking about how the prevalence of sexualized images of girls in our public culture creates an atmosphere of impersonal, silent, constant harassment for girls.

Like an iron grip in a velvet glove, the hypersexualization of girls in the media holds actual girls hostage under the pretense of entertaining and informing them. And, like in the Stockholm Syndrome, it's not surprising when girls start to identify with the all-powerful culture that's holding them hostage.

It feels more subtle than verbal or physical harassment, but that's part of its stealthy effect. It's like a neverending buzz in the background that you try to ignore but can't. Gradually, sub-consciously, more and more of your energy and attention is spent on trying to ignore the buzz.

Girls are barraged by sexualized images all around them and everyone they come into contact with in daily life is also surrounded by those images. The images viscerally teach "the importance of being sexy" if you are female. The images teach all of us that acting sexy is how girls/women can have power without being rejected as domineering or bitchy (see media coverage of Hillary Clinton for the way "non-sexy" female power is conveyed).

Now imagine the extreme confusion girls feel when they are surrounded by images promoting the power of female sexiness and at the same time are told that it's bad for girls to be interested in sex, to act sexy themselves, to dress sexy, etc. The real message being conveyed, of course, is that girls shouldn't want to be powerful.

The conflicting messages about personal power create an epic inner struggle for girls that stays with us into adulthood, sapping creative energy and focus that would be better used in changing the culture and making our world a better place for everyone.

I believe media oppression of girls and women via hypersexualiztion is one of the most serious barriers standing between us and full equality. We need to break that barrier down and release the power it's holding back. That's why I work with girls' media and bringing girls' voices to the world at New Moon.

How would you do it?


Renee Hobbs said...

The conflicts run deep, as you point out, in terms of the contrasting messages about appearance and sexuality. In later adolescence, add to it the discovery of the power of love. What a complex combination! The feelings of intimacy that girls experience in sexual relationships, and the pressure to "be sexy," "be loved" and "be beautiful" all contribute to the foreshortening of expectations that affect girls' aspirations and personal development.

What to do? We just care for the girls and young women in our lives and keep talking to them!

Mommy B said...

It is a confusing world for girls growing up today. On one hand we're telling them "Girls are powerful!" "Girls can do anything!", Yet on the other hand, the constant barrage of images and messages they recieve from the media tells them that in fact "Girls are to be looked at." "Girls are to compete with other girls for the attention of boys." and "Girls are for the pleasure or entertainment of men."

How do you guide a young girl to prevent her from absorbing those limiting messages? One is to keep talking to them like the previous poster mentioned. Another is of course to give them wonderful publications like New Moon magazine to read.

I'm trying my own approach in my recently released book to try to curb the negative images before they take hold. But real change will have to come on a national level. We have to all be on the same page.

Felica Richardson-Battle

sisterpantz said...

I believe we have the power as consumers to change the way that our children and ourselves are portrayed in the media. If we can make changes in other products and put our efforts into buying things that are good for our families and the environment, while rejecting products that are detrimental to our society, then why can't we do this with our media?
We've already taken many steps in creating a safer place for our kids, like rating systems, age limits, programming schedules, and many other ways that we protect kids from harmful images. We need to take the next steps in modifying and improving our media.

And what's important is that we not stop at children's safety, but also our own safety as adults. Just because we're adults and capable of distinguishing fact and fiction, does mean we're not succeptable to the influence it has on women and the influence it has on men and how they see women. This affects the perceptions of young men and contributes to sexual harassment and assault. Our college campuses are a nightmare for sexual equality right now. And this spills into the workforce too. (just look at equal pay)

Also it's not enough to just worry about your own kids and teach them right form wrong. Think about the families that don't have enough time together and kids that don't get enough input from their parents, and don't have the media literacy that other kids have. We need to protect those kids too, and the only way we're gonna see our society improve is by changing the rules in our media.
Companies should not be allowed to use sexist images and content to sell products, just like they can't make racist images to sell things. We don't have to accept what they give us. We can vote with our money and vote with our voices and encourage legislature to combat this most invasive form of influence on our society.
We need to make it so that families can feel comfortable in public,and have more places and times designated for age appropriate media. My friend just got off a plane the other day and as soon as she walked off, there was a playboy mag rack right out front, not covered by anything. This was in the airport!
When I go to the grocery store, i have to turn some of the women's magazines (like, Cosmo, vogue, tabloids,) around when I'm in the aisle with my kids, and when I've complained, I've learned that the employees do the same thing and feel the same way that I do. So why is it that if everyone can agree that it's not right to have these magazines on display that degrade human beings, then why do we accept the placement of these items. This is the grocery store I'm talking about, probably where a good portion of the customers are women with children, yet they have no regard for our kids or us by displaying these odious images where we can't avoid it at the checkout. That's sexual harassment and we don't need to accept it.

Anyway, I could go on with more examples of the way that we've let corporations and people with no common sense to clutter up our society with crap that's not safe for our families, but the point is, we need to do something about what is being put out there, and let them know what we're gonna consume and what is unacceptable in our community and in our society.

It's our job to be responsible for children and protect them from harm. I say we start doing that job with our media.