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Sexualisation of-young-people

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Linda Papadopolous' report for the Home Office, studying the impact on young people of the representations of gender. ...

Linda Papadopolous' report for the Home Office, studying the impact on young people of the representations of gender.

It's important to understand the context and assumptions regarding this report. To do so, search the BBC site, the Guardian site and the Telegraph site to find their reports on this report.

Also, for a critique of this report, visit this site: http://mackle.wordpress.com/2010/03/02/63-of-poll-results-are-entirely-made-up/

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    Sexualisation of-young-people Sexualisation of-young-people Document Transcript

    • Sexualisation of Young People Review by Dr Linda Papadopoulos
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Contents Foreword 3 1. Executivesummary 5 2. Introduction 17 3. Backgroundandcontext 19 4. Whatissexualisationandwhydoesitmatter? 22 5. Sexualisedcontentandthemainstreamingofpornography 33 6. Theimpactofsexualisation 53 7. Sexualisationandviolence 65 8. Recommendations 75 9. Bibliography 85 10. Acknowledgements 100 1
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Foreword hyper-sexualisation and objectification of girls on the one hand, and hyper- masculinisation of boys on the other, perpetuate and reinforce each other. Throughout the course of the review, what has become very apparent is that sexualisation is a multi-factorial issue and therefore needs to be approached from a range of perspectives, taking into account not only the emotional and cognitive development of children but also the influence of family, culture and society as a whole. Over the past months, my team and I have reviewed hundreds of articles from the fields of psychology, sociology, education, politics and media. We have interviewed people working on the front-line with When I was approached by the Home abused children and abusers. We have Secretary to conduct an independent spoken to young people, parents, teachers, review on the impact of the sexualisation clinicians, academics, policy-makers and of young girls on violence against women, lobbyists. What came across loud and clear I genuinely welcomed the opportunity to is that this is a very emotive issue – and so, take a critical look at this area. As both I wanted to ensure that the evidence a psychologist and as a mother, I was was presented as objectively as possible very aware that this was a topic that was so that a public debate could ensue and gaining increasing amounts of attention informed decisions about how to address both in academic literature and the these issues could be made. This is not an popular press. opinion piece, the evidence and arguments Although the original intention of the presented within this document are not review was to focus on how sexualisation based on conjecture but on empirical data is affecting girls, it quickly became evident from peer reviewed journals, and evidence that we could not talk about girls without from professionals and clinicians. Behind acknowledging the concomitant impact the social commentary and the headlines on boys and the hyper-masculinised about inappropriate clothing and games images and messages that surround them. for children, there are the real statistics, on The scope of the review was therefore teenage partner violence, sexual bullying widened to encompass the sexualisation and abuse that need to be acknowledged of all young people and to look at how and addressed. 3
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review In addressing these issues we must not forget that sexual curiosity is a normal feature of childhood and therefore we need to provide young people with the tools that will enable them to deal with sexual content safely and successfully. I believe that providing our kids with a set of realistic, non-exploitative representations of gender and sexuality would go a long way towards ensuring their healthy emotional – and sexual – development and promoting gender equality. I want my little girl, indeed, all girls and boys, to grow up confident about who they are and about finding and expressing their individuality and sexuality, but not through imposed gender stereotypes or in a way that objectifies the body or commodifies their burgeoning sexuality. This review is a step towards understanding how, as parents, as educators and as citizens we can take responsibility for creating safe and supportive environments for our children to understand and explore relationships and sexuality – and ensure that they do so in their own time and at their own pace. 4
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review 1. Executive summary “How have sex, sexiness and sexualisation gained such favour in recent years as to be the measure by which women’s and girls’ worth is judged? While it is not a new phenomenon by any means, there is something different about the way it occurs today and how it impacts on younger and younger girls.”1 1. Violence against women and sexually available. The report looks girls is unacceptable, whatever at examples and the prevalence of the circumstances and whatever sexualisation in culture and proposes the context. In March 2009, the mechanisms by which sexualised government launched the Together messages are being internalised and We Can End Violence Against Women the consequences of these on young and Girls consultation in order to raise people. awareness of the problem and explore policy proposals and ideas designed to 3. The world is saturated by more help prevent violence against women images today than at any other and girls. This report forms part of time in our modern history. Behind that consultation.1 each of these images lies a message about expectations, values and ideals. 2. This review looks at how sexualised Women are revered – and rewarded images and messages may be affecting – for their physical attributes and both the development of children and girls and boys are under pressure to young people and influencing cultural emulate polarised gender stereotypes norms, and examines the evidence from a younger and younger age. for a link between sexualisation The evidence collected in this report and violence. The decision by the suggests these developments are government to commission this review having a profound impact, particularly reflects the importance of the issue on girls and young women. and the popular perception that young people (and in particular young women and girls) are increasingly being pressured into appearing 1 McLellan, Sexualised and Trivialized – Making 5 Equality Impossible. Quoted in: Tankard Reist (2010)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Sexualisation, learning is also the cumulative or ‘drip drip’ effect of exposure to sexualised and development messages, themes and images over time and in diverse settings. Children 4. Healthy sexuality is an important and young people now have easy component of both physical and access to material that may not be mental health. When based on mutual age-appropriate. Core cognitive respect between consenting partners, learning and developmental theories sex fosters intimacy, bonding and demonstrate that children learn shared pleasure.2 Sexualisation is the vicariously from what they see, and imposition of adult sexuality on to that exposure to themes which a child children and young people before they is not developmentally ready to cope are capable of dealing with it, mentally, with can have a detrimental effect.5 emotionally or physically. 7. Children and young people today 5. While sexualised images have featured are not only exposed to increasing in advertising and communications amounts of hyper-sexualised images, since mass media first emerged, they are also sold the idea that they what we are seeing now is an have to look ‘sexy’ and ‘hot’. As such unprecedented rise in both the they are facing pressures that children volume and the extent to which these in the past simply did not have to face. images are impinging on everyday As children grow older, exposure to life. Increasingly, too, children are this imagery leads to body surveillance, being portrayed in ‘adultified’ ways or the constant monitoring of personal while adult women are ‘infantilised’.3 appearance. This monitoring can result This leads to a blurring of the in body dissatisfaction, a recognised lines between sexual maturity and risk factor for poor self-esteem, immaturity and, effectively, legitimises depression and eating disorders.6 the notion that children can be related Indeed, there is a significant amount of to as sexual objects. evidence that attests to the negative 6. A number of factors shape the effects of sexualisation on young way children and young people are people in terms of mental and physical responding to the sexualisation of health, attitudes and beliefs.7 culture. One of the most significant 8. If we are going to address this issue is the individual child’s age and then young people need to develop level of cognitive and emotional and grow in surroundings where development. Regardless of a child’s they are admired for their abilities, level of sophistication, when it comes talents and values. It is important to to internalising media and advertising stress however, that in the diverse, messages, there is a large body multicultural UK context, cultural, of research from developmental religious and class backgrounds will psychologists that attests to the fact invariably influence the family’s role in that young children do not have mediating sexualised media content the cognitive skills to cope with persuasive media messages.4 There 5 Bandura (1971); Bem (1981) 6 McKinley (1999); Moradi et al. (2005); Polivy, 2 Satcher (2001) Herman et al. (2002); Tolman, Impett, Tracy and 3 Evidence provided to the review by Michael (2006) Dr K. Sarikakis (2009) 7 Abramson and Valene (1991); Durkin and 6 4 Mayo & Nairn (2009) Paxton (2002); Harrison (2000)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review and views of what is appropriate it is important to look at the social and acceptable. The psychological scripts children are being influenced by ramifications of sexualisation, from and what makes children susceptible violence in teenage relationships to to them. self-objectification, are seen across diverse class systems, suggesting Magazines, marketing and that the issue of sexualisation is not advertising confined to either a single race or class. 12. A dominant theme in magazines seems to be the need for girls to Sexualised present themselves as sexually content and the desirable in order to attract male attention.9 Worryingly, there is also a mainstreaming of trend for children in magazines to be dressed and posed in ways designed pornography to draw attention to sexual features 9. Children and young people are that they do not yet have. At the same exposed to an unprecedented time, advice on hairstyles, cosmetics, range of media content, through an clothing, diet, and exercise attempt ever-growing number of channels. to remake even young readers as Furthermore, the proportion of objects of male desire,10 promoting that content which is sexual or premature sexualisation.11 In the case even pornographic is increasing at a of boys, ‘lads’ mags’ contain a high dramatic rate. Until relatively recently, degree of highly sexualised images of there was a way to at least try and women that blur the lines between ensure that these were targeted to pornography and mainstream media. the right audience. However, there is The predominant message for boys no ‘watershed’ on the internet, and is to be sexually dominant and to sexualised images and adverts may objectify the female body. appear anywhere and are often sent 13. Over the past three decades there has indiscriminately to e-mail accounts and been a dramatic increase in the use mobile phones. of sexualised imagery in advertising. 10. With proliferation comes While most of this imagery features normalisation. It is no surprise women,12 there has also been a therefore that when researchers significant increase in the number examine the content of young of sexualised images of children.13 people’s web pages they find that Sexualised ideals of young, thin, beauty young teens are posting sexually lead to ideals of bodily perfection explicit images of themselves on social that are difficult to attain, even for networking sites, and self-regulating the models, which perpetuates the each other with sexist, derogatory and industry practice of ‘airbrushing’ demeaning language.8 photographs. These images can lead 11. In order to genuinely understand one of the main factors at play here, 9 Carpenter (1998); Durham (1998); Garner, Sterk, and Adams (1998); McMahon (1990) namely how young people internalise the messages they are exposed to, 10 Duffy and Gotcher (1996) 11 Rush and La Nauze (2006) 12 Reichert et al. (1999) 8 Ringrose (2008) 13 Tankard-Reist (2010) 7
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review people to believe in a reality that does 16. Music channels and videos across all not exist, which can have a particularly genres have been found to sexualise detrimental effect on adolescents.14 and objectify women.20 Women are often shown in provocative and 14. At the same time, marketers are revealing clothing and are depicted as effectively encouraging young girls being in a state of sexual readiness. to present themselves in a sexual Males on the other hand are shown way. Bratz dolls for example, are as hyper-masculine and sexually child-friendly characters presented in dominant. Research into the often a notably sexualised way.15 Pencil cases sexual and violent content of music and stationery for school children lyrics is comparatively thin on the carry the Playboy bunny logo. Padded ground. However, an important bras, thongs and high heeled shoes are connection between sexualised music marketed and sold to children as young lyrics and their influence on shaping as eight. Such blurring suggests that it young people’s early sexual activity is acceptable to impose adult sexual is that the causality is not just related themes onto children, and potentially to sexual content of lyrics, but also to relate to children as sexual objects.16 their degrading nature.21 Television, film and music New technologies 15. Women on TV are far more likely 17. Over 80 per cent of young people than their male counterparts to use the internet daily or weekly22 and be provocatively dressed17 and around a third of 8–11-year-olds and scenes of violence against women 60 per cent of 12–15-year-olds say are increasingly common. A recent that they mostly use the internet on report found that depictions of their own.23 Almost half of children violence against women on TV had aged 8–17 and a quarter of those risen by 120 per cent since 2004 aged between eight and 11 have a while violence against teenage girls profile on a social networking site rose by 400 per cent.18 There is also such as Bebo, MySpace or Facebook.24 a significant under-representation of While sites set age limits (typically women and girls in non-sexualised 13 or 14), these are not generally roles in films. In the 101 highest enforced. Social networking sites earning family films between 1990– allow children and young people 2004 over 75% of characters were to create online identities. Girls, for male, 83% of narrators were male and instance, report being under increasing 72% of speaking roles were male.19 pressures to display themselves in By missing the chance to present girls their ‘bra and knickers’ or bikinis with a diverse range of characters online, whereas boys seek to display to identify with, the visibility of their bodies in a hyper-masculine way more hyper-sexualised heroines will showing off muscles, and posturing as inevitably have a bigger impact. powerful and dominant.25 Sexualised 14 Coleman (2008) 20 Andsager and Roe (1999); Seidman (1992); 15 Evidence provided to the review by the British Sommers-Flanagan and Davis (1993) Board of Film Classification (2009) 21 Matino et al (2006). Quoted in Coy (2009) 16 Buckleitner and Foundation (2008) 22 Livingstone, Bober and Helsper (2005) 17 Eaton (1997) 23 Ofcom (2009) 18 www.parentstv.org/PTC/publications/reports/ 24 Ofcom (2008) womeninperil/main.asp 8 25 Ringrose (2010) 19 Kelly and Smith (2006)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review self-presentation could also mean that this review.31 Mobile phones are also young people are exposing themselves being used for so-called ‘sexting’ – the to danger: recently, public attention sending, often unsolicited, of sexually has focused on the use of social explicit messages. networking sites to sexually solicit underage children and young people. 20. With advances in technology, video games are becoming increasingly 18. With the rise of the internet, it is not graphic and realistic.32 At the same now a case of if a young person will time, children are more and more be exposed to pornography but when. likely to play games without adult Before the mainstreaming of internet supervision: three-quarters of access, it was asserted that the average 12–15-year-olds have a games console age of first exposure to pornography in their bedroom.33 Many games was 11 for males26; however, latest feature highly sexualised content and research suggest that this age is now there is a notable lack of strong female much lower.27 A recent YouGov survey characters.34 The link between violent found that 27 per cent of boys are content and aggression has been cited accessing pornography every week, in several studies35 and it is widely with 5 per cent viewing it every day. accepted that exposure to content The survey also found that 58 per that children are either emotionally cent had viewed pornography online, or cognitively not mature enough for on mobile phones, in magazines, in can have a negative impact. Whereas films or on TV. Another study showed parents are not likely to allow their that a quarter of young people had children to watch an 18 film, they are received unsolicited pornographic junk much more lenient when it comes to mail or instant messages while almost allowing their children to play age- one in eight had visited pornographic inappropriate games. This may be websites showing violent images.28 because they do not fully understand either the realism or the themes that 19. By the age of 15, 95 per cent of young these games contain. people have their own mobile phone.29 Mobile phones allow young people The role of parents, schools easy access to all kinds of online content, regardless of whether or not and corporate responsibility it is appropriate. Figures show that in 21. The evidence so far indicates that 2007, mobile phones were the UK’s it is time we critically examine the biggest distributor of pornography.30 cumulative effect of the media The use of mobile phones as a tool messages to which our children are for bullying, controlling or monitoring exposed and how we can mitigate any a dating-partner has attracted negative effects resulting from them. considerable media attention recently, Installing filters on computers and and was frequently raised during the locks on mobile phones is of course evidence sessions held as part of important. But sexualised content 26 Bryant (1985) 31 Evidence Hearing Sessions for the Review (May 2009 – July 2010) 27 Greenfield (2004) 32 Martinez and Manolovitz (2009) 28 Livingstone and Bober et al. (2005) 33 Ofcom (2009) 29 Ofcom (2008) 34 Dill and Thill (2007) 30 Juniper Research, Quoted in: Daw and Cabb (2009) 35 Anderson and Dill (2000); Freedman (2002); Deselms and Altman (2003) 9
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review is everywhere and, often, children and young people are accessing it The impact of alone, in a setting that gives them sexualisation no opportunity to ask questions or discuss their feelings. Body image and gender 22. Parents are a powerful force in shaping inequality their children’s attitudes to gender 25. In the past it was adult women who and sexuality and have a vital role felt the imperative to look ‘hot’ and to play in supporting their children ‘sexy’, now this imperative is being to cope with and contextualise adopted by younger and younger sexualised images and messages. girls who will inevitably face the same However, parents can also contribute feelings of inadequacy and failure to to the sexualisation of their children live up to an unrealistic ideal. The in very direct ways. For example, by mass media promotes and reinforces reinforcing self-objectification through an idealised notion of beauty for encouraging or supporting the use of both men and women, presenting cosmetic surgery as a means of ‘fixing’ standards – of thinness for women poor body confidence or self-esteem and of muscularity for men – that few – a phenomenon that is increasing at can ever hope to achieve. The effects an alarming rate.36 of this are apparent – eating disorders are on the rise. The eating disorder 23. Schools can help children develop charity BEAT estimates that 1.6 million the capacity to interpret and filter people in the UK have an eating information and to recognise and disorder. The vast majority of these value diversity. As such perhaps we – some 1.4 million – are female.37 need to consider the value of media And now we’re starting to see what literacy and gender studies and begin happens when you tweak the message to see them as core to the curriculum – young women need to be not we teach our children. Sex education, only thin, but also sexually desirable. too, must focus on preparing young As anorexia increases so now does people to form healthy, respectful, the number of young women having emotionally fulfilling relationships. breast implants at an increasingly 24. Businesses must also play their part younger age.38 here. There have been numerous 26. It can be tempting to think that reports over the past few years girls are taking the brunt, that boys of how major high street retailers have it easier. But in some ways, the have promoted, and then on second messages we are sending out to boys thought withdrawn, clothing, games are just as limiting and restrictive: be and products for children that are macho, be strong, don’t show your undoubtedly age inappropriate. There emotions. Hyper-sexualisation of is a clear role here for government femininity cannot exist without hyper- to support and promote corporate masculinisation of males. They feed off responsibility. and reinforce each other. 36 www.cosmeticsurgerybible.com/2007/types- 37 www.b-eat.co.uk/PressMediaInformation#iHn0 of-surgery/breast-enlargement/breast-implants- 38 Zuckerman and Abraham (2008) 10 linked-to-suicide-risk/105
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review 27. Repeated exposure to gender- by the Department for Work and stereotypical ideas and images Pensions43 shows that Jobcentres are contributes to sexist attitudes and routinely advertising for vacancies beliefs; sexual harassment; violence at escort agencies, lap-dancing clubs, against women; and stereotyped massage parlours and TV sex channels. perceptions of, and behaviour toward, We are seeing the normalisation of men and women.39 Although sexual these trades as viable career choices. objectification is but one form of The fact that both within celebrity and gender oppression, it is one that popular culture women are habitually factors into – and perhaps enables – heralded as successful and celebrated a host of other oppressions women for their sex appeal and appearance face, ranging from employment – with little reference to their intellect discrimination and sexual violence to or abilities – sends out a powerful the trivialisation of women’s work and message to young people about what accomplishments.40 is of value and what they should focus on. Mainstreaming of the sex industry Sexualisation and 28. With the ubiquity of sexualisation and the increasing pornification of violence society has come the mainstreaming 30. Research has shown that adults – of the sex industry, as exemplified including women44 – who viewed by the proliferation of lap-dancing sexually objectifying images of women clubs. Sexualisation – and the in the mainstream media were more commodification of women and girls – likely to be accepting of violence.45 is now so ingrained in our culture that The evidence gathered in the glamour modelling and lap-dancing are review suggests a clear link between widely viewed not only as acceptable consumption of sexualised images, a but in some cases aspirational.41 tendency to view women as objects and the acceptance of aggressive 29. Sexualisation is tied to economic attitudes and behaviour as the norm. markets in the forms of beauty and Both the images we consume and the sex industries, that both open and way we consume them are lending restrict the breadth and variety of credence to the idea that women are identities and ambitions open to there to be used and that men are young women. A growing number of there to use them. girls are setting their sights on careers that demand a ‘sexy’ image. Surveys 31. There is a significant amount of have found for instance that a high evidence linking stereotypical attitudes proportion of young women in the to women’s sexuality and sexist beliefs UK aspire to work as ‘glamour models’ with aggressive sexual behaviour.46 or lap-dancers.42 A report released 43 www.parliament.uk/deposits/ depositedpapers/2008/DEP2008-3155.doc 39 Kilbourne and Lazarus (1987); Lazier-Smith 44 Johnson & Adams et al. (1995) (1989); UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural 45 Kalof (1999); Lanis and Covell (1995) Organisation (1980) 46 Dean and Malamuth (1997); Malamuth and 40 Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) Briere (1986); Malamuth and Donnerstein 41 Coy (2009), Coy and Garner (in press) (1982, 1984); Murnen, Wright and Kaluzny 42 Deeley (2008) (2002); Osland, Fitch and Willis (1996); Spence, Losoff and Robbins (1991); Truman, Tokar and 11 Fischer (1996); Vogel (2000)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review A recent Home Office survey found female body, and the pressure on boys that 36 per cent of people believed to conform to a hyper-masculine ideal, that a woman should be held wholly are having a very real effect on young or partly responsible for being sexually people’s day-to-day lives. assaulted or raped if she was drunk, while 26 per cent believed a woman 34. There is growing evidence from should accept at least part of the educational and social scientists that blame for an attack if she was out girls are facing increasing sexism in public wearing sexy or revealing in the playground and classroom. clothes.47 Researchers have indicated that cases of sexual harassment and forms Young people, sexual of gendered and sexualised name calling and bullying may be on the bullying and violence rise in both primary and secondary 32. The shocking results of a recent survey schools.48, 49 carried out by the NSPCC show that for many young people, violence Pornography and sexual within relationships is commonplace – aggression one in three teenage girls aged 13–17 had been subjected to unwanted 35. Pornography shapes young people’s sexual acts while in a relationship, sexual knowledge but does so by and one in four had suffered physical portraying sex in unrealistic ways. violence. And, although both sexes are The nature of online pornography is experiencing partner violence, girls are changing: it is increasingly dominated suffering more as a result. A significant by themes of aggression, power and proportion of the girls surveyed stated control, blurring the lines between that the violence had seriously affected consent, pleasure and violence.50 their welfare; for boys, there appeared 36. Advances in technology are making to be few consequences. NSPCC’s pornography more and more Head of Child Protection Awareness accessible to children and young Chris Cloke has described this as people. There is consistent and evidence of a ‘culture of confusion reliable evidence that exposure to about what is acceptable among pornography is related to male sexual girls and boys living in today’s highly aggression against women. Prolonged sexualised landscape.’ exposure increases the likelihood 33. In gangs, rape and sexual assault is of consuming material that depicts increasingly becoming the weapon either potentially ‘harmful’ or, what of choice. Assaulting a girl is used the UK government labels, ‘extreme’51 not only to assert power over the sexual behaviours such as violent girl herself, but also over those who sex, sadomasochism and bestiality. associate with her. And although gangs High pornography use is not in itself make up only a small part of society in an indicator of high risk for sexual the UK, the use of violence as a means aggression. However, adults who to punish and control is not just in the domain of sub-cultures – as shown by 48 Duncan (2004); Renold, (2003); Ringrose (2008) the results from the NSPCC survey 49 Please note, this figure does not include the on teen partner violence. It seems that total number of permanent exclusion in primary notions of power and control over the and special school settings 50 Hanson and Tyd´en (2005); Dines (2008) 12 47 Home Office (2009) 51 McGlynn, Ward and Rackley (2009)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review are already predisposed to violent can be devastating, ranging from activity and who also score high for post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety pornography use are much more likely and depression, to sexual dysfunction, to engage in sexual aggression.52 suicide and self-mutilation. It affects a significant number of children in the 37. There has been a marked increase UK – estimated at over 2 million – in the number of sites that infantilise although the vast majority of child women. Adults exposed to ‘barely sexual abuse goes unreported.54 legal’ or virtual child pornography The majority of those who display make stronger links between youth sexually harmful behaviour are actually and sexuality than adults exposed adolescent males, with 25-40 per cent to materials featuring older-looking of all alleged sexual abuse involving models. They are also more likely young perpetrators.55 to associate sex and sexuality with subsequent non-sexual depictions of 39. An issue of concern is that the minors.53 When girls are dressed to sexualisation of girls is contributing to resemble adult women, people may a market for child abuse images (often associate adult motives and even a referred to as ‘child pornography’ sense of adult responsibility onto the in the media) or sex with children. child. Depicting young girls dressed The fact that young girls are styling or made up as sexually mature older themselves in overtly sexually women may serve to normalize provocative ways for other young abusive practices such as child abuse people’s consumption – whether this or sexual exploitation. be on social networking sites or via photographs sent by email or mobile Child abuse and sexual phones – makes them potentially exploitation vulnerable. Young people themselves 38. Child sexual abuse lies at the are now producing and swapping what extreme end of the spectrum of is in effect ‘child pornography’ – a fact consequences of sexualisation. The borne out by the growing numbers of psychological effects of sexual abuse adolescents that are being convicted for possession of this material.56 54 Cawson et al. (2000) 55 www.nspcc.org.uk/WhatWeDo/MediaCentre/ MediaBriefings/Policy/media_briefing_sexually_ 52 Malamuth, Addison and Koss (2000) harmful_behaviour_wda33252.html 53 Paul and Linz (2008) 56 Carr (2004) 13
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Conclusion 40. There is broad agreement from 41. Sexualisation is a profoundly researchers and experts in health important issue that impacts and welfare that sexualising children individuals, families and society as prematurely places them at risk a whole. Unless sexualisation is of a variety of harms.57 However, accepted as harmful, in line with the what we need is further empirical evidence presented in this report, evidence in the form of large scale and similar reports from the US and longitudinal studies that will look Australia, we will miss an important in detail at the effects on boys and opportunity here: an opportunity to girls of living in a sexualised culture broaden young people’s beliefs about across their development. Many of where their value lies; to think about the mechanisms that have been cited strategies for guiding children around as disseminating hyper-sexualised sexualisation and objectification; ideals to children are a consequence and to create new tools and spaces of recent advancements in media for young people to develop and and technology. Only now are we explore their sexuality in their own beginning to see a concerted effort time and in their own way. by psychologists and other social scientists to address this issue. Recommendations for schools. New SRE resource materials should be made available for teachers Education and schools who work with children with special 1) All school staff to have training on education needs and learning difficulties. gender equality. Specialist training should 4) Schools to ensure that all incidents be given to those who teach Personal, of sexual bullying are recorded and Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) reported separately to other forms of education and citizenship. bullying. 2) The Department for Children, Schools 5) New practical ‘How To’ guidance on and Families (DCSF) to issue statutory tackling sexualisation is disseminated to guidance to schools to promote a ‘whole all schools. school’ approach to tackling gender inequality, sexual and sexist bullying and 6) Primary schools should make specific violence against women and girls. reference to the influence of the media on body image and personal identity 3) References on sexualisation, gender within a new programme of study on stereotypes and pornography to be ‘Understanding Physical Development, included in DCSF’s revised Sex and Health and Wellbeing’. Relationships Education (SRE) guidance 57 14 57 APA (2007); Coy (2009); Malamuth (2001); Tankard-Reist (2010)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Recommendations (cont.) 16) One-to-one confidential help in school/college from a trained 7) A module on gender equality, professional such as a psychologist to be sexualisation and sexist/sexual bullying made available to every child and young be developed as part of the DCSF’s person. Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) programme. Media and awareness-raising 8) Media literacy should be taught not 17) A national campaign to be launched only through PSHE education but also to address the issue of teenage through English, drama, the arts, history relationship abuse, including a specific and citizenship. pack for primary and secondary schools so that they can build on issues arising 9) More investment in youth workers to from the campaign. enable them to work with young people outside of mainstream education around 18) A working group of high profile the issues of sexuality, sexist and sexual women in media together with academics bullying and gender equality. should be set up to monitor and address gender inequality in the media. 10) The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) to further develop its 19) The establishment of a media award current online resource centre where that promotes diverse, aspirational and parents can access internet safety advice. non-sexualised portrayals of young people. 11) Digital literacy to be made a 20) The government to launch an compulsory part of the national curriculum online ‘one-stop-shop’ to allow the for children from the age of five. public to voice their concerns regarding irresponsible marketing which sexualises 12) The government should work with children with an onus on regulatory internet service providers to block authorities to take action. The website access to pro-anorexia (‘pro-ana’) and could help inform future government pro-bulimia (‘pro-mia’) websites. policy by giving parents a forum to 13) A schools campaign to be developed raise issues of concern regarding the which promotes positive role models sexualisation of young people. for young men and young women and 21) Information on body image, self- challenges gender stereotypes. esteem, eating disorders and e-safety 14) Schools should encourage girls to to be included in the government’s value their bodies in terms of their physical proposed ‘Positive Parenting’ booklets ability. This should be linked to the work of for parents of older children. the 2012 ‘Get Set’ education programme. 22) The government should support 15) Local Authorities must be the Adversing Standards Agency accountable for treating victims of child (ASA) to take steps to extend the sexual abuse and ensure that specialist existing regulatory standards to include services receive adequate funding for commercial websites. the treatment of children who have been abused. 15
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Recommendations (cont.) and retailers to encourage corporate responsibility with regard to sexualised 23) The introduction of a system of merchandise. Guidelines should be ratings symbols for photographs to issued for retailers following consultation show the extent to which they have with major clothing retailers and parents’ been altered. This is particularly critical in groups. magazines targeting teen and pre-teen audiences. 31) The existing voluntary code for retailers regarding the placements of 24) The content of outdoor ‘lads’ mags’ should be replaced by a advertisements to be vetted by local mandatory code. ‘Lads’ mags’ should be authorities as part of their gender clearly marked as recommended for sale equality duty to ensure that images only to persons aged 15 and over. and messages are not offensive on the grounds of gender. 32) The government overturns its decision to allow vacancies for jobs in 25) Broadcasters are required to ensure the adult entertainment industry to be that music videos featuring sexual posing advertised by Jobcentre Plus. or sexually suggestive lyrics are broadcast only after the ‘watershed.’ Research 26) The current gap in the regulatory 33) A new academic periodical to be protection provided by the Video established and an annual conference Recordings Act 1984 to be closed by series should be held focusing solely on removing the general exemption for the topic of sexualisation. ‘works concerned with music’. 34) Funding be made available for 27) Regulation of UK-based video on research that will strengthen the current demand services to be strengthened to evidence base on sexualisation. This ensure that they do not allow children to should include trend research into access hardcore pornography. teenage partner violence and frequency of sexual bullying and abuse. 28) Games consoles should be sold with parental controls already switched on. 35) Clinical outcome research to be Purchasers can choose to ‘unlock’ the funded and supported to find the most console if they wish to allow access to effective ways to identify, assess and adult and online content. work with the perpetrators and victims of child sexual abuse. 29) This idea should be extended to ‘child friendly’ computers and mobile 36) A detailed examination of media phones where adult content is filtered literacy programmes should be carried out by default. out jointly by the DCSF, and the Department for Culture, Media and Working with businesses and retailers Sport (DCMS). 30) The government to support the NSPCC in its work with manufacturers 16
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review 2. Introduction Sexualisation is a growing phenomenon: recommendations for research, clinical from magazines to TV to mobile phones, practice, education and training, policy and sexualised images and messages are awareness-raising. everywhere. Journalists, child advocacy organisations, parents and psychologists It is not the intention of this review to argue that this is having a damaging enter into a theoretical debate on the effect on children and young people.56 precise definition of sexualisation (see This report aims to find out whether Chapter 4). The evidence gathered this is really the case, and to explore here suggests that the proliferation and the possible links between exposure accessibility of sexualised content may be to sexualised images and content and jeopardising the mental and physical well- violence against women and girls. being of young people in the UK. Our aim is to focus attention on the need for a This report was commissioned by the collaborative approach to safeguarding Home Office Violent Crime Unit as part young people and promoting a healthy of the Together We Can End Violence transition from childhood to adulthood. Against Women consultation, launched in This report is concerned primarily with early 2009. The consultation called for ‘a the rights of the child, and with protecting fact-finding review into the sexualisation the health, well-being and safety of every of teenage girls’. This, broadly, is the child in the UK. review’s remit, although evidence relating to the sexualisation of pre-teenage Methodology children and of boys as well as girls has also been included.58 The report is based on a critical, thorough and comprehensive desk-based review The report begins by summarising the of available data on the sexualisation of background to the sexualisation debate young people. We have drawn on existing and some of the main theories of how government research and statistics, lobby young people learn and develop. It goes group publications and academic journals on to look at the volume and spread of in order to build a comprehensive picture. sexualised images and content by media channel and at the possible impact this has Stakeholders have also been invited to on self-esteem, body image, mental health submit their views on processes and and personal relationships. It also considers structures relating to the sexualisation the possible links between sexualisation of young people and possible links with and violence. Finally, the report suggests violence. Those responding to the call for evidence included: 58 American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualisation of Girls (2007). Herein referred to as ‘APA’ 17
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review C. Bankes and I. McGibbon – Gangs, TKAP, D. Glover – Commissioner of Factual Violent Crime Unit, Home Office Programming, Channel 4 C. Banatvala, A. Marsden – Director of C. Green and H. Elsdon-Smithers – Standards, Ofcom White Ribbon Campaign M. Banos-Smith – Womankind D. James-Hanman – Director, Greater C. Barter – University of Bristol London Domestic Violence Project D. Buckingham – Professor of Education, K. Iwi – Respect Institute of Education and Director, Centre P. Johnson – British Board of Film for the Study of Children, Youth and Media Classification O. Campbell and L. Taffe – Advertising M. J. Kehily – Senior Lecturer, Childhood Standards Agency and Youth Studies, Open University C. Christie – Taskforce on Violence L. Lawrence – Policy Lead on Personal, Against Women and Children, Social and Health Education, Curriculum Department of Health Unit, Department for Children, Schools M. Coy – Child and Woman Abuse and Families Studies Unit, London Metropolitan S. Levenque and A. Heeswijk – OBJECT University A. Martinez – Sex Education Forum F. Crow – Assistant Director, National E. Mayo – Co-operatives UK Children’s Bureau T. Narducci, Z. Hilton and V. Patel – NSPCC C. Dawes – Department for Culture, N. O’Brien – Brook Advisory Centre Media and Sport (DCMS) T. Palmer – founder, Marie Collins S. Delaney – Team Manager, Birmingham Foundation Sexually Harmful Behaviour Team A. Ramage – Series Producer, Sex S. Dyer – Beatbullying Education versus Pornography, Endemol R. Einhorn – NSPCC Sexual Exploitation K. Richardson – Child Exploitation & Service Online Protection Centre L. Emmerson – Sex Education Forum J. Ringrose – Senior Lecturer, Sociology C. Firmin – Race on the Agenda of Gender and Education, Institute of G. Frances, J. Sharpen and F. Mackay – Education Members of the VAWG Advisory Group K. Sarikakis – Director, Centre for R. Gill – Professor and Director Centre International Communications Research, for Cultural, Media and Creative Industries University of Leeds Research, Kings College, London A. Speechly – Youth Justice Board 18
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review 3. Background and context “An integrated approach is necessary to ensuring not only that violence against women becomes universally regarded as an unacceptable and criminal violation of women’s human rights, but also that victims of sexual, physical and psychological violence receive the attention and support that they need to be able to escape and resolve their situation.”59 Violence against women and girls is to protect women and provide support unacceptable, whatever the circumstances to victims of violence. There are currently and whatever the context. The UK 31 legal frameworks in place, covering government is committed to taking action issues including rape and sexual violence; to further reduce the number of violent domestic violence; female genital incidents and to counter the tendency mutilation; forced marriage; ‘honour’ for violence to become ‘normalised’. crimes; trafficking; sexual harassment; and This literature review forms part of a marital rape. wider investigation into the underlying causes and impacts of violence against With regard to children, local authorities women and girls. It sets out to identify and schools are required to work with how sexualised images and messages may each other and with other children’s be affecting the development of children services to support the Every Child and young people and influencing cultural Matters agenda, which sets out five key norms with regard to sexual behaviour outcomes for children and young people: and attitudes. 59 • be healthy; Over the past decade, a number of • stay safe; government departments have been • enjoy and achieve; working with voluntary organisations to • make a positive contribution; and deliver a package of measures designed • achieve economic well-being.60 59 www.un-instraw.org/en/images/stories/Beijing/ violenceagainstwomen.pdf 60 www.everychildmatters.gov.uk 19
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Performance against these outcomes is and girls) are increasingly being pressured measured by a set of National Indicators, into appearing sexually available, and that which cover key areas relevant to the this pressure is having a negative impact sexualisation agenda including supporting on both attitudes and behaviours. During children’s emotional health and reducing the public consultations held by the the rate of conception for under-18s. Home Office in spring 2009, many parents expressed concern about the pressure on Some progress has been made. Over teenagers – and even younger children the last decade the number of incidents – to appear sexually available and about of domestic violence has more than the sexualisation of young people and its halved while the conviction rate has possible links to violence. risen significantly; however, there is still much work to be done. Recent research Views expressed in recent surveys suggest carried out by the NSPCC and Sugar,61 a that violence against women and girls magazine targeted at teenage girls, found is becoming increasingly ‘normalised’.64 that 45 per cent of girls surveyed had According to a UK opinion poll carried been ‘groped’ against their wishes. Another out in February 200965 16 per cent of NSPCC study, this time carried out with people think it is sometimes acceptable the University of Bristol,62 showed that for a man to slap his partner if she nags a third of girls aged 13–17 had suffered him, while 20 per cent believe that it is unwanted sexual acts within a relationship OK under certain circumstances to hit a and a quarter had been victims of physical women if she is wearing revealing or sexy violence. These findings form just a tiny clothing. As stated above, the NSPCC/ part of the growing evidence for what Bristol University study66 found that the NSPCC’s Head of Child Protection experiences of sexual abuse and violence Awareness Chris Cloke has described within relationships were commonplace as a ‘culture of confusion about what is among teenage girls. acceptable among girls and boys living in today’s highly sexualised landscape.’63 The international The Home Office context The issue of sexualisation is raised in a Violence Against number of international laws, protocols Women and Girls and initiatives, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of strategy Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) The Together We Can End Violence (1979), the Beijing Platform for Action Against Women and Girls consultation (BpfA) (1995), and the Palermo Protocol was launched in early 2009. The decision (2000). to undertake this review as part of the CEDAW calls on all signatory states consultation reflects the importance of the to take decisive action to tackle the issue and growing perception that young objectification of women and girls. Article people (and in particular young women 5 requires that measures are put in place to modify the social and cultural patterns 61 Published in Sugar magazine, 23 May 2006 62 Barter, McCarry, Berridge and Evans (2009) 64 Barter, McCarry, Berridge and Evans (2009) 63 NSPCC press release, 22 May 2006 www. nspcc.org.uk/whatwedo/mediacentre/ 65 www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/violence- pressreleases/22_may_2006_unwanted_sexual_ against-women-poll?view=Binary 20 experiences_wdn33559.html 66 Barter, McCarry, Berridge and Evans (2009)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review of men and women with a view to The American Psychological Association eliminating prejudices and practices based (APA) Taskforce’s report on the on the idea of the inferiority or superiority Sexualisation of Girls, published in 2007, of either sex and/or on stereotyped roles explores how sexualisation is affecting for men and women. CEDAW also states young girls cognitively and emotionally, that the sexual objectification of women and impacting on their ability to develop plays a role in maintaining inequality a healthy sexual self-image.67 In 2008, the between the sexes, and has repeatedly Standing Committee on Environment, identified links between the portrayal Communications and the Arts for the of women as sex objects by the media Australian Senate published its report and the sex industry and attitudes that on the Sexualisation of children in the underpin violence and discrimination contemporary media.68 against women. More recently, a French parliamentary Strategic Objective J2 of the Beijing campaign, spearheaded by Valérie Boyer Platform for Action calls for all states to MP, has called for all digitally enhanced tackle unbalanced portrayals and the photographs to be printed with an projection of negative and degrading attached health warning. Similarly, the images of women in the media. Article 9 Real Women campaign, led by UK MP of the Palermo Protocol requires states Jo Swinson, aims to encourage the to discourage the demand that fosters public to challenge and complain about all forms of exploitation (particularly of misleading or untruthful advertising, women and children) which may lead including adverts featuring airbrushed to trafficking. images, to the relevant authorities. Finally, a report on sexualised goods aimed at children was recently undertaken by the Scottish Government. 67 APA (2007) 68 Australian Parliament, Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts (2008) 21
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review 4. What is sexualisation and why does it matter? “It is important to analyse cultural representations of gender roles, sexuality and relationships and ask what specific values are being promoted and if these are having a negative impact on child development. Key questions include the impact on children... of stereotyped images of passivity and sexual objectification... the long term impacts of early exposure to adult sexual themes and the ways in which cultural exposure impacts on parents’ roles in protecting and educating children around sexuality in a developmentally appropriate way.”69 Introduction The world is saturated by more images to the extent to which such stereotypes today than at any other time in our have become ‘normalised’ that to object modern history. Behind each of those is often to be accused of lacking a sense images lies a message about expectations, of humour and proportion. As one values and ideals. Images present and young teenager told me, “Girls call each perpetuate a world where women are other names like ho and slag but its not revered – and rewarded – for their always serious, sometimes it’s just for fun, physical attributes and can put pressure just a way to tease each other or even on both girls and boys to emulate as a compliment to tell a friend that she polarized gender stereotypes from a looks hot or sexy”.70 younger and younger age. It is testament 6970 69 Newman, The Psychological and Developmental Impact of Sexualisation on Children. Quoted inTankard Reist (2010) 22 70 Evidence provided in a focus group, held as part of the Review (2009)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Introduction (cont.) Attitudes thought to have been adolescents are highly susceptible to the eradicated by the gender equality images and messages they see and hear movement have somehow become around them particularly when, as is acceptable again. Suddenly, it seems, it’s increasingly the case, they are accessing OK to call a woman a ‘bird’ or to have those images and messages alone. her posing semi-naked on the cover of a The following chapter examines the mainstream magazine, suddenly it’s cute various ways in which sexualisation and funny for little girls to sing along to can be defined and how it differs from misogynistic lyrics of songs, as long as healthy sexual development. It then goes long as it’s done for the sake of a bit of on to examine how children and young simple harmless fun. people develop, providing an overview However, many researchers, clinicians and of some of the key theories of learning educators agree that the ramifications and development. Finally, it looks at how of this kind of ‘fun’ are far from harmless. those theories operate in practice; that The evidence collected in this report is, at how and why sexualisation may suggests these developments are having be having an impact on children and a profound impact, particularly on young people. girls and young women. Children and What is sexualisation? indiscriminately apply the notion of sexualisation so that any expression of “...in the current environment, teen girls sexuality by children is seen as wrong or are encouraged to look sexy, yet they problematic. know little about what it means to be sexual, to have sexual desires and to The idea that sexualisation is increasingly make rational and responsible decisions prevalent throughout our culture has about pleasure and risk within intimate been gaining momentum since the late relationships that acknowledge their 1990s and is now regularly discussed own desires.”71 by academics and researchers. The consensus seems to be that the most Healthy sexuality is an important obvious manifestation, the dissemination component of both physical and mental of sexualised visual imagery, while health. When based on mutual respect important in its own right, is part of a between consenting partners, sex fosters wider phenomenon: the emergence in intimacy, bonding and shared pleasure.72 the UK of a ‘pornified’ culture73 and the Sexualisation, by contrast, is the imposition encroaching of pornography into many of adult sexuality on to children and young spheres of everyday life.74 Although people before they are capable of dealing some75 interpret this as a sign of cultural with it, mentally, emotionally or physically. maturity and of the democratisation of It does not apply to self-motivated the visual field, a more widely held view76 sexual play, nor to the dissemination of age-appropriate material about sexuality. We should be careful that we do not 73 Paul (2005) 74 McNair (2002) 71 Tolman (2002) 75 McNair (2002) 72 Satcher (2001) 76 McNair (2002); Paul (2005) 23
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review is that the ‘sexualisation of culture’77 is a First, the volume of sexualised images sign of cultural degradation.78 To enter and the extent to which they impinge on into this debate is beyond our remit; everyday life are significantly greater than rather, our concern is to map out, through they were as recently as two decades ago. clear analysis of the empirical research Public spaces are saturated with sexualised literature, the possible links between the images and messages.80 As a result, they sexualisation of culture and gendered and are visible to everyone, including children sexualised violence. and young people who may not have the maturity to rationalise and put what Broadly, those academics who accept they are seeing into context. At the same the phenomenon of sexualisation time, these images and messages are also approach it in two ways. On the one becoming more explicit. Increasingly, it hand, so-called ‘mainstream sexualisation’ seems, there is a blurring between the describes the democratisation of sex ‘mainstream’ media, whether in the form and sexuality and the breaking down of of billboard posters, magazine covers, binary oppositions (for example, male/ music videos, fashion shoots or film trailers, female or heterosexual/homosexual). On and the world of pornography. the other, there is the commercialisation of sexuality which may well involve the Second, because of the proliferation of appropriation of feminist terminology visual images, ‘social classifiers’ such as such as ‘empowerment’, ‘equality’ and ‘girl gender, class, race and age are being used power’. Arguably, this serves to reinforce to present exaggerated constructions of the dominant male gaze, by ensuring that femininity and masculinity. The resulting female sexual expression only gains validity caricatures – the big-breasted blonde under the surveillance of men; something bimbo, the ‘dirty old man’ – are defined that may be leading to increases in solely by their sexual attributes, attitudes sexualised violence among young people.79 or behaviours.81 In the case of the blonde bimbo, too, there is a strong link between Understanding the current apparent sexually availability and validation; phenomenon of sexualisation the ‘right’ physical attributes and the willingness to submit to male desires are a The term ‘sexualisation’ is used to describe ‘passport’ to acceptance, money and fame. a number of trends in the production and consumption of contemporary culture; the Third, children are increasingly being common denominator is the use of sexual portrayed in an ‘adultified’ way while, attributes as a measure of a person’s conversely, adult women are being value and worth. Although sexualised infantilised.82 This leads to a blurring of images have featured in advertising and the lines between sexual maturity and communications since mass media first immaturity. This is having the effect of emerged, the current phenomenon of sexualising girlhood and legitimising the sexualisation differs from what has gone notion that children can be related to as before in three important regards. sexual objects. 77 Gill (2009); Zurbriggen et al. (2007); McNair 80 McNair (2002) (2002); Paul (2005); Rush and La Nauze (2006) 81 Paasonen (2007) 78 Hitchens (2002); Paul (2005) 82 Evidence provided to the review by 24 79 Barter, McCarry, Berridge and Evans (2009) Dr K. Sarikakis (2009)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review The APA definition of objective here is to better understand the impact sexualisation is having now and to sexualisation identify effective strategies for combating In 2007, the American Psychological its negative effects. Association (APA) carried out an extensive review of the impact of sexualisation on young girls.83 The APA’s Sexualisation, learning taskforce provides the following definition and development of sexualisation as occurring when: A number of factors shape the way • a person’s value comes only children and young people respond to the from his or her sexual appeal or sexualisation of culture. One of the most behaviour, to the exclusion of other obvious is the individual child’s age and level characteristics; of cognitive and emotional development – • a person is held to a standard that a Pussycat Dolls video, say, will mean very equates physical attractiveness with different things to a three-year-old, an eight- being sexy; year-old and a 14-year-old. • a person is sexually objectified What is important to consider however – that is, made into a thing for is the cumulative effect that exposure to others’ sexual use, rather than seen sexualised messages and images will also as a person with the capacity for have over time. Throughout this report, independent action and decision we will argue that the ‘drip drip’ effect making; and/or is an insidious but powerful mechanism • sexuality is inappropriately imposed by which the previously unthinkable upon a person. becomes widely acceptable, often within a relatively short space of time. To give The APA views sexualisation as a just one example, cosmetic surgery continuum, with so-called ‘sexualised has moved from being predominantly evaluation’ (that is, looking at someone medical in nature to being the preserve with sexual intent) at one end and severe of Hollywood stars to being an accepted sexual exploitation, such as sexual abuse part of mainstream culture (see page 58) or trafficking, at the other. within just a few years. This report takes the APA definition as Developments in technology play a its benchmark, since it accurately reflects significant role, and while the internet the themes emerging from the evidence provides amazing learning opportunities, sessions held by the Home Office as part it also gives children easy access to age- of the Together We Can End Violence Against inappropriate materials, which they can Women and Girls consultation. Briefly, access alone, without the input and these themes are that the sexualisation mitigating influence of an adult who could, of children and the infantilisation of adult perhaps, help them to understand and women is having a negative impact on contextualise what they are seeing. young people’s body image and identity and making a significant contribution to As the learning and developmental the demand for the sexual exploitation theories outlined below demonstrate, of women and children within the UK. there is a considerable body of evidence We appreciate that academic debate to suggest that children do learn over the precise theoretical interpretation vicariously from what they see, and that of sexualisation is ongoing; however, our viewing inappropriate messages or images can have a detrimental effect. 83 Zurbriggen et al. (2007) 25
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Socialisation theories learned patterns of behaviour that individuals can use to control social Social learning theory84 is based on the interaction. As in social learning theory, principle that we learn by observing children learn by observing how others others’ attitudes and behaviours and by behave, encoding these messages and seeing the outcomes of those behaviours. using them to ‘script’ their own behaviour. It also posits a reciprocal relationship between cognitive, behavioural and For example, the combination of seeing environmental influences; that is, that how other people behave and exposure to, behaviour influences environment as well say, certain adverts and/or TV programmes as the other way round. could lead a child to conclude that, ‘For people to like me, I need to look pretty’ Gender socialisation theories such as or ‘Being a strong boy means playing gender schema theory85 are especially rough’. These conclusions will then relevant to understanding how hyper- dictate how they interact with others, the sexualised/hyper-masculinised images can expectations they impose on themselves influence thinking and form the basis for and others, and how they subjectively individuals’ beliefs about how they should assess and ascribe meaning to the world look and behave. The central premise is around them. Cognitive scripts can be that children learn what it means to be rehearsed (and reinforced) through either male or female from prevailing fantasy and play, ready to be acted out cultural norms and are then either praised when the trigger that first prompted the (and therefore reinforced) for adhering to encoding occurs again.87 these norms or, conversely, punished for going against them. Cognitive theories also cover beliefs that operate at an unconscious level, More recently, Bussey and Bandura have for example subconscious associations focused on how children’s own cognitive between beauty and thinness.88 A recent processes work alongside the socialisation study into how cognitive associations process that begins to take effect at are established uncovered a disturbing birth. The argument is that, once they manifestation of this phenomenon: after understand what society expects of them seeing sexually explicit content featuring with regard to gender roles and standards actors who appeared to be under-age, of behaviour, children start to internalise viewers were more likely to associate sex those expectations and create their own and sexuality with non-sexual depictions rules. They then, in effect, start to ‘police’ of minors.89 themselves in line with these self-imposed standards, adapting and monitoring their Understanding the effects of unconscious own behaviour without the need for processing is particularly relevant reassurance and reinforcement from considering how so many of the messages outside.86 that children have to contend with actually target their emotions at an Cognitive theories unconscious level. Various studies in the Cognitive theories such as schema theory fields of psychology and neuroscience and cognitive information processing have shown that it is often ones ‘emotional theory hold that social behaviour is instinct’ that influences decision making controlled by ‘cognitive scripts’; essentially, rather than cognitive reasoning. A good 84 First articulated by Bandura (1971) 87 Huesmann (1998) 85 Bem (1981) 88 Ahern, Bennett and Hetherington (2008) 26 86 Bussey and Bandura (1999) 89 Paul and Linz (2008)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review example is a recent study that found that Culture also dictates what is seen as using a celebrity voice to sell a product ‘acceptable’. Cultural spillover theory95 could make that product more desirable argues that when behaviours are accepted but only if the voice wasn’t specifically in one aspect of life, they become recognised; 90 the point being that if legitimised and therefore acceptable in people can recognise a voice, they can other areas, without the need for people be consciously cynical about whether to give their direct, explicit support. For they choose to believe the paid celebrity example, researchers have suggested that endorsement or not. However, if the voice the more a society legitimises the use is only recognisable to the subconscious, of force to attain ends for which there then the cognitive filters one could in is widespread social approval (such as theory use to moderate the messages are tackling crime or deploying military force), completely bypassed.91 the more the use of force becomes legitimised in other domains such as This sheds light on children’s emotional personal relationships.96 It seems logical to and cognitive development. So, for assume that the same principle of spillover example, when a message is linked to may operate with regard to sexualisation, positive, desirable feelings or images, and that the portrayal of women and it gains an emotional appeal that is girls in magazines and on billboards as independent of rational reasoning.92 sexualised objects will lead to their being Significantly, the onset of puberty is objectified elsewhere. associated with increased awareness of and responsiveness to rewarding stimuli. Objectification theories So brands and concepts with the ‘cool Objectification occurs when an factor’ hold out the promise of peer individual is treated not as a person acceptance, thus making them particularly but as a collection of body parts valued attractive to teenagers.93 predominantly for its use by others.97 Cultural theories Objectification theory98 cites the powerful role of visual media (including mainstream Individuals develop and ascribe beliefs and films, magazines, advertising and TV) in meanings to themselves and the world disseminating images that focus on bodies around them within a specific cultural and body parts which implicitly encourage context. Cultivation theory states that the viewer to adopt a ‘sexualised gaze’. individual perceptions and beliefs are Due to the proliferation of such images, shaped by ‘socialising’ influences such as theorists argue, sexual objectification has the media.94 In effect, media channels now effectively permeated our culture.99 act as ‘cultural advertisements’, telling Moreover, this objectifying perspective consumers what to focus on, what to is becoming internalised, with girls and value and how to value it. women increasingly viewing themselves and their bodies from a detached, third- person viewpoint: ‘How do others see me?’, rather than ‘How do I feel?’100 95 Baron, Straus et al. (1988) 96 Baron, Straus et al. (1988) 90 Forehand and Perkins (2005) 97 Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) 91 Berridge and Winkelman (2003) 98 Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) 92 Mayo and Nairn (2009) 99 APA (2007); Tankard-Reist (2010); Australian 93 Steinberg (2008) Parliament (2008) 94 Gerbner et al. (1994) 100 Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) 27
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review There are three main aspects to this Of course, some children and young phenomenon. First, it leads to body people are highly media-savvy and well surveillance, or the constant monitoring able to negotiate media content.106 of personal appearance. Second, this However, there is a large body of research monitoring can result in body shame, from developmental psychologists where an individual feels that their physical attesting to the fact that young children do appearance fails to meet the standards not have the cognitive skills to cope with they have set for themselves based on persuasive media messages.107 The APA idealised media images and, moreover, found that children are vulnerable to that they are a ‘bad person’ as a result.101 media messages because ‘they do not Body shame is strongly linked with body comprehend commercial messages in the dissatisfaction, a recognised risk factor for same way as do more mature audiences poor self-esteem, depression and eating and hence are uniquely susceptible to disorders.102 Third, an individual who sees advertising influence.’108 One commentator themselves as a sexualised object is more has likened exposing children to likely to believe that they should control advertising to ‘sending them to the beach their appearance and that, with hard work without sunscreen’.109 and effort, they can reach the (largely unattainable) standards prescribed by Children’s ability to interpret messages the media.103 is directly linked to their ability to understand abstract concepts. No matter Age and cognitive ability how sophisticated a six-year-old is, they simply do not have the abstract cognitive A meta-analysis of 25 years of research understanding needed to assimilate into the effects of media exposure information from advertisers and the shows clear links both between age and media in the way that an older teenager processing ability and between media or adult can.110 Yet, as we have already exposure, attitudes and, by extension, suggested, all age groups are increasingly behaviour. The media is a source of being exposed to the same images and learning.104 In fact it has been suggested messaging. that the media acts as a kind of ‘super peer’105 replacing messages from parents Children may also believe that they have or educators and gaining credibility in the understood a message when they have minds of young people by assuming an not. In fact, even as children get older authority of ‘coolness’. they are still susceptible to the hidden advertising and media messages that target them. As Mayo and Nairn put it, ‘the stimuli which kids don’t really notice and which create emotional associations are the ones that influence them in the most powerful ways’.111 This needs to be taken into account when studying how children 101 McKinley (1999) 106 Buckingham and Bragg (2004) 102 Moradi et al. (2005); Polivy and Herman (2002); 107 Mayo and Nairn (2009) Tolman, Impett, Tracy, and Michael (2006) 108 Kunkel, Wilcox, Cantor, Palmer, 103 Heinberg and Thompson (1996) Linn and Dorwick (2004) 104 Emmers-Sommer and Allen (1999) 109 Cooper (2004) 105 Levin and Kilbourne (2008). Quoted in Coy 110 Mayo and Nairn (2009) 28 (2009) 111 Mayo and Nairn (2009)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review are affected by media content, since conscious ones. Several studies have although they may believe and say that underscored the fact that it is not they understand specific messages their what young people say to a group of behaviours often indicate otherwise. researchers (or to themselves for that matter) that influences behavioural choices A recent study from Western Australia but rather the associations between examined how interactive advertisement behaviours and the ‘aspirational’ constructs games (‘advergames’) on a breakfast promoting them.113 cereal site influenced children’s attitudes.112 The children were split into two groups: It is important to acknowledge that the those that played the game and those that way that young people internalise media did not. When questioned both groups and advertising messages is complex: made it clear that they believed that fruit young people’s attitudes are often based was healthier than the fruity cereal in on their subconscious feelings, which the advergame they were playing, so the can be affected by ‘subtle emotional game did not override the healthy eating appeals’ that are not well controlled by messages they had been taught – or so conscious reasoning. In addition, in cases they told the researchers. However, when where young people have not developed it came time to make a choice between advertising literacy skills, it is then that the sugary cereal and other kinds of conscious learning is often dominated by food, it seems that the advergame had unconscious learning.114 a huge influence with 54% of the group who had played the game making the Even where images and messages are less healthy food choice as opposed to being consciously absorbed, without only 32% in the other group. Advergames guidance from a trusted adult, children work by making implicit associations and young people may be unable to between the product and the pleasure understand and contextualise violent derived from playing the game. This is or pornographic images or content and what makes certain media or advertising assume that they are appropriate models messages so powerful, they can change for behaviour and an accurate reflection children’s behaviour even though they do of how the world works. So, for example, not believe that their minds have been exposure to violent sexual images could changed at all. lead impressionable young men to assume that women want to be forced into sex, All of this suggests that exposing children which has serious implications for gender to images and messages that they are not equality in sex and relationships.115 yet equipped to deal with may well have a negative impact. It also suggests that while Children with learning disabilities may find children themselves may believe that they it particularly difficult to moderate or filter can understand and contextualise, say, a out unhealthy images or constructs. Sara Playboy logo on a pencil case or an attack Delaney, team manager of the Sexually on a prostitute in a video game, such Harmful Behaviour Team in Birmingham, encounters may be having a profound speaking during the review’s evidence impact on attitudes and behaviour at an sessions, pointed out that there is a unconscious level. lack of guidance generally on discussing sex and relationships with children that There is evidence to suggest that unconscious emotional connections are 113 Dal Cin, Gibson, Zanna, Shumate, Fong and much more enduring than cognitive Bargh (2002) 114 Mayo and Nairn (2009) 112 Mallinckrodt and Miserski (2007) 115 Emmers-Sommer and Allen (1999) 29
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review have learning disabilities. She indicated dissatisfaction. While it has been suggested that around 40 per cent of the children that exposure simply exacerbates existing assessed and treated in her unit have issues and that people with a negative some form of learning disability and body image are more likely to seek out that the vast majority of these children ‘thin’ images,120 there is nevertheless are developing their sexual scripts from a significant correlation between the pornography. She also pointed to a lack internalisation of the ‘thin ideal’, media of awareness of sexual norms and an pressure and body dissatisfaction.121 increase in inappropriate sexual touching ‘Internalisation’ describes the process in schools.116 by which an individual ‘buys in’ to social norms and turns them into guiding Cultural difference principles that inform their behaviour and decisions.122 Cultural, religious, and class backgrounds will influence the family’s role in mediating Internalisation has been shown to be the sexualised media content as well as what biggest predictor of body dissatisfaction in is deemed as appropriate and acceptable. girls123 although other factors – including There is a need for more research into cultural pressure, individual differences in how social location affects young people’s body mass and lack of social support – ability to cope with sexualised content,117 also play a significant part.124 and how schools in particular might help For boys, social pressure is the main cause to mediate sexualised and violent media of body image disturbance.125 Parental content and provide tools to support messages are the strongest influence young people.118 on body image in boys and young men, What we do know, however, is that while parents, the media and, to a lesser sexualisation occurs across all cultures and extent, the influence of male peers are all social classes, although the channels the strongest predictors of body change may vary. Sexualised or degrading images strategies.126 For boys, messages are likely of black women are commonplace in to centre around ideas of physical strength hip-hop videos, for example, while fashion and dominant, controlling behaviour. advertising is more likely to objectify white Internalisation is also a powerful means women. The psychological ramifications of by which the sexual norms and scripts self-objectification such as eating disorders promulgated by pornography become and plastic surgery (see pages 58–60) also normalised and help to shape young transcend race and class barriers.119 people’s views about intimacy and sexual relationships.127 Boys can be made to Internalisation feel that treating girls as sex objects and/ There are several theories that attempt or behaving in an aggressive manner to explain the link between exposure to idealised media images and body 120 Hill (2006) 121 Cusumano and Thompson (2001) 122 Thompson et al. (2004) 116 Evidence provided to the review by Sara Delaney (2010) 123 Stice and Bearman (2001) 117 Buckingham and Bragg (2004) 124 Stice and Whitenton (2002) 118 Thornburgh and Lin (2002) 125 Cash (2002); Ricciardelli and McCabe (2001); Thompson, Heinberg, Altabe and Tantleff-Dunn 119 Abrams and Stormer (2002); Atlas, Smith, (1999) Hohlstein, McCarthy and Kroll (2002); Barry and Grilo (2002); Goodman (2002); Hesse- 126 Stanford and McCabe (2005) 30 Biber, Leavy et al. (2006); Kolodny (2004) 127 Allen (2004)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review is the key to proving their manliness; boys in schools is the lack of healthy male beliefs which can be exacerbated by a role models. She noted that the ‘social lack of suitable role models.128 During scripts’ given to boys once again centre the evidence hearing sessions Holly around male dominance and control, with Elsdon-Smithers from the White Ribbon boys feeling that they have to prove their Campaign noted that one of the issues manliness by relating to girls either as that constantly arises in her work with sexual objects or in an aggressive manner. 129 Conclusion Young children have a natural, healthy documentary on glamour modelling interest in their sexuality. But when where a young aspiring glamour their developing sexuality is moulded model said: to fit adult sexual stereotypes, this can compromise that healthy developmental “It’s so nice to get your hair and your process. Children need time and space to make up done then for someone to develop their own understanding, rather shout you look fantastic, you look than being presented with constructs gorgeous. It’s a complete confidence that they may not be emotionally or boost, an ego boost. I think everyone cognitively ready to deal with. should do it. Everyone should have a glamour shoot done just for Much of the evidence suggests that themselves”129 instead of putting children and young people in control of their sexuality, we This young woman’s self esteem is are in danger of isolating them from it predicated on her appearance being altogether. And by doing so, creating a approved of by men and her confidence situation where young people are so boosted by fulfilling a superficial, aesthetic used to ‘packaging’ themselves for others’ ideal. Her point is that self-confidence consumption that they begin relating to can be achieved by conforming to themselves in the third person, where certain beauty standards – and of they become estranged from their own course such conformity is rewarded in bodies. industries that trade on and commodify female sexuality. Wanting to be attractive, wanting to be desired is natural. But it seems that Children and young people are not only increasingly young women’s dominant being exposed to an increasing number desire is to be desired. And this need is of hyper-sexualised images; they are also often to the detriment of other hopes being sold the idea that girls should look and aspirations. This is illustrated by a ‘hot’, regardless of their age. As such, they quote taken from a recent BBC are facing pressures that children in the past simply didn’t have to face. 128 Evidence provided to the Review by Holly Elsdon-Smithers, White Ribbon Campaign UK (2010) 129 Quoted in Coy and Garner (in press) 31
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Conclusion (cont.) Children’s ability to understand and beauty is not only narrow and assimilate information develops over unrealistic, it is also racially biased. Our time. Given the proliferation and seeming obsession with the monolithic accessibility of sexualised images, it is ideals of gender and beauty leaves such almost inevitable that children will come little room for manoeuvre that we are in into contact with content they’re not danger of ostracising and pathologising ready to understand. Not only can this the vast majority of children that don’t be upsetting and disruptive, it can also conform to that ideal. lead them to make assumptions about what’s appropriate that could lead Young people need to be allowed to them into potentially dangerous and develop and grow in surroundings where damaging situations. their self-esteem is not predicated on their ability to fulfil the hyper-sexy or For adolescents, untrammelled access hyper-masculine ideal, but where they to sexualised images at a time when are admired for their individual talents they are forming their own identity and and abilities. At a time when the visual coming to terms with their emerging increasingly takes precedence, we are not sexuality makes for a potent mix. For only teaching our children that looks are any child, the pressure is huge. But what all that matters, we are also prescribing about those children who don’t fit the an increasingly narrow and limited ’norm’? Those who’re gay? Those who physical ideal that is, for most of them, are disabled or come from a minority virtually impossible to achieve. ethnic background? The ideal for female 32
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review 5. Sexualised content and the mainstreaming of pornography “With all the unregulated pornography available online it feels like we’re tending a small part of one corner of the garden while a jungle of exploitative imagery grows around us.” Peter Johnson, Head of Policy, British Board of Film Classification130 130 Introduction Advertising doesn’t just sell products; photographs of barely clad actresses it sells aspirations and identities. and models, along with sexually explicit The proliferation and accessibility of strap lines, on the covers of mainstream advertising images and messages make it magazines and stock them alongside the increasingly difficult to target them at the comics in high street newsagents. High appropriate audience. With the advent of street stores sell video games where the mobile internet, it is almost impossible to player can beat up prostitutes with bats guarantee that messages are only being and steal from them in order to facilitate seen by the age group for which they game progression. The message is clear are intended. There is no ‘watershed’ on – young girls should do whatever it takes the internet, and many adverts are sent to be desired. For boys the message is indiscriminately to mobile phones and just as clear: be hyper-masculine and e-mail addresses. A child with a mobile relate to girls as objects. It’s no surprise phone literally has access to pornography therefore that when researchers in their pocket. examine the content of young girls’ web pages they find young teens are posting With proliferation and accessibility come sexually explicit images of themselves on normalisation. From the café culture of social networking sites, and self-regulating lap dancing clubs, to push up bras for each other with sexist, derogatory and 8-year-olds, we’ve reached a point demeaning language. where it’s seemingly acceptable to use 130 Evidence provided to the Review by Peter Johnson, British Board of Film Classification (2009) 33
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Introduction (cont.) With a tendency to ‘adultify’ children and ‘infantilise’ women, the As images that would have been found lines where childhood ends and shocking just a few years ago flood adulthood begins are becoming the mainstream, so the boundaries increasingly blurred. Girls who haven’t get pushed back further. We’re seeing even developed secondary sex adverts that reference gang rape and characteristics are posed to look overtly adverts where women are reduced sexy, while adult women are posed to to dismembered body parts. In fact look submissive and child-like rather the influences of the iconic visual than empowered and in control. It’s no constructs of porn are contributing to surprise therefore that for young female the emergence of a caricature of what actors and musicians, taking their clothes it means to be a woman. Being beautiful, off has become a rite of passage, a way being attractive, being ‘sexy’ is no longer of showing the world that they’re ‘all about individuality and the characteristics grown up now’. While boys are ‘allowed’ that make a person unique, it’s about to enter adulthood without needing ticking off items on a checklist: big breasts, to advertise their sexual availability or big lips, fake tan, fake hair, fake nails – and, desirability, they are nevertheless exposed of course, youth. to messages that reinforce the idea that they should be primarily motivated by The notion that all young women sex and that male desire is something who are socialised into believing that that cannot be controlled. This is having their worth lies in their sexuality and an impact both on boys’ attitudes to their appearance should have the ‘agency’ to own bodies and on their attitudes to and stand up to these images is naïve. This behaviour towards girls. assumes that: firstly, all these messages are assimilated on a conscious level The following section provides an so can easily be challenged; secondly, overview of how the media and that all young women are afforded the advertisers are promoting sexualised opportunity to moderate these messages images and messages and explores the through healthy parental and peer role of the internet. It also looks at the relationships; thirdly, that their own self- role of parents in providing support esteem is resilient enough to allow them to help their children understand and to question and stand up to prevailing contextualise what they see and hear. norms; and finally, that their education has It goes on to look at the various ways afforded them the kind of media literacy in which pornography has entered that allows them to ‘filter out’ unhealthy the mainstream, including through messages. The fact is that many young the internet and the proliferation people don’t have these opportunities of lapdancing clubs. Throughout, and, as such, are vulnerable to the we consider the implications of this messages both overt and covert that are exposure on children and young people’s propagated in the world around them. emotional and cognitive development. 34
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Magazines “Women’s magazines are a joke. There should be more magazines that empower “A more sexualised media hasn’t been women and focus on their rights, not just great for women. We’re still labelled. their appearance.” Can’t we just do what we like with Focus group participant138 our bodies? Labelling and stereotypes reinforce our inequality.” Conversely, the ‘lads mags’ targeted at young male readers typically feature Focus group participant131 highly sexualised images of women that Young people consistently cite the media blur the lines between pornography and as an important source of information mainstream media. At the same time, on sexual issues.132 In the US, the number they promote an idea of male sexuality of magazines targeting the teen market as based on power and aggression, rose from five to 19 between 1990 and depicting women as sex objects and 2000.133 Nearly half of 8–18-year-olds say including articles that feature strategies for they spend at least five minutes reading manipulating women.139 a magazine the previous day, with 22 per “It’s depressing that in this era women cent spending at least 20 minutes. On and young girls can go into mainstream average, 8–18-year-olds spend 14 minutes shops and be bombarded by highly a day reading magazines.134 sexualised images of naked young A dominant trend seems to be the women plastered over men’s magazines. need for girls to present themselves as Inside, readers’ girlfriends are encouraged sexually desirable in order to attract male to send in pictures of themselves topless. attention.135 Articles, cover lines, photos In the name of what? Freedom of and adverts encourage girls and women to expression? It’s a narrow and damaging look and dress in ways that will make them version of how young women should attractive to men: so-called ‘costuming for behave with regards to their sexuality and seduction’.136 Both language and images are their relationships with men.” sexualised,137 with repeated use of words Karen Bailey, such as ‘hot’ and cute’ reinforcing the Stella Project Co-ordinator140 idea that these are the qualities to which readers should aspire. 131 Women’s National Commission (2009) 132 Huston (1998); Buckingham and Bragg (2004); Donnerstein and Smith (2001); Greenfield (2004); Peter and Valkenburg (2007); Thornburgh and Lin (2002) 133 Teen Market Profile (2005) Quoted in APA (2007) 134 Roberts et al. (2005) 135 Carpenter (1998); Durham (1998); Garner, 138 Women’s National Commission (2009) Sterk, and Adams (1998); McMahon (1990) 139 Taylor (2005) 136 Duffy and Gotcher (1996) 140 Evidence provided to the review by 137 Rush and La Nauze (2006) Karen Bailey (2010) 35
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Children in magazines are often dressed This survey backs the findings of a group and posed in such a way as to draw of experts and researchers from the UK, attention to sexual features that they do USA, Australia, Ireland and a number of not yet possess, while advice on hairstyles, other countries. The group recently sent cosmetics, clothing, diet, and exercise a letter to the Advertising Standards attempt to remake even young readers Authority in response to the Authority’s as objects of male desire,141 promoting call for more evidence on the impact of premature sexualisation.142 Young girls are advertising on body image.145 Citing over encouraged to see themselves as objects 100 studies into the effects of idealised that must be sexually connected to a man media images on women and girls and in order to feel complete.143 While these further studies documenting the impact findings are mainly drawn from the United of the muscular ideal on young men and States, UK magazines feature very similar boys, the group reached the following themes and content. conclusions: Airbrushing: portraying • poor body image is linked to eating disorders, cosmetic surgery, images of ‘unattainable extreme exercising, unhealthy perfection’ muscle-enhancing activity, In a recent study of over 1,000 women depression, anxiety and low self- carried out by consumer cosmetics esteem; company Dove,144 more than two-thirds of • idealised media images have a women stated that they lacked confidence negative effect on a significant about their bodies as a result of viewing majority of adolescent girls and digitally altered images of models, while women, and this starts from an a fifth said they felt less confident in early age; their everyday lives. A quarter of those • advertising images of average-size questioned said that images used in models are just as effective as advertising made them feel self-conscious images of very thin women; about their appearance. Nearly all the • there is a lack of awareness about women surveyed – 96 per cent – said the extent to which images are they would like advertisers to be honest being altered; and about the extent to which they were airbrushing or digitally manipulating images. • better media literacy can reduce both the negative impacts of exposure and the tendency to internalise the thin ideal. 141 Duffy and Gotcher (1996) 142 Rush and La Nauze (2006) 143 Garner et al. (1998) 144 news.sky.com/skynews/Home/UK-News/ Airbrushed-Pictures-Of-Models-Again-Blamed- For-Womens-Increasingly-Poor-Self-Esteem/ Article/200911415471304?lpos=UK_ News_First_Home_Article_Teaser_ Region_2&lid=ARTICLE_15471304_ Airbrushed_Pictures_Of_Models_Again_ Blamed_For_Womens_Increasingly_Poor_ 145 The Impact of Media Images on Body Image 36 Self-Esteem and Behaviours, Misc. (2009)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review In France, a group of 50 MPs has There has also been a significant increase in introduced legislation calling for all digitally the amount of sexualised images of children enhanced images to be clearly marked. in circulation.151 Increasingly, young children in The bill had its first reading in the French adverts are being dressed, made up and parliament in September. posed like sexy adult models; conversely, adult women are being infantilised.152 “We want to combat the stereotypical Theorists argue that this ‘age compression’,153 image that all women are young and in blurring the boundaries between slim. These photos can lead people childhood and adulthood, is enabling the to believe in a reality that does not values perpetuated by some marketers to actually exist and have a detrimental encroach further and further into childhood. effect on adolescents. Many young people, particularly girls, do not know the The Advertising Standards Authority difference between the virtual and reality, (ASA)154 recently ruled that an advert for and can develop complexes from a very American Apparel clothing ‘could be seen young age.” to sexualise a model who appeared to be Valérie Boyer, Member of Parliament146 a child’. The advert consisted of six photos, with the model gradually unzipping her Advertising hooded top further and further until her nipple was exposed. She was styled Sexualisation in advertising is not a new wearing natural-looking make-up. Although phenomenon. Content analyses of TV the model in question was actually 23, the adverts stretching back to the 1970s show ASA stated that some of the shots made that gender-stereotypical ideas and images her appear to be under 16. are widely used.147 Nevertheless, over the past three decades there has been a While adults may be equipped to understand dramatic increase in the use of sexualised why such images are inappropriate, it is images in advertising. The overwhelming important to remember that children and majority of these images feature women.148 young people are often not. For example, in a recent study of 72 beer “Research establishes clearly that most and non-beer ads randomly selected from children under the age of approximately prime-time sports and entertainment eight years do not comprehend the programming, 75 per cent of the beer ads persuasive intent of advertising. Such and 50 per cent of non-beer ads were felt children lack the capability to effectively to be ‘sexist’,149 and featured women in evaluate commercial claims and objectifying roles.150 appeals, and therefore tend to accept the information conveyed in advertising as truthful, accurate, and unbiased. Consequently, children in this age range are uniquely vulnerable to commercial 146 www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ persuasion.”155 france/6214168/French-MPs-want-health- warnings-on-airbrushed-photographs.html 147 Courtney and Whipple (1974); Furnham 151 Rush and La Nauze (2006) and Voli (1989); Lovdal (1989); Rudman and 152 Rush and La Nauze (2006) Borgida (1995); Russo, Feller and DeLeon 153 Lamb and Brown (2006). Quoted in Coy (1982) (2009) 148 Reichert et al. (1999) 154 www.asa.org.uk/asa/adjudications/Public/TF_ 149 Defined as sexual and limiting in gender role ADJ_46886.htm 150 Rouner, Slater and Domenech-Rodriquez 155 APA Task Force on Advertising and Children (2003) (2004) 37
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Furthermore, the sheer proliferation Marketing also encourages young girls of such images leads to gradual to present themselves in a sexual way. desensitisation; research carried out One tactic is to present characters that among teenage girls found that their children strongly identify with in a highly objections to sexualised images tended to sexualised way.158 Bratz dolls, for example, decrease over time.156157 are targeted at four-to-eight-year-olds, yet most dolls in the range are heavily Taking steps to protect made-up, some of which are dressed in miniskirts and fishnet stockings. Another children tactic is to market objects to young girls The ASA’s remit requires it to have that are entirely appropriate on one ‘special concern for the protection of level but which nevertheless send out children’ and the Agency has a number disturbing messages: putting the Playboy of enforceable codes prohibiting, for bunny logo on a child’s pencil case is a example, advertisers from targeting prime example of how the line between children with misleading adverts, sexual immaturity and maturity can be adverts that put viewers under blurred. Such blurring – which also occurs pressure to purchase, and any adverts when adult women are presented in an that could cause harm or distress. infantilised way (for example, the recent Playboy cover of a model in pig-tails, Other countries have adopted various holding a teddy bear) – effectively suggests approaches to restricting advertising that it is acceptable to relate to children for children. In Greece, toy adverts in a sexual way.159 In his examination are banned on TV between 7am and of sexual portrayals of girls in fashion 10pm; Sweden bans all TV advertising advertising, Merskin (2004) puts it like this: aimed at children under 12; while Norway, Finland, and Denmark do “…the message from advertisers and not allow sponsorship of children’s the mass media to girls (as eventual programmes. The Broadcasting Code women) is they should always be sexually of Canada severely restricts children’s available, always have sex on their minds, advertising and bans any adverts that be willing to be dominated and eventually imply a product will make a child sexually aggressed against...”160 happier or more popular. In 2004, the Although the bulk of the research APA’s Task Force on Advertising and is currently focused on print and TV Children formally backed a proposal advertising, it is arguably the case that to restrict advertising to children aged internet advertising – which can be eight or under in the US. The task both interactive and prolonged – has an force highlights that as adults respond even more powerful effect on children to commercials by automatically and young people. That interactivity can applying cognitive filters, which tell encourage children to form strong bonds them that the commercial intends to with brands. persuade them, they expect biased information and interpret it accordingly. The basic economic concepts are also Children on the other hand lack these different. Whereas primary school cognitive filters.157 children can understand the basic 156 Survey carried out in New Zealand, Clark 158 Evidence provided to the review by the British (2008) Board of Film Classification (2009) 157 APA Taskforce on Advertising and Children 159 Ringrose (2010) 38 (2004) 160 Merskin (2004)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review principles regarding the exchange of sell identities to children especially girls, goods for money, they are less likely to allowing a child, for example, to adopt a understand how a gaming website may ‘rock chic’ look one day or a ‘bo-ho hippy’ be subsidised by selling advertising space. look the next.163 The notion of young girls Increasingly, new psychological research enjoying dress-up is nothing new. The vast is beginning to show that because of this majority of little girls have at least one older children are just as susceptible to princess dress in their wardrobe, and while advertising messages as those in junior there is nothing wrong with role-playing school.161 Neuro-marketing studies have with clothes and enjoying fashion, what shown that the reason behind this has to is concerning is that many of the choices do with the way our brain is configured: now available to young girls encourage the thinking part of our brain (the neo- them to engage and experiment with cortex) responds to cues differently themes that they may not be cognitively to the instinctive part of the brain (the or developmentally ready to engage with. limbic system). Researchers suggest that If we accept that girls are to some extent many decisions are made based on our experimenting with their identities through instincts rather than conscious reasoning. fashion then we need to consider the And since children’s and young people’s impact on increasingly younger girls being rational responses are less developed than marketed clothes designed to highlight those of adults, they are therefore more sexual characteristics that they do not vulnerable to media messages. yet possess. By over-emphasizing their sexuality through fashion it may make it Children’s clothing harder for girls to value themselves for other aspects of their identity. In their “The NSPCC’s position on this is that report on the sexualisation of girls, the by normalizing sexualised clothing and APA makes the point that when girls are behaviour, it opens up young girls to being dressed in miniature versions of adult exploited.” clothes, there is the danger that people Tom Narducci, will project adult motives, responsibility senior consultant, NSPCC162 and agency on girls, and that this in turn may have the impact of normalising the From push-up bras for pre-teens to high- sexual abuse of children.164 heeled shoes for four-year-olds, media reports of age-inappropriate clothing being targeted at young children have become common place. Researchers indicate that marketers use clothes to 161 Mayo and Nairn (2009) 162 Narducci T., [http://www.kidglue. 163 Lamb and Brown (2006); Pollett and Hurwitz com/2010/02/11/parenting-site-campaigns- (2004) against-sexualizing-young-girls/] (2010) 164 APA (2007) 39
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Corporate social Television responsibility “By depicting violence against women, especially young women, with increasing Reports published in Australia165 frequency, or as a trivial, even humorous and the US166 have called for greater matter, the networks may be contributing corporate social responsibility and to an atmosphere in which young people there are signs that at least some view aggression and violence against manufacturers are prepared to listen women as normative, even acceptable.”170 to the concerns of those working to safeguard children. In the UK, Tesco The world as depicted on TV is agreed to withdraw pole-dancing kits disproportionately male and it from the toys and games section of its disproportionately sexualises women website167 following complaints from and girls. There is also a significant under- parents. Toy manufacturer Hasbro representation of women and girls in shelved plans to produce a range of non-sexualised roles in films. In the 101 dolls based on the pop music group highest earning family films between the Pussycat Dolls, noted for their 1990–2004 over 75% of characters were revealing clothes and sexy image.168 male, 83% of narrators were male and 72% of speaking roles were male171 Females In autumn 2009, a group of large on television are far more likely than their companies including Mars, Lego, male counterparts to be provocatively Kelloggs and McDonalds, announced dressed172; sexual comments and remarks the launch of Digital Adwise, a set are commonplace, and are predominantly of online lessons aimed at teaching targeted at women.173 In an analysis of children about online content and 81 episodes of different prime-time US helping them to think more critically programmes, researchers observed that about media messages. “Children women’s bodies were frequently objectified and their parents need to better and that they were often subject to understand how the internet works, insulting allusions to their sexuality and lack not just as a platform but as a means of intellect. An average episode featured 3.4 for advertising,” said Nick Stringer, head examples of sexual harassment, of which of regulatory affairs at the Internet roughly two-thirds involved sexist or sexual Advertising Bureau.169 comments. Another analysis, this time of workplace-based sitcoms, found frequent 165166167168169 comments characterising women as sexual objects and jokes about women’s sexuality and bodies.174 Violence against women on TV is increasingly common. A US report found that depictions of violence against women on TV had risen by 120 per cent since 2004 while depictions of violence against 165 Rush and La Nauze (2006) teenage girls rose by 400 per cent. Over 166 APA (2007) 170 Parents Television Council (2009) 167 Fernandez, Daily Mail, 24 October 2006 171 Kelly and Smith (2006) 168 www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,196943,00.html 172 Eaton (1997) 169 Ramsay, ‘Brands back lessons about online advertising for UK children’, Marketing 173 Ward (2003) 40 Magazine, November 2009 174 Grauerholz and King (1997)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review the same period, violence occurring It is important to note that research irrespective of gender increased by just shows that children do question images 2 per cent. In 19 per cent of depicted and storylines based on sex on TV, yet offences, violence against women resulted sexualised imagery in advertising and TV in death. In the vast majority of cases (92 has become so ‘naturalised’ that children per cent) the violence – or its graphic typically lack the ability for a cultural critique consequences – was shown, rather than of sexism. Research illustrates that children implied or described.175 absorb the ‘male gaze’ and conform to a powerful ‘heterosexual logic’.177 Given the fact that the TV often acts as a ‘child minder’ for many families, it However, there is evidence to suggest is imperative that parents are aware of that TV programmes can be a valuable what constructs their children are being source of ‘sexual learning’, with material exposed to – simple measures such as from some programmes being used to switching the TV on and off to watch generate resources which have been used specific shows or not allowing children to support the Personal, Social, Health and to have televisions in their bedrooms Economic (PSHE) education and Media have been found to make a significant Studies curricula in secondary schools.178 improvement in terms of what children For example, the Channel 4 documentary, are exposed to and how they make the Sex Education Show Vs Pornography, sense of it.176 Spending time to speak to which explores the myths perpetuated by children about what they have seen and the porn industry, has been used as a sex how it impacts them has been shown to education tool in some schools. be one of the best ways to ensure that the messages they receive are moderated and challenged. 175 www.parentstv.org/PTC/publications/reports/ womeninperil/main.asp 176 Barr-Anderson, van den Berg, Neumark- 177 Buckingham and Bragg (2004) Sztainer and Story (2008) 178 Buckingham and Bragg (2004) 41
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review The role of parents Parents are a powerful force in shaping Parents can also contribute to the their children’s attitudes to gender sexualisation of their children in very and sexuality. Girls’ interactions with direct ways. For example, in the US, their mothers will tend to inform their children’s beauty pageants are high own response to cultural messages profile events. Although the number about thinness and body ideals:179 of children actually taking part is there is a clear link between the relatively small, coverage in news, TV extent to which mothers focus on programmes and advertising means their own thinness, their tendency to that the phenomenon has entered the criticise their daughters’ weight and mainstream. Increasingly, too, parents the likelihood of those girls developing are allowing and even encouraging their an eating disorder.180 Father’s attitudes children to undergo plastic surgery (see have a noticeable impact on the page 58) as a means of ‘fixing’ poor body gender-typing of children’s activities and confidence or low self-esteem. the extent to which children conform to the norm.181 Conversely, parents also have a vital role to play in supporting their children to There are some key variations by cope with and contextualise sexualised ethnic group. One US study182 found images and messages. Researchers that white mothers routinely engaged point to the damage that can result in ‘fat talk’ with their daughters, when children lack the emotional describing the girls as ‘... surrounded sophistication and psychological by excessive concerns over physical development to understand what they appearance and talk of feeling fat.’ are seeing and suggest that the solution Messages from fathers tended to be is for parents to play a more active role critical and often included a sexual in communicating with their children element, such as a reference to a about sexual matters.183 daughter starting to develop breasts. By contrast, African-American girls However, there are limits to what were getting much more positive parents can achieve alone. It is feedback from their parents. While imperative that companies that promote dieting rates were similar to those for the premature sexualisation of children white girls, African-American girls had for their own commercial interests act higher levels of body satisfaction and more responsibly, and that companies, self-esteem and were less worried advertisers and media outlets are about their weight. aware of and take steps to minimise the negative impact that the images and messages they promote are having on children and young people. 179180181182183 179 Ogle and Damhorst (2004) 180 Hill, Weaver and Blundell (1990); Levine, Smolak, Moodey, Shuman and Hessen (1994) 181 McHale, Crouter and Tucker (1999) 182 Nichter (2000) 42 183 Levin and Kilbourne (2008)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review The internet children and young people to create online identities. The fact that some, mainly “My younger cousins, they’re all under the girls, choose to present themselves in a age of 11, and they’re now coming into sexualised way has attracted considerable an age where the internet is all they’ve public attention.190 Interviews with ever known. When we were young, we 14–16-year-olds whose online profiles were still doing all the [outdoor] activities ‘raised issues around sexual representation and the internet wasn’t really around. So and identity’ found that girls are ‘under we’ve got balance. But maybe in five or particular and constant threat of failing to 10 years’ time that will change.” 184 meet the pornified and hyper-sexualised visual ideals of “perfect femininity” 2009 marked a watershed for the internet: online’.191 for the first time, companies spent more on online than on TV advertising. The “Are we seeing a ‘disciplinary technology internet is now the UK’s single biggest of sexy’, an increasing compulsion advertising medium, accounting for for young people to perform as 23.5 per cent of the total market.185 For sexual objects online? The increasing children and young people, this means normalisation of pornography and sexual more and easier access to sexualised commodification of girls’ bodies online marketing imagery and messages, as well leads to ‘real life’ anxieties, conflicts and as to many other forms of sexualised violence in their relationships at school.”192 online content. As Jessica Ringrose, a senior lecturer in Almost all (99 per cent) of 8-17-year-olds gender and education, indicated during have access to the internet,186 split roughly our evidence gathering sessions, “young equally between girls and boys.187 Since girls are presenting themselves as sexually 2008, the number of children with access active and sexually available, and young to the internet in their own bedroom has people are encouraged to subscribe to grown significantly, and now stands at 16 hetero-normative ideas of femininity and per cent of 8–11-year-olds and 35 per masculinity.”193 cent of those aged 12–15. In all, around a third of 8–11-year-olds and 60 per cent of Girls, for instance, report being under 12–15-year-olds say that they mostly use increasing pressures to display themselves the internet on their own.188 in their ‘bra and knickers’ or bikinis online, whereas boys seek to display their A quarter of internet users aged between bodies in a hyper-masculine way, showing eight and 11 have a profile on a social off muscles, and posturing as powerful networking site such as Bebo, MySpace and dominant. 194 Hyper-femininity and or Facebook.189 While sites set age limits hyper-masculinity posit heterosexuality as (typically 13 or 14), these are not generally the norm, influencing attitudes towards enforced. Social networking sites allow homosexuality in schools and beyond.195 Further, sexualised self-presentation could 184 17-year-old girl, quoted in Livingstone, Helsper and Bober (2005) 185 Internet Advertising Bureau www.iabuk.net/ 190 Kornblum (2005) en/1/adspendgrows300909.mxs (accessed 191 Ringrose (2010) November 2009) 192 Ringrose (2010) 186 Ofcom Media Literacy Audit (2008) 193 Evidence provided to the Review by Jessica 187 Lenhart, Rainie and Lewis (2001); Roberts et al. Ringrose, Senior Lecturer in gender and (2005) education, IOE 188 Ofcom (2009) 194 Ringrose (2010) 189 Ofcom (2008) 195 Ringrose and Renold (2010) 43
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review also mean that young people are exposing most likely to happen through instant themselves to danger from further afield: messaging and chat rooms.203 recently, public attention has focused on use of social networking sites such as Social networking and MySpace and Facebook to disseminate sexualised material and sexually solicit children underage children and young people.196 • 49 per cent of children aged 8–17 have an online profile (mainly Bebo, The rise of online networking presents MySpace, Facebook). considerable challenges for everyone coming into contact with young people.197 • 59 per cent of 8–17-year-olds use It has been suggested that schools, social networking sites to make new for example, have yet to address the friends. implications of young people’s engagement • 16 per cent of parents don’t know with social networking sites – activity whether their child’s profile is visible which takes place away from school but to all. which nevertheless has a profound impact • 33 per cent of parents say they set on young people and the way they engage no rules for their children’s use of with each other.198 Similarly, parents and social networking sites. carers must recognise that the internet • 43 per cent of children say their is increasingly bringing the dynamics of parents set no rules for use of social the playground into the home. We need networking sites.204 resources to ‘guide’ young people around new technologies and social relationships mediated through new communication Children’s websites204 technologies.199 Many websites for children are perfectly safe and have a high educational and social Cyberbullying – where victims are value. However, some are undoubtedly harassed via the internet or mobile encouraging very young girls to present phone – is consistently estimated to affect themselves as adult women and to focus around a quarter of secondary-age young on their physical appearance to the people,200 with some studies putting the exclusion of all else. figure as high as 75 per cent.201 Texting and instant messaging are particular areas At www.missbimbo.com, girls and boys of concern.202 Research conducted by are encouraged to use plastic surgery the University of New Hampshire found and extreme dieting to help their virtual that, while 15 per cent of young people characters achieve the ‘perfect figure’ surveyed had experienced unwanted and compete with each other to create sexual solicitation online, only 4 per cent ‘the coolest, richest and most famous were targeted via their social networking bimbo in the world’. The site currently has site. Where harassment did occur, it was over two million registered ‘bimbos’. At www.my-minx.com, girls create avatars who 196 For example, Slater and Tiggemann (2002) have ‘style off ’ competitions with each 197 Boyd (2008) other, go clubbing to ‘pull’ men and take 198 Ringrose (2009) the morning-after pill. Children of any age 199 Boyd (2008) can play as there is no robust method for 200 Action for Children (2005); Li (2006); Smith checking participants’ ages. (2005); Hinduja and Patchin (2007) 201 Juvonen and Gross (2008) 203 Ybarra and Mitchell (2008) 202 Noret and Rivers (2006); Smith et al. (2006) 204 Ofcom (April 2008) 44
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Maybe these games are supposed to be that 27 per cent of boys were accessing ‘ironic’ but the fact is that they normalise pornography every week, with 5 per cent topics ranging from cosmetic surgery viewing it every day. The survey also found to marrying for money as appropriate that 58 per cent had viewed pornography subject matter for child’s play. It is another online, on mobile phones, in magazines, powerful indication of how the boundaries in films or on TV. Another study, this time between what is seen as appropriate for of 9–19-year-olds, showed almost one in children and what is the preserve of adults eight had visited pornographic websites is being blurred. showing violent images.209 Exposure to pornography can also happen Pornography inadvertently. Nearly 40 per cent of “…men are still encouraged through 9–19-year-olds have accidentally seen a most pornographic materials, to see pop-up advert for a pornographic site; women as objects and women are 36 per cent have ended up on one by still encouraged much of the time to accident; 25 per cent have received porn concentrate on their sexual allure rather junk email; and 9 per cent have been than their imagination or pleasure.”205 sent pornographic images by someone they know.210 The YouGov survey showed Pornographic websites constitute around that nearly one in five had been sent 1.5% of all websites.206 Pornhub, YouPorn pornography via email or their mobile and RedTube are among the top 65 most phone without their consent.211 viewed websites in the UK. They also allow users to upload their own material. Such At the same time, there have been sites are based on the YouTube business changes in the nature of pornographic model and offer instant and free access to materials. The modern trend in explicit hardcore pornography with no effective ‘hardcore’ and so-called ‘gonzo’ pornography access controls in place to prevent is to depict sexual activity free from any children viewing the material. pretence of narrative or relationships, and to show participants (especially women) Each day, search engines deal with around being pushed to the very limits of their 68 million requests for pornographic physical capabilities, often in a group sex material – approximately a quarter of all scenario. Many ‘hardcore’ works also play searches on the net.207 This, combined with around with notions of consent, youth, the proliferation of sexualised images in innocence, inappropriate relationships, pain online advertising, suggests that both and violence in ways which range from pornography and sexualised images are relatively innocuous to extremely disturbing. becoming more widely available and easily accessible. A recent report by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and It is no longer a case of if a young person Society reviewed research carried out in will be exposed to pornography but 12 countries on the use of pornography. when. A 2008 YouGov survey208 of over It concluded that boys exposed to 1400 14–17-year-olds in the UK found pornographic material were more likely to see sex as casual and were more inclined to believe that there is nothing wrong with 205 Walter (2010) holding down and sexually harassing girls. 206 Zook, Report on the location of the internet adult industry. In: Jacobs, K., Janssen, M., Pasquinelli, M. (Eds.) (2007) 209 Livingstone and Bober et al. (2005) 207 Ropelato (2006) 210 Livingstone and Bober et al. (2005) 208 Sex Education Survey (2008) 211 Sex Education Survey (2008) 45
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review The study’s author, Michael Flood, said that Exposure to pornography also influences “there is compelling evidence from around behaviour outside the sexual sphere. the world that pornography has negative Recent research has suggested that young effects on individuals and communities.” people that display anti-social behaviour The point was also made that pornography are more likely to have been exposed shapes young people’s sexual knowledge to pornography. They also report more but does so by portraying sex in exposure, exposure at an earlier age, and unrealistic ways. In particular, they noted more extreme pornography use than that most pornography is both callous and their peers.217 hostile in its depictions of women.212 Pornography is increasingly normalising aggressive sexual behaviour, blurring the Pornography and lines between consent, pleasure and sexual behaviour violence.218 Research also indicates that the more explicitly violent the material, “From a young age, boys are taught that the more likely the viewer is to see they are entitled to consume women’s women as sex objects.219 Male ‘high bodies and are also fed unrealistic pornography consumers’ are more likely expectation of those bodies, sex and than low consumers to ‘act out’ behaviour relationships in general. At the same time, learned through watching pornography.220 girls are encouraged to embrace this as This has worrying implications, liberating.” particularly given the growing tendency Sophie Taylor, Greater London of pornographic films to feature violent Domestic Violence Project storylines (see page 45). There is strong evidence linking Over time, young people are internalising consumption of pornography with sexual the often violent and non-consensual behaviour. In a study of 718 US high messages and images they see in school students from 47 different high pornography and coming to accept school classes,213 29 per cent said that them as the norm. Pornography is also pornography had influenced their sexual normalising what until very recently behaviour. In a European study, 53 per cent would have been seen as niche practices of young men reported that pornography such as the removal of female public hair, had ‘inspired’ their sexual behaviour.214 giving a pre-pubescent appearance:221 a custom that is now permeating Research illustrates that high consumption mainstream culture. is also linked to the propensity to have sex outside a stable relationship.215 A survey of 471 Dutch teenagers aged 13–18 showed that the more young people sought out online porn, the more likely they were to see sex as a purely physical function, devoid of empathy. The more realistic the material, the stronger this view became.216 212 Flood (2009) 217 Bjørnebekk (2003). Quoted in Flood (2009) 213 Hanson and Tyd´en (2005) 218 Hanson and Tyd´en (2005); Dines (2009) 214 Tyd´en and Rogala (2004) 219 Peter and Valkenburg (2006) 215 Hanson and Tyd´en (2005) 220 Hanson and Tyd´en (2005) 216 Peter and Valkenburg (2006) 221 Dines (2008) 46
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review According to social learning theory, what sexuality than adults exposed to materials is important is not necessarily the content featuring older-looking models and are of the media itself but rather the implicit also more likely to associate sex and values that it represents, which provides sexuality with subsequent non-sexual the potential for harm. As such, what is depictions of minors.227 of importance here is not simply that a child sees two people engaged in sex, but “For some men, children became the more to do with the nuances surrounding object of their sexual desire, especially how the couple relate to each other and after they clicked on the pop-up ads for the attitudes this reinforces. As much of teen porn, which led them into the PCP the pornographic material available today [Pseudo Child Porn] sites, and eventually increasingly centres around gendered into real child porn. For some men, the themes of power and violence, then this teen sites were just a stepping stone to is what children will be responding to. the real thing, as they moved seamlessly Of course, as is the case with all media, from adult women to children.”228 effects on the viewer are mediated by the perceived realism of the material and an Computer games individual’s engagement with it.222 Online games are by far the most common way in which children aged ‘Barely legal’ pornography 8–11 in the UK make use of the internet, Despite a US Supreme Court ruling with 85 per cent of younger children in 2002223 criminalising ‘virtual’ child and 64 per cent of adolescents playing pornography – pornography featuring regularly.229 With advances in technology, adults who appear to be minors or games are becoming increasingly graphic computer-generated imagery of minors and realistic.230 At the same time, children – there has been an ‘explosion in the are more and more likely to play games number of sites that childify women’224 without adult supervision: three-quarters These include sites focusing on the of 12–15-year-olds have a games console youthfulness of the females depicted, on in their bedroom.231 loss of virginity, on pairing young women with much older men, and on glamorising Many games feature highly sexualised incest.225 There is also a trend for female content and there is a notable lack of porn actresses to appear in preambles strong female characters. In a recent to the main film talking direct to camera content analysis, 83 per cent of male about their early sexual experiences; often, characters were portrayed as aggressive, these will allegedly have taken place while while 60 per cent of female characters the actress was still a child.226 were portrayed in a sexualised way and 39 per cent were scantily clad. The There is evidence that such websites equivalent figures for male characters encourage consumers to view children as were 1 per cent and 8 per cent legitimate sex objects. Adults exposed to respectively.232 Violence against women ‘barely legal’ or virtual child pornography is often trivialised. For example, in the make stronger links between youth and 227 Paul and Linz (2008); Ashcroft v. Free Speech 222 Peter and Valkenburg (2006); Ward and Coalition (2002) Rivadeneyra (1999) 228 Dines (2008) 223 Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (2002) 229 Ofcom (2007) 224 Olfman (2008) 230 Martinez and Manolovitz (2009) 225 Dines (2008) 231 Ofcom (2009) 226 Evidence provided to the Review by Peter Johnson, British Board of Film Classification (2009) 232 Dill and Thill (2007) 47
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review game Rape-Lay, which was for a while increasing aggression in children and young available to buy online via Amazon.com’s people. The same learning processes that marketplace platform, players take on underlie these effects are also likely to the role of a rapist who stalks a mother work with sexualised content affecting before raping her and her daughters. sex-role beliefs, emotions and behaviour.237 There has also been a marked increase in the number of games depicting various Mobile devices forms of sexual abuse.233 The proliferation of media and the Many popular video games effectively increased accessibility of all kinds of reward children for engaging in violent, content is nowhere better illustrated illegal activity, albeit virtually. The potential than by the growth in the mobile phone negative effects are compounded by the market. By the age of nine, 52 per cent fact that so many children are playing of British children have a phone; by the these games alone. The point was made age of 15, that figure has risen to 95 per during the evidence sessions that, while cent.238 Mobile phones allow young people most parents are unlikely to let their child easy access to all kinds of online content, watch an 18-rated film, their attitude regardless of whether or not it is age to age-inappropriate games is more appropriate. lenient, perhaps due to their own lack of understanding of the games’ themes and The mobile porn industry content. The global mobile porn industry The link between violent content and is currently worth an estimated aggression has been cited in several $2 billion.239 Figures show that, in 2007, studies234 and although it is overly mobile phones were the UK’s biggest simplistic to make a direct link between distributor of pornography.240 Globally, cause and effect, Byron concluded it is telecoms companies made $1.7 billion widely accepted that exposure to content from ‘adult content’. Evidence suggests that children are either emotionally or that a high proportion of queries cognitively not mature enough for can made via mobile phone relate to have a potentially negative impact.235 adult content.241, 242 This is backed up by children themselves: in a recent Ofcom survey, two-thirds 239240241242 of 12–15-year-olds said they believed The use of mobile phones as a tool for that violence in games had more of an bullying, controlling or monitoring a dating- impact on behaviour than violence on TV partner has attracted considerable media or in films.236 attention recently, and was frequently raised during the evidence sessions held Several studies in the past have suggested as part of this review.243 Mobile phones that violent content can impact behaviour are also being used for so-called ‘sexting’ 237 Dill and Thill (2007) 238 Ofcom (2008) 239 Juniper Research, cited in Daw and Cabb (2009) 233 Martinez and Manolovitz (2009) 240 Juniper Research, cited in Daw and Cabb (2009) 234 Anderson and Dill (2000); Freedman (2002); 241 Kamvar and Baluja (2006) Deselms and Altman (2003) 242 Church and Smyth et al. (2007) 235 Byron (2008) 243 Evidence Hearing Sessions for the Review 236 Ofcom (2008) (May 2009 – July 2010) 48
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review – the sending of, often unsolicited, sexually subversive example of teens-being-teens explicit messages. in the context of modern technological opportunity’.250 A recent survey of 2,000 young people244 found that 38 per centof respondents had However, while the majority of the received a sexually explicit or distressing literature on the subject recognises that text or email and that, of these, 55 per cent young people have always pushed the were sent and received via mobile phones. boundaries of what is acceptable and that, The vast majority (85%) of ‘sexts’ were sent up to a point, ‘sexting’ can be seen as a by someone the recipient knew. The survey new way of doing something that young concluded that ‘peer to peer anti-social/ people have always done, it also stresses predatory behaviour is one of the biggest the unprecedented scope of this new threats facing our young people today media. With this new wider scope comes online and via mobile phones’.245 These new risks, the full extent of which may not findings support Palfrey’s contention that have registered with teenagers. in many cases children’s safety and security is being undermined by their peers, rather Music videos and lyrics than by unknown adult predators.246 On average, young people listen to Most of the available literature on ‘sexting’ music for between 1.5 and 2.5 hours comes from the US and is based on each day.251 Music lyrics and videos are an online survey commissioned by The therefore a significant potential influence National Campaign to Prevent Teen and on young people. Music videos across all Unplanned Pregnancy.247 This survey genres sexualise and objectify women found that 20 per cent of teenagers and between 44 and 81 per cent of aged 13–19 have either sent or posted music videos contain sexual imagery.252 ‘nude or semi-nude’ images of themselves; Emerson notes that artists tend to findings which have been questioned on ‘portray themselves with a highly stylised the grounds that those responding to an and glamorous image’253 and that that online questionnaire are inherently more image is often highly sexualised. Arnett likely to answer ‘yes’. Others have pointed supports this, claiming that ‘...the portrayal out that C.J. Pascoe’s research248 in the of sexuality in popular music has become same area found hardly any mentions of less subtle, [and] more explicit.’254 ‘sexting’. However, the comparison may be unviable as Pascoe’s research had a Women are often shown in provocative wider remit, was conducted by an adult in and revealing clothing,255 and portrayed a face-to-face setting and was was largely as decorative objects that dance and carried out before ‘sexting’ became a widespread trend.249 The phenomenon has 250 Dr Richard Chalfen, guest blogger, Center on also been viewed as ‘a modern and slightly Media and Child Health http://cmch.typepad.com/cmch/2009/04/ perspectives-on-sexting-past-i.html 244 Beatbullying (2009) 251 Martino and Collins et al. (2006) 245 Beatbullying (2009) 252 Gow (1990); Greeson and Williams (1986); 246 Palfrey et al. (2008) Sherman and Dominick (1986); Argarbright 247 www.thenationalcampaign.org/SEXTECH/PDF/ and Lee (2007); Brown, L’Engle, Pardur, Guo, SexTech_Summary.pdf, retrieved February Kenneavy, Jackson (2006); Peterson, Wingood, 2010 DiClemente, Harrington and Davies (2007) 248 Pascoe et al. (2007) 253 Emerson (2004) 249 http://abluteau.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/ 254 Arnett (2002) which-is-epidemic-sexting-or-worrying-about-it/ 255 Andsager and Roe (1999), Seidman (1992) 49
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review pose rather than, say, singing or playing an One study based on a sample of 160 instrument 256 They are depicted as being songs found that an average of 16 per in a state of sexual readiness, and there cent contained sexually degrading261 is often a focus on their bodies or on lyrics, rising to 70 per cent within certain specific body parts and facial features.257 genres.262 A 2006 study revealed that, Even where women are the performers, while lyrics from almost all music genres they are often presented and portrayed contained sexual content, degrading sexual in an overtly sexual way. Violence occurs content was most apparent in rap-rock, in 56.6 per cent of videos and visual rap, rap-metal and R&B. The researchers presentations of sexual intimacy in over identified a possible link between 75 per cent. Perhaps most tellingly, 81 per exposure to popular music and early cent of the videos containing violence also initiation of sexual activity, pointing to the include sexual imagery.258 Males are often prevalence of sexual themes and referring shown as hyper-masculinised and sexually to a previous longitudinal study linking dominant. music video consumption with risky sexual behaviour.263 In their experiment on exposure to pornography, Zilllmann and Bryant It is important to remember here that the demonstrated that frequent exposure to possible association between sexualised pornography resulted in both men and lyrics and sexual attitudes is not related women becoming more accepting of to the sexual content of the lyrics alone rape myths. Put simply, ‘rape myths’ are but also to their degrading nature.264 a collection of untruths which minimises Lyrics like these are often accompanied the occurrence of sexual violence and by comparable images, for example, rap diminishes the aggressor’s responsibility. artist Nelly swiping a credit card through While this study was primarily concerned a young woman’s buttocks (Tip Drill) and with measuring the effects of exposure women being walked on leashes (P. I. M. P. to explicit sex, it did suggest that milder by 50 cent).265 In an article published in the forms of sexual content, including the April 2009 issue of the American Journal of depiction of women as sexual objects, Preventive Medicine, researchers found that might yield similar results.259 teenagers who preferred popular songs with degrading sexual references were Research into the often sexual and violent more likely to engage in intercourse or in content of music lyrics is comparatively pre-coital activities.266 thin on the ground. However, the APA Task Force260 noted the tendency of popular The identities celebrated through different song lyrics to sexualise women or refer music genres like rap and hip-hop has to them in a derogatory manner, citing highlighted some of the racist portrayals examples from popular mainstream artists of young black women. Researchers like N-Dubz (‘I don’t mean to be pushy, have suggested that young black girls are pushy, I’m just in it for the pussy, pussy’) and 50 Cent (‘I tell the hos all the time, Bitch 261 Sexually degrading, as defined by (Rudman get in my car’). and Borgida (1995)) “An environment that implicitly primes perceivers to categorise women negatively (e.g. as sexual objects in an inappropriate context)” 256 Arnett (2002); Gow (1990) 262 Martino et al. (2006) 257 Vincent et al. (1987) 263 Martino et al. (2006) 258 Sherman and Dominick (1986) 264 Martino et al. (2006). Quoted in Coy (2009) 259 Zillmann and Bryant (1989) 265 Coy (2009) 50 260 APA (2007) 266 Primack (2009)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review being encouraged to align themselves with glamorised versions of pimp/ho chic as a means of attaining personal and social power, but that these portrayals in themselves reflect sexist, racist stereotypes.267 Conclusion More than 30 years ago, cultural theorist The process of internalisation is gradual Marshall McLuhan pointed out that we and insidious. If you’re told that being perceive the effect the media has on us pretty means being thin, that being about as well as fish perceive the water attractive means showing off a ‘sexy they swim in. The evidence suggests that body’, that objectifying women makes it’s time for this to change; time that we you more of a man enough times, you take a critical look at the impact of the start to believe it’s true. Young people media messages to which our children who choose to present themselves and are exposed and start thinking about to behave in this way are simply following how we can mitigate the negative effects. a script, and it’s a script that we keep giving them over and over again. The fact is that the ideal of beauty presented in the media is arbitrary and Of course, young people’s reactions to limiting. But for young girls, without the this barrage of sexualised imagery and experience and ability to filter those negative messaging will be informed by messages, without the confidence and a whole host of factors. Socio-cultural self-esteem to contextualise what they’re factors, family norms, personality seeing, the message comes across loud variables and education all play a and clear: the only thing that matters role. Nevertheless, the impact of our is being attractive and the only way to tendency to internalise such messages be attractive is to be submissive and and the implications of this for our sense overtly sexual. And at the same time, of self and self-worth should not be we’re telling boys that the less emotion underestimated. they show and the less respectful they Installing filters on computers and locks are towards girls, the more ‘manly’ on mobile phones is important, but the become. 267 Coy (2009); Lamb and Brown (2006); Rose (2008) 51
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Conclusion (cont.) sexualised content is everywhere and At the same time, we need to find young people are often accessing it ways to guide children and young alone, giving them no opportunity to ask people around developing tools as questions or discuss their feelings. informed media-savvy consumers. They need to be able to understand that Businesses and the media have a part a magazine is selling a fantasy, and to to play, too. To take just one example, distinguish that fantasy from reality. They how many people must have been need to know that images are routinely involved in the development of the game being digitally altered – in some cases, Rape-Lay? How many people either almost beyond recognition – and they pretended not to notice its content, or need to be equipped with the tools to pretended that it didn’t matter? That moderate and mitigate the effects of the game is now no longer available through message and images that they come into Amazon.com’s online marketplace, and contact with. It is only when children and there are many other examples of age- their care-givers are given knowledge and inappropriate games and clothing being skills around media literacy, the rights and put on sale and subsequently withdrawn. responsibilities of sexual relationships, But there should be more to corporate and safe engagement with technologies, responsibility than simply saying sorry that they will be able to navigate, after the event. Businesses should be question and challenge the images and thinking from the outset about what a messages they are exposed to. product, a strapline, an image is really saying to children and young people. 52
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review 6. The impact of sexualisation “…pre-adolescents and adolescents are like actors as they experiment with different features of their newly forming identities and try on different social ‘masks’. This plasticity may make them especially susceptible to the messages society conveys...”268 Introduction 268 As is the case with body image have a greater sense of humour. disturbance, sexualisation occurs on a Unfortunately, it’s under the guise of continuum. You don’t have to experience having humour and being open-minded sexual abuse to experience sexualisation, that the all important debates we need in the same way that you don’t have to be having are being avoided. to have Body Dysmorphic Disorder to Attitudes change and evolve over experience body dissatisfaction. time. We are now so desensitised to A sexist song lyric, a doll in full make up the objectification of women there and fishnet tights, a pre-teen who wears is research to show that many young a push-up bra to get the attention of women joke about and regulate each boys – these examples of sexualisation others’ behaviour by using demeaning in action seem benign and, taken in sexist terms. In fact, so normalised has isolation, perhaps they are. But the point this objectification become that pairing is that these things aren’t happening in up young babies with sexual innuendo is isolation. They’re happening together, seemingly commonplace. A cursory web they’re happening to younger and search of cute or funny baby clothes, younger children, and in many cases brings up a host of examples – one they are not being counterbalanced of which is a baby outfit with words by guidance from a responsible well- ‘My mommy is a M.I.L.F’ with the caption informed adult. And because what is ‘Baby wants to let everyone know that relevant is the interaction of these his/her mom is a hottie! A cute and funny different social cues or behaviours, taking Creeper or T-Shirt for your baby, infant, any one in isolation is usually dismissed or toddler.’ Funny or not, this is indicative as moral panic, with the suggestion that of how attitudes shape social behaviour. people need to be more relaxed, to 53 268 Strasburger and Wilson (2002), paraphrased in Zurbriggen et al. (2007)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Introduction (cont.) There is strong evidence to show that Clearly, through various mechanisms, children learn from what they see, and girls have been encouraged to see that they internalise those messages their value and hence seek to control to create their own set of ‘rules’ and or affect their lives through being thin codes of behaviour. From the messages and beautiful. Now we’re starting to that they get from their parents and see what happens when you tweak the peers, to the ads they view and the message to tell girls that they need to be games they play, children are constantly not only thin, but also sexually desirable. being bombarded with, and need to Interestingly, as anorexia increases so now make sense of, both overt and covert does the number of young women having messages around them. breast implants and at an increasingly younger age. The intent arguably is to Interestingly, although we are happy to feel accepted, to feel desirable and to acknowledge the educational value of feel in control of their destinies – after games, there seems some hypocrisy all, as some theorists would argue, the when it comes to what we are willing to sexualisation of young women is now accept that children are actually learning. being re-packaged as empowerment. Making the point that educational computer games can help develop It can be tempting to think that girls are learning is fine but we can not in the taking the brunt, that boys have it easier. same breath state that violent or gender- It still seems to be the case that a man stereotyped games have no effect. can be recognised and respected for something other than his looks. But in It’s pretty clear that the mechanisms we some ways, the messages we’re sending have used over the years to tell girls they out to boys are just as limiting and should be thinner are working. Eating restrictive: be macho, be strong, don’t disorders are on the rise with BEAT (a show your emotions. Hyper-sexualisation National Charity offering support for of femininity can’t exist without hyper- people affected by eating disorders) masculinisation of males. They feed off and several other international studies and reinforce each other. reporting increases. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental In this section, we look at how illness. The mortality rate associated with sexualisation is affecting people’s anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than confidence, self-esteem and mental the death rate from all causes of death health, influencing the way individuals for females 15–24 years old.269 relate to each other and effectively reshaping social norms. 269 54 269 http://www.anorexia-nervosa-treatment.net/index.php (US statistics)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Body image magazines is linked with concerns about physical appearance and eating problems.275 “I’m probably going to get my tits done soon. It’s not really that big a deal any more. Loads Evidence also suggests that ‘…negative of people do it.” self-evaluation in terms of body weight and appearance is being practised by Girl, 15, interviewed by increasingly younger generations. This Respect UK270 includes boys as well as girls.’276 Children as The mass media promotes and reinforces young as six are expressing dissatisfaction an idealised notion of beauty for both with their bodies and concerns about their men and women, presenting standards – weight.277 A series of group discussions run of thinness for women and of muscularity on behalf of the Girl Guiding Association for men – that few can ever hope to with girls aged seven and over found that achieve. As girls are hyper-sexualised, so many were seriously dissatisfied with their boys are being hyper-masculinised. Of appearance and weight. Nearly three- course young people respond to media quarters of 7–11-year-olds wanted to messages in complex ways but repeated change some aspect of their appearance. exposure to these images and messages By the age of 10–11, one in eight wanted can lead both sexes to internalise to be thinner, rising to 21 per cent among potentially harmful messages about their 11–16-year-olds and 33 per cent of those own behaviour, their relationships with aged 16–21. Among this older group, each other and, ultimately, their value as 50 per cent said that they would consider human beings. having cosmetic surgery to change their appearance.278 Researchers agree that the female bodies depicted in the media are getting thinner.271 The pressure on boys to be muscular may There is also evidence to suggest that girls be just as harmful as the pressure on girls and young women adopt and internalise to be thin.279 A study of 595 adolescents idealised representations of the female found that, while exposure to idealised form.272 An analysis of results from 25 adverts did not lead to increased body experimental studies revealed that women dissatisfaction for boys, it did lead to felt significantly worse about their bodies increased negative mood and appearance after viewing pictures of thin models comparison for both sexes.280 A self- than after viewing images of average- or reporting exercise involving 14–16-year- plus-sized models.273 Similarly, men were olds281 found that both boys and girls were more depressed and had higher levels of experiencing body shame and practising muscle dissatisfaction after seeing adverts body surveillance.282 containing idealised images.274 For both Idealised images also influence boys’ sexes, exposure to idealised images in attitudes to girls’ bodies. A group of 13–15-year-old boys looked at 20 adverts 270 Focus group consisting of African young people living in South London. Held by Respect UK 275 Morry and Staska (2001) (2010) 276 Hill (2006) 271 Ogletree, Williams, Raffield, Mason and Fricke 277 Flannery-Schroeder and Chrisler (1996); (1990); Silverstein, Perdue, Peterson and Kelly Smolak and Levine (1994) (1986); Wiseman, Gray, Mosimann and Ahrens (1992) 278 The Guide Assocation (2009) 272 Thompson and Stice (2001); Schooler, Ward, 279 Botta (2003) Merriwether and Caruthers (2004) 280 Hargreaves and Tiggemann (2004) 273 Groesz et al. (2002) 281 Knauss and Paxton et al. (2008) 274 Agliata (2004) 282 Botta (2003) 55
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review featuring idealised images of thin women, Several researchers have demonstrated while a second group looked at neutral the way the female body is depicted in the images. The groups were then asked to media has become increasingly thin over rank 10 characteristics, including slimness the years and that body weight trends in and physical attractiveness, according to fashion and media mirror trends in the their importance when choosing a partner wider society.286 What we need to take or girlfriend. Results suggested that boys note of is why girls have internalised the were more likely to rate slimness and beauty myth and the thin ideal. The subtle attractiveness as important after viewing pre-conscious messages linking thinness to the ‘thin ideal’ images, and pointed to success and happiness have actually had a link between this and boys’ level of a significant impact on young women’s concern with their own body image. The behaviour and decision-making. This is researchers concluded that the media evidenced by the increasing focus on was leading boys to have unrealistic body dissatisfaction and rise in cosmetic expectations of girls and to evaluate them surgery and eating disorders. Researchers in an unfavourable and unrealistic way.283 and clinicians have also noted a tendency amongst girls for self-objectification, i.e. Body image and the process whereby one becomes more sexualisation concerned and engaged with how ones body is perceived by others while de- “Body dissatisfaction is the discrepancy emphasising ones own subjective feelings, between someone’s actual body size and and internal awareness.287 the ideal body size presented in the media. Body dissatisfaction is so ubiquitous that it is The case of body image is a good example described as normative.”284 of what happens if we encourage girls and young women to equate their self-worth The concept of body image arises often with narrow idealised representations of when looking at the issue of sexualisation. the female form. Perhaps it also gives us The process by which idealised forms some insight into where we are headed of the body are internalised and how with the hyper-sexualised environment this relates to sexualisation and self- that young girls are growing up in today, objectification is important to consider. where the dominant message to girls There is trend research that suggests that seems to be to focus on others’ sexual young girls adopt and internalise idealised interest in and physical judgement of representations of the female form them, rather than their own desires, depending on what is being celebrated abilities and interests. and validated by their culture.285 286 Ogletree, Williams, Raffeld, Mason and Fricke (1990); Silverstein, Perdue, Peterson and Kelly 283 Hargreaves and Tiggemann (2003) (1986); Wiseman, Gray, Mosimann and Ahrens 284 Murnen et al. (2003) (1992) 56 285 Cash and Fleming (2002) 287 APA (2007)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review The long-term effects When girls evaluate themselves idealised – and, for most, unachievable against unrealistic airbrushed images – representation of the female form, it cultivates a feeling of falling short, we are encouraging them to think of not being ‘good enough’. This then of themselves as objects. Girls are leads to appearance anxiety – a process becoming more concerned with how labelled by some theorists as ‘normative others perceive them than with their discontent’.288 Hyper-sexualised, value- own interests and desires.291 laden images and messages that girls are exposed to are having a profound This self-objectification fits well with impact not only on their body image the current media focus on self- but on their sense of self. improvement – not in the form of learning a new skill but of enhancing The evidence suggests that even brief one’s physical appearance.292 The exposure to images of thin models implication is that the antidote to can lead to acute body dissatisfaction; whatever ails you – bad relationships, similar trends emerge from longer-term depression, low-self-esteem – is to studies. One such study looked at the change the way you look to more impact of giving girls a subscription closely resemble the current ideal. to fashion magazines on levels of thin ideal internalisation, body dissatisfaction, It has been suggested that greater media dieting and bulimia and negative feelings literacy could help to ameliorate the and emotions. The research found negative effects of exposure to idealised that extended exposure was likely to images.293 However, some researchers have a long-term impact on ‘vulnerable’ have expressed the concern that, over teenagers.289 time, any benefit would be outweighed by the sheer volume of images in There has been a subtle but significant circulation, suggesting that, to be truly shift with regard to what girls are beig effective, measures to improve media validated for. Increasingly, the message literacy needed to be accompanied being sent out to girls is that youth and by wider use of average-sized models beauty aren’t enough: they’ve got to be and initiatives aimed at encouraging ‘sexy’, too. Sexiness and desirability form society as a whole to take a more the core of a girl’s value and identity.290 critical and questioning approach to the And when we encourage girls to equate perpetuation of unrealistic ideals. their self-worth with a narrow, 288289290 291292293 288 McRobbie (2007). Quoted in Coy and Garner (in press) 291 APA (2007) 289 Stice and Spangler et al. (2001) 292 Brumberg (1997) 290 Gill (2007) 293 Yamamiya and Cash et al. (2005) 57
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Plastic surgery Mental health “Sexualisation leads to poor self-image and Exposure to the sexualised female ideal lack of confidence in girls that affects health is linked with lower self-esteem, negative and the capacity to reach potential.”294 moods and depression in young women and girls.301 Adolescent girls exposed to Rising levels of body dissatisfaction and the adverts featuring idealised women have de-medicalisation of plastic surgery has significantly higher State Depression led to a major increase in the number of scores302; and frequent exposure to films, women seeking to achieve the thin ideal TV and music videos featuring idealised by surgical means. The UK spends more images is linked to lower self-esteem303 on plastic and cosmetic surgery than any (particularly among Black and Latino other country in Europe, with the total young people),304 stress, guilt, shame and figure for 2009 expected to reach insecurity.305 Researchers have suggested £1.2 billion.295 As many as 15 per cent that internalising conventional ideas of those who undergo cosmetic surgery about femininity leads girls to question have body dysmorphic disorder, where their worth as individuals and that, the sufferers become fixated on what are in more depressed they become, the more reality quite minor physical flaws.296 likely they are to suppress their feelings In 2005, over 77,000 invasive plastic about their bodies and ignore their own surgery procedures were performed ‘authentic’ voices.306 on young people aged 19 or under in In a longitudinal study spanning four America.297 By 2008, the total number years, Stice and Hayward et al. identified of plastic surgery procedures (including body dissatisfaction, eating disorders minimally invasive procedures) carried and depression as accurate predictors out on young people aged 13–19 had of which girls would go on to develop reached 219,136.298 According to the ‘major depression’.307 Another, shorter, American Society of Plastic Surgeons,299 longitudinal study by the same researchers young people are having plastic surgery to found that although there was no fit in with their peers and to improve their statistical relationship between long-term self-esteem and confidence. Evidence also exposure to thin images, the internalisation suggests that a growing number of parents of the thin ideal and body dissatisfaction, are allowing their daughters to undergo dieting and bulimic symptoms, vulnerable plastic/cosmetic surgery in order to treat viewers were suffering adverse effects.308 poor self-esteem or poor body image.300 Links have also been identified between feeling dissatisfied with one’s life and the consumption of online pornography. Researchers observed a vicious circle 294 Coy (2009) 295 www.cosmeticsurgerybible.com/2009/news/ 301 APA (2007) uk-cosmetic-surgery-negligence-claims- increase/703) 302 Durkin and Paxton (2002); Mills, Polivy, Herman and Tiggemann (2002) 296 www.cosmeticsurgerybible.com/2007/types- of-surgery/breast-enlargement/breast-implants- 303 Rivadeneyra, Ward and Gordon (2007); Ward linked-to-suicide-risk/105) (2004) 297 American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) 304 Rivadeneyra, Ward and Gordon (2007) (2008) 305 Stice and Shaw (1994) 298 ASPS (2008) 306 Tolman, Tracy, Michael and Impett (2006) 299 ASPS (2008) 307 Stice and Hayward et al. (2000) 58 300 ASPS (2008) 308 Stice and Spangler et al. (2001)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review effect, with dissatisfaction leading to more body dissatisfaction,315 and eating disorder problematic internet use leading in turn to symptomatology.316, 317 These links cannot greater dissatisfaction and so on.309 be explained away by a prior interest in fitness and dieting.318 Eating disorders Furthermore, a study involving 366 “I think that today’s...media puts a lot of adolescents found that exposure to so- pressure on young people. In the last year called ‘fat character TV’ (where fatness or so I’ve started worrying a lot more about is portrayed in a negative light and/or as my weight and body image. That could be being synonymous with traits like gluttony, caused by all the magazines I read in a untrustworthiness and sloppiness) week.”310 predicted eating disorders in older girls, while ‘fat character TV’ predicted The eating disorder charity BEAT body dissatisfaction among younger estimates that 1.6 million people in the boys.319 There is also a link between UK have an eating disorder. The vast the consumption of fashion and beauty majority of these – some 1.4 million – are magazines and dieting practices such as female.311 Over time, the fluctuation in limiting the intake of calories and taking eating disorder levels reflect changes in diet pills.320 fashion and, therefore, in the ‘desirability’ of the idealised thin body shape.312 Just as with body image (see page 55), eating disorders are affecting children at “The ratios of bust-to-waist and hip-to-waist a younger and younger age. The same measurements of women depicted in Vogue research321 found that 42 per cent of and Ladies Home Journal were low in the girls aged 11–16 had either carefully 1920s and 1930s, high in the 1950s, and low monitored their food intake or restricted again in the 1960s and 1970s. ...these ratios their intake of certain foods ‘to excess’. varied over time inversely with the occurrence Another study322 surveyed 581 nine- and of anorexia nervosa in 10-19-year-old girls. 10-year-old girls and found that 11 per The thin, non-curvaceous standard preceded cent of nine-year-olds and 7 per cent of the time periods when the rates for anorexia 10-year-olds scored ‘in the anorexic range’. nervosa were highest.”313 Over a third of girls selected ‘ideal’ figures Numerous studies link sexualisation and that were smaller than their actual bodies. the depiction of women as sex objects While levels of body dissatisfaction were to the occurrence of eating disorders. consistent across ethnic groups, girls from This supports findings pointing to a link minority ethnic backgrounds scored higher between exposure to adverts and TV for eating disturbances. programmes featuring slim models and inaccurate estimations of body size,314 309 Peter and Valkenburg (2006) 315 Irving (1990); Richins (1991); Stice and Shaw (1994) 310 Girl quoted in Growing up in a material world – Charter on Commercialisation (2007) 316 Harrison and Cantor (1997); Stice et al. (1994) 311 www.b-eat.co.uk/PressMediaInformation#iHn0, 317 Stice and Schupak-Neuberg et al. (1994) retrieved December 2009 318 Harrison and Cantor (1997) 312 Lucas, Beard, O’Fallon and Kurland (1991) 319 Harrison (2000) 313 Lucas, Beard, O’Fallon and Kurland (1991) 320 Thomsen, Weber, & Brown (2002) 314 Myers and Biocca (1992); Sumner, Waller et al. 321 The Guide Association (2009) (1993) 322 DeLeel, Hughes and Miller et al. (2009) 59
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Pro-ana and pro-mia Gender stereotyping websites Repeated exposure to gender- stereotypical ideas and images contributes Pro-anorexia (pro-ana) and pro-bulimia to sexist attitudes and beliefs, sexual (pro-mia) websites advocate and harassment, violence against women, encourage the perception of eating eating disorders and stereotyped disorders as lifestyle choices rather perceptions of and behaviour toward than serious psychological disorders.323 men and women.328 Gender-stereotypical Sites often provide tips and tricks on ideas and images in the media generate a how to maintain (or initiate) anorexic ‘distorted body image by setting unrealistic or bulimic behaviour and resisting standards of female beauty and thinness’.329 treatment or recovery.324 Research into the impact of exposure to Such websites are widely viewed, both sexist330 and non-sexist TV adverts and often seem to attract vulnerable found that women exposed to sexist young people. In a study of 13–17-year adverts saw their bodies as larger, and olds, 12.6 per cent of girls and 5.9 per experienced a bigger discrepancy between cent of boys had visited pro-ana or their perceived and their actual body size pro-mia sites.325 Girls were more likely than a control group.331 The researchers to demonstrate a higher drive for concluded that sexist adverts ‘have direct thinness, a worse perception of their and socially consequential implications for own appearance and higher levels of psychological adjustment and well-being’, perfectionism, making them a high risk leading to body dissatisfaction which in group for the development of eating turn is linked with depression and loss of disorders. self-esteem. Among healthy young women, viewing The sexualisation of women – and, more such sites induced low self-esteem and widely, the pornification of culture – can negative views about their appearance. put pressure on boys to act out a version Viewers also saw themselves as of masculinity based on the display of heavier, said that they were more likely power over women. Boys are told that to exercise and/or think about their being a ‘real’ man means being in control, weight in the near future, and were particularly when it comes to intimate more likely to compare their own and sexual relationships.332 Increasingly, image with that of others.326 In a large boys are encouraged to construct their survey of university students, women identities and to understand and affirm who used pro-eating disorder websites their masculinity through their sexuality had higher levels of body dissatisfaction and sexual experiences.333 The acquisition and eating disturbance than a control of sexual experience then becomes group.327 an opportunity to demonstrate sexual competence or accomplishment rather 323324325326327 328 Kilbourne and Lazarus (1987); Lazier-Smith (1989) 323 Royal College of Psychiatrists (2009) 329 Lavine, Sweeney and Wagner (1999) 324 Norris et al. (2006); Harshbarger et al. (2009) 330 Defined as sexual and limited in gender role 325 Custers and Van den Bulck (2009) 331 Lavine, Sweeney and Wagner (1999) 326 Bardone-Cone and Cass (2007) 332 Ricardo and Barker (2008) 60 327 Harper et al. (2008) 333 Fracher and Kimmel (1998)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review than an act of intimacy.334 Given this, it is than as an individual. While media perhaps not too much of a leap to posit images objectify both men and women, a link between the messages being sent women are significantly more likely to be out to boys and the normalisation of portrayed in a sexually objectified way. aggressive – or even violent behaviour – A survey of advertising images found that towards girls and women as demonstrated women were three times more likely in the next chapter. than men to be dressed in a sexually provocative way. Around 80 per cent of Early sexual activity the images showed women in sexually explicit postures, while in half of all images, The UK has the highest teenage women were represented by a body part pregnancy rate in western Europe.335 or parts only, compared with 17 per cent Almost 43,000 girls aged 18 or of men.337 under became pregnant in 2007. Young people continue to be When objectified magazine images of both disproportionately affected by sexually men and women were shown to children transmitted infections (STIs): despite aged between six and 12, the girls showed making up just 12 per cent of the significant awareness of body esteem population, in 2008 16–24-year-olds issues and a tendency to internalise accounted for 65 per cent of new the images. Moreover, girls who were Chlamydia cases, 55 per cent of new uncertain as to how to respond to the cases of genital warts and 17 per cent thin, sexy ideal presented to them tended of new syphilis diagnoses. Although to have lower self-esteem than girls the total number of gonorrhoea cases who consistently rejected the images.338 fell by 11 per cent between 2007 and Research also shows that pornography 2008, the Health Protection Agency’s leads viewers – both male and female – to Sexually Transmitted Infections view women as sex objects.339 See page Department believes that there is 46 for more detail. still a ‘substantial pool’ of people with undiagnosed STIs. Lap-dancing and 335 glamour modelling With the ubiquity of sexualisation and Sexual objectification the increasing pornification of society has come the mainstreaming of the sex “Although sexual objectification is but one industry, as exemplified by the proliferation form of gender oppression, it is one that of lap-dancing clubs. Sexualisation – and factors into – and perhaps enables – a host the commodification of women and girls of other oppressions women face, ranging – is now so ingrained in our culture that from employment discrimination and sexual lap-dancing is widely viewed as acceptable, violence to the trivialisation of women’s work ‘making the harm of commercial sexual and accomplishments.”’336 exploitation invisible’.340 The number of Sexual objectification occurs when a lap-dancing clubs in the UK currently person is portrayed solely as a sexual stands at around 300.341 Increasingly, such object, and viewed as a collection of sexual and physical attributes rather 337 Reichert (1999) 338 Murnen and Smolak et al. (2003) 334 Marsigilio (1988); Nzioka (2001) 339 Peter and Valkenburg (2007) 335 UNICEF (2001) 340 Object (2009) 336 Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) 341 Home Office (2009a) 61
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review clubs – along with sex shops, topless bars Several theorists have argued that the and other similar businesses – are located ‘aspirational’ connotations now associated alongside mainstream entertainment with glamour modelling and lap-dancing venues, raising their profile and increasing are reflective of wider changes in our their visibility.342 culture; what Rosalind Gill refers to as ‘the pornification of culture’.345 This describes Sexualisation is tied to economic markets the phenomenon whereby young people in the forms of beauty and sex industries, are exposed to images and messages that both opens and restricts the breadth derived from pornography in increasingly and variety of identities and ambitions diverse and disparate areas of society. open to young women. Growing numbers of girls are aspiring to careers that This exposure affects all young people, demand a ‘sexy’ image. Surveys have found regardless of their background and for instance that a high proportion of education. While some might argue young women in the UK aspire to work as that they are making a free choice, ‘glamour models’ or lap-dancers. A recent commentators have noted that the online survey that asked 1,000 15–19 year hyper-sexualisation of culture is beginning olds to indicate what their ideal profession to co-opt the language of freedom and would be from a list containing careers choice.346 When girls are told over and including doctor and teacher, found that over again not only that their appearance 63 per cent of 15–19 year olds considered is all that matters, but that exploiting their glamour modelling their ideal profession appearance is a route to success, it is while a quarter of the all girls surveyed little wonder that many are choosing to cited lap dancer as their top choice.343 take this route. A monolithic view of the ‘ideal’ women combined with the biased A report released by the Department portrayal of such jobs in popular and for Work and Pensions344 shows that celebrity culture is limiting, rather than Jobcentres are routinely advertising for increasing, the choices open to young girls. vacancies at escort agencies, lap-dancing clubs, massage parlours and TV sex channels: we are seeing the normalisation of these trades as viable career choices. This is based on an economic and cultural context that is giving rise to the increasing uses of a woman’s body for male satisfaction through, for example, the international sex trades and hard and soft core pornography industries. 342 Hubbard et al.(2008); Egan et al.(2006) 343 Deely (2008) 344 www.parliament.uk/deposits/ 345 Gill (2009) 62 depositedpapers/2008/DEP2008-3155.doc 346 Walter (2010)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review People trafficking It is difficult to obtain a reliable figure for the number of adults and children being trafficked to the UK for the purposes of sexual exploitation. This is by its very nature a covert crime. However, Home Office research suggests that in 2003 there were up to 4,000 women who were victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in the UK; and in 2009 CEOP (the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) estimated that the potential number of child trafficking victims was 325. The link between pornography and organised crime is a long and established one.347 Together, pornography, people trafficking and prostitution contribute to a network of exploitation that fuels the global sex trade.348 According to the UN, global profits from the trafficking of human beings currently stand at around $7 billion, equivalent in monetary terms to the global trade in drugs. As with all economic systems, there must first be demand before there can be supply. In this scenario, it is argued, the demand is being fuelled by the widespread depiction of girls and women as sex objects.349 347348349 347 Attorney-General’s Commission on Pornography Final Report (1986) 348 Sarikakis and Shaukat (2007) 349 Sarikakis and Shaukat (2007) 63
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Conclusion The research summarised in this confidence is certainly important it section suggests that there are negative seems that what this hyper-sexualised consequences associated with the society is selling to girls is actually a sexualisation of children in terms of body caricature of sexual confidence. From dissatisfaction, lower self-esteem, sexual the physical attributes of cosmetically harassment and views on sexual violence. enhanced breasts to the ‘sexual scripts’ of pleasing your partner ‘no matter It’s unrealistic to assume that we can what’, the porn star ideal of sexuality stop our children and young people from and beauty is certainly not the only seeing sexualised images and messages. and arguably not the best way for But what we can do is give them tools to young women to attain ownership of help them understand and interpret what their sexuality. Perhaps we need to be they see, and build up their confidence discussing with young people that true so that they feel secure in their own sexual confidence and sexual liberation identity. In the past it was adult women means that you don’t have to enjoy and who felt the imperative to look ‘sexy’. accept all forms of sexual entertainment Now this imperative is in danger of being for the sake of seeming comfortable with adopted by younger and younger girls your sexuality. who will inevitably face the same feelings of inadequacy, failure to live up to an Schools can help children develop unrealistic ideal, and a distillation of their the capacity to interpret and filter self-worth that it is only based on the information and to recognise and value ability to attract attention from others. diversity. As such perhaps we need to consider the value of media literacy Children who don’t feel happy about and gender studies and begin to see themselves are more likely to latch on them as core to the curriculum we to things that promise popularity and teach our children. Sex education, too, acceptance. As the evidence in this must focus on preparing young people section shows, all too often that will to form healthy, respectful, emotionally mean conforming either to the hyper- fulfilling relationships. Focusing on sexy or the hyper-masculine norm. The prevention of STIs and the mechanics evidence suggests that children with low of sex, while important, does not self-esteem, and those without a close, prepare young people for the complex supportive family network, are most emotional nuisances, power dynamics, vulnerable to sexualised content and and performance anxiety of early sexual most likely to suffer negative impacts. relationships. It’s a double whammy: there’s no one there to moderate their activities so they Advertising is a multi-billion pound are more likely to have more frequent industry because it works – it has an and more prolonged exposure to effect – so to say that its impact on young inappropriate material and when they people hasn’t been proven is disingenuous. are exposed to this material there is no What we need to consider is how the one there to talk to about it or to help effect of the media interacts with other make sense of it. factors (psychological, familial and social) to bring about a situation where young Many young women now believe that people’s sexuality is commodified and the only confidence worth having is sexual confidence – and while sexual ultimately used against them. 64
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review 7. Sexualisation and violence “Violence is something one learns. It requires the desensitisation of the consumer, and his/ her emotional distancing from the humanity of the persons involved. Pornography is construed upon the fragmentation and deduction of the female body into parts...”350 350 Introduction It is tempting to dismiss the link between that, say, pornography that shows girls sexualisation and violence as being too talking with relish about pre-teen sexual far-fetched. Yet the evidence cited in the exploits, or highly realistic video games previous sections suggests a clear link where players take on the role of between consumption of sexualised stalker and rapist might start to blur the images, a tendency to view women as boundaries between what is acceptable objects and the acceptance of aggressive and what is not. attitudes and behaviour as the norm. I have already made the point that in the In many ways, sexualisation leads to past few years pornography has become dehumanisation. Both the images we a part of mainstream culture. But it is consume, and the way we consume important to note that we are not talking them, are lending credence to the idea here about idealised or exaggerated that women are there to be used and depictions of mainstream erotica or sex. that men are there to use them. Increasingly, porn is dominated by themes Sexual abuse and sexual violence are, of aggression, power and control. And, thankfully, at the extreme end of the as the porn industry increasingly pushes spectrum of impacts of sexualisation. the boundaries, so mainstream culture Nevertheless, it is imperative that we follows suit. acknowledge the very real possibility 350 Sarikakis and Shaukat (2007) 65
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Introduction (cont.) By sending out the message that girls settle disputes or get revenge with are there to be used and abused, there gang members by raping girlfriends, is a danger that we are turning boys sisters and even mothers of their rivals. into consumers of the female body, who And although gangs make up only a see sex as a means of domination and small part of society in the UK, the control rather than an act of intimacy use of violence as a means to punish and a source of mutual pleasure. One and control is not just in the domain girl interviewed as part of a recent study of sub-cultures. The shocking results on gang violence gave the following of a recent survey carried out by the explanation for why girls have sex: NSPCC show that for many young people, violence within relationships is “It’s to keep the boy happy… to make commonplace. It seems that notions of him like you more and to please him and power and control over the female body, stop him from having sex with other girls. and the pressure on boys to conform to Sometimes it hurts but you don’t want to a hyper-masculine ideal, are having a very say anything because then he’ll just leave real – and very damaging – effect on our you for someone that will do all the stuff day-to-day lives. he wants and please him better.”351 This section provides an overview of Many of the professionals who work the evidence for the links between with gangs and informed this review sexualisation and aggression, including noted that in gang culture, sex is referred violence within relationships. It also to as ‘beating’ and, increasingly, rape is considers the role of pornography in being used as the weapon of choice to normalising violent behaviour. 351 Attitudes to violence beliefs with aggressive sexual behaviour.354 A recent Home Office survey found that “Images of women as objects or in 36 per cent of people polled believed that submissive poses normalises violence against a woman should be held wholly or partly women. Men associate these images with responsible for being sexually assaulted women walking down the street.” or raped if she was drunk, while 26 per Focus group participant352 cent believed a woman should accept There is a significant amount of evidence at least part of the blame for an attack linking stereotypical attitudes to women’s if she was out in public wearing sexy or sexuality, adversarial sexual beliefs, revealing clothes.355 acceptance of the ‘rape myth’353 and sexist 354 Dean and Malamuth (1997); Malamuth and Briere (1986); Malamuth and Donnerstein (1982, 1984); Murnen, Wright and Kaluzny 351 Evidence provided in a focus group, held as (2002); Osland, Fitch and Willis (1996); Spence, part of the Review (2009) Losoff and Robbins (1991); Truman, Tokar and 352 Women’s National Commission (2009) Fischer (1996); Vogel (2000) 353 See definition on page 50 355 Home Office (2009) 66
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review There is also a connection between sexual partners and a more tolerant exposure to stereotypical images of attitude towards child sexual abuse.362 women in adverts and aggressive or violent attitudes. Researchers suggest that, A recent longitudinal study of 1,000 boys by encouraging male viewers to internalise from birth to 25 looked at how their the notion of women as sexual beings, levels of self-esteem affected their risk of adverts create a hierarchy within which violent behaviour. Boys with higher levels women are viewed as subordinate and, of self-esteem at 15 were less likely to be therefore, as appropriate targets for sexual violent offenders by the age of 25, while violence.356 The repeated depiction of men lower levels of self-esteem were linked as dominant and aggressive and females to a greater risk of violence at 18, 21 as subordinate and demeaned is arguably and 25.363 A survey of 13,650 pupils aged perpetuating violence against women.357 11–16 from 39 schools across England found that lack of self-concern and low Adults – including women358 – who self-esteem were useful constructs in viewed sexually objectifying images of predicting adolescent violence.364 women in the mainstream media were more likely to be accepting of violence.359 Partner violence A significant number of men exposed to video games featuring hyper-sexualised “Our research has uncovered, for the first characters made judgments that suggested time in the UK, the shocking levels of greater tolerance of sexual harassment; violence – physical, emotional and sexual in the longer-term, exposure correlated – that many girls experience from their with tolerance of sexual harassment and partners. Indeed...this may be the most greater acceptance of the ‘rape myth’.360 prevalent form of violence girls experience in their childhoods. We can no longer ignore A study of 458 young adolescents this fundamental welfare problem and the examining the relationship between family damage it does to girls’ well-being and their environment, gender-focused themes and long-term life chances.” narratives in music videos and attitudes towards sexual harassment361 showed University of Bristol & NSPCC that, while girls were less accepting of research report365 sexual harassment than boys, exposure A recent survey commissioned by the to music videos reduced their resistance. NSPCC366 found that 33 per cent of This was particularly true for girls without teenage girls aged 13–17 had been a supportive family. For both boys and subjected to unwanted sexual acts while girls, frequent TV viewing and exposure in a relationship, and 25 per cent had to pornographic material led to greater suffered physical violence. Among boys, acceptance of sexual harassment. The 18 per cent had experienced physical study also identified a link between violence. Nearly three-quarters of viewing sexualised images of girls, a girls and half of boys claimed to have tendency to view younger girls as potential experienced some form of ‘emotional violence’ from their partner, with girls more likely to have experienced this in a 356 Lanis and Covell (1995) 357 Murnen et al. (2007); Dill and Brown et al. (2008) 362 Strouse and Goodwin et al. (1994) 358 Johnson and Adams et al. (1995) 363 Boden and Horwood et al. (2007) 359 Kalof (1999); Lanis and Covell (1995) 364 Sutherland and Shepherd (2002) 360 Dill and Brown et al. (2008) 365 Barter, McCarry, Berridge and Evans (2009) 361 Strouse and Goodwin et al. (1994) 366 Barter, McCarry, Berridge and Evans (2009) 67
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review direct or overt form. Girls and boys who “You know K – if she calls me names had had a family member or peer behave I’ll smack her around the cheek… I’d just violently towards them were more at risk grab her and I’d punch her and make them of partner violence; outside the home, pay for it. I can’t help it, it’s not me. My hand girlfriends and boyfriends are the most just goes, ‘boom’.” common perpetrators of sexual abuse Boy, aged 12369 and violence.367 “It’s a known fact that boys normally bully Although both sexes are experiencing girls because they like them. If you hit them partner violence, more girls are suffering it’s cos you fancy them… first signs of love.” and the impact of this suffering is greater. Girl, aged 14370 A significant proportion of the girls surveyed stated that the violence Statistics from the Department for had seriously affected their welfare; for Children, Schools and Families show boys, there appeared to be few at least 120 permanent371 and 3,450 consequences. Researchers also remarked fixed period exclusions attributed to on the level of coercive control apparent sexual misconduct in the academic year in young people’s relationships and, again, 2007/08.372 on the impact of this on girls in particular. The Youth Justice Board reports a rise Significant numbers of girls were subject in recent years in the number of sexual to high levels of control overwhere they offences committed by young people could go, who they could see and what which result in a pre-court or court they could do. Many found themselves ‘disposal’. Sexual offences include a wide under constant surveillance via the internet, category of offences which vary in their mobile phones and text messaging. Such level of severity, ranging from unlawful control often led to girls becoming isolated sexual intercourse to rape. In 2007/08 from their peer networks. alone, 1,302 incidents of sexual offending by 10–15-year-olds were recorded – 29 Sexualised violence in of which were committed by 10-year- schools old children373. Separate figures drawn by the NSPCC from all but one of the UK’s Sexual harassment, and gendered and police forces show that children under 18 sexualised name-calling and bullying are committed 1,065 sexual offences in the on the rise in both primary and secondary year ending March 2008.374 schools.368 Research has uncovered some alarming examples of how the apparent acceptability of violent behaviour is shaping gender roles and relationships: 369 Womankind UK (2007) 370 Womankind UK (2007) 371 This does not include the total number of permanent exclusions in primary and special school settings 372 DCSF (2009) 367 Cawson and Loretto (2000) 373 Statistics (2004–08), Youth Justice Board 368 Duncan (2004, 2006); Francis (2005); Renold, 374 NSPCC (2010). Figures obtained under 68 (2002, 2003); Ringrose (2008) Freedom of Information Act
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review bestiality. Researchers point to a number Gangs, sexualisation and of negative consequences linked to the sexual violence consumption of such material: In gangs, rape and sexual assault is “Dispositional changes include diminished increasingly becoming the weapon of trust in intimate partners, the abandonment choice. Assaulting a girl is used not only of hopes for sexual exclusivity with partners, to assert power over the girl herself, evaluation of promiscuity as the natural but also over those who associate state, and the apprehension that sexual with her. The growing threat of sexual inactivity constitutes a health risk. Cynical violence also means that girls are attitudes about love emerge, and superior seriously affected by gang activities; sexual pleasures are thought attainable regardless of whether they are directly without affection toward partners. The involved themselves. institution of marriage is seen as sexually confining. Increasingly, having a family and Girls also talk of feeling increasingly raising children is considered an unattractive pressurised by magazines, music prospect.”378 and the fashion industry to present themselves in a highly sexual way. A study of over 800 subjects aged 18 to They tend to respond to this pressure 26 found that 87 per cent of young men either by over-sexualising themselves and 31 per cent of young women used from an early age or by developing a pornography, and that 67 per cent and more ‘masculine’ persona which, in the 49 per cent thought pornography was gang context, means they often found acceptable. There was a clear link between themselves in dangerous situations.375 the use and acceptance of pornography and risky sexual attitudes and behaviours, 375 substance abuse and non-marital cohabitation values.379 However, high Pornography and pornography use is not in itself an sexual aggression indicator of high risk for sexual aggression. But people who are already predisposed “All this push to get women to buy into porn to violent activity and who also score high and its values…is it really empowering? If for pornography use are much more likely it was, wouldn’t it be empowering for all to engage in sexual aggression.380 women?”376 ‘Angela’, female prostitute In other words, where a person already has a propensity towards violence, Evidence points to a link between that propensity may be heightened exposure to pornography and ‘sexual by the presence of sexually aggressive callousness’, as well as a decrease in pornography. feelings of guilt, repulsion and disgust. Prolonged exposure increases the likelihood of consuming material that depicts either potentially ‘harmful’ or what the UK government labels ‘extreme’377 sexual behaviours such as violent sex and 375 ROTA (2007) 378 Zillman (1989) 376 Walter (2010) 379 Carroll and Padilla-Walker et al. (2008) 377 McGlynn, Ward and Rackley (2009) 380 Malamuth, Addison and Koss (2000) 69
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Malamuth and Vega agree that there is a The Confluence Model significant correlation between exposure to pornography and both actual, and The Confluence Model of sexual attitudes to, sexual aggression.382 This is aggression shows how a number backed by a further study involving 515 of factors work together with men, which found a strong association pornography use to predict levels between rape and rape proclivity and of sexual aggression. Pornography the use of all forms of pornography. consumption therefore contributes The strongest links were with hard- ‘significantly to the prediction of sexual core pornography featuring scenes of aggression both as a main effect and in violent rape. Soft-core pornography was interaction with other factors’.381 positively associated with the likelihood 2.2 of sexual force and non-violent coercive Pornography Use behaviour, but negatively associated with 2.0 Low the likelihood of rape and actual rape Mean sexual aggression Medium 1.8 High behaviour.383 1.6 These conclusions are supported by a 1.4 recent literature review,384 which identified consistent and reliable evidence that 1.2 exposure to pornography is related to male sexual aggression against women, 1.1 385 and while the association is strongest .8 for violent pornography, it is still reliable Low Medium High for non-violent pornography. It should be Risk for sexual aggression based on GH x HM x IS noted, however, that researchers have also identified a circular relationship whereby Hostile masculinity (HM) describes those men who are considered as high- personality traits linked to aggression, risk for sexual aggression are more likely including insecurity, defensiveness, to be attracted to sexually violent media hypersensitivity and a hostile/distrustful and more influenced by it.386 attitude to women. In a critical review of the literature on Impersonal Sex (IS) describes a pornography and links with violence, promiscuous, non-committal attitude Itzin, Taket and Kelly (2007) conducted towards sexual relations. a critical analysis of experimental studies General Hostility (GH) refers to disputed by Fisher and Grenier (1994). traits such as callousness and lack of The experimental studies were said emotion, which increase the likelihood by Fisher and Grenier to have failed of developing HM and IS. to confirm that violent pornography is associated with anti-women thoughts and As the figure shows, the risk of sexual acts, citing inconsistent findings due to aggression is highest for those that score methodological and conceptual limitations. highly for GH, HM and IS, and who are In the wider review of evidence of harm also heavy consumers of pornography. 381 382 Allen et al. (1995) 383 Boeringer (1994) 384 Flood (2009) 385 Flood and Hamilton (2003) 70 381 Malamuth and Vega (2007) 386 Malmouth et al. (2000)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review to adults relating to exposure to extreme pornographic material Itzin, Taket and Child sexual abuse Kelly concluded that there is evidence “It would be unrealistic to assume there is of negative psychological, attitudinal no correlation between the sexualisation and and behavioural effects on adults who objectification of children and their being access this material. This included beliefs sexually abused. ...children are portrayed, and that women enjoy or desire rape; lack taught to act, as sexual beings. Why should of empathy with rape victims and a it surprise us if those that wish to abuse preference for extreme material; and children use this to legitimise their actions?” behavioural effects such as aggression in NSPCC391 the laboratory after exposure. Child sexual abuse lies at the extreme Itzin, Taket and Kelly conclude that sexual end of the spectrum of consequences explicitness per se (as Malamuth (2003) of sexualisation. Nevertheless, it affects a argues) does not have harmful effects; very significant number of children. One but when a message is presented within estimate392 puts the number of girls in a sexually explicit setting it may have England who have been sexually abused a different effect than if the message at 1.1 million and the number of boys at was presented in a non-sexual setting. 490,000. Another suggests that as many as This subconscious processes whereby 2 million under-16s – and one in five girls messages in pornography become – is a victim of ‘sexual abuse or violence’.393 embodied and engendered with arousal Figures from the US show that disabled and orgasm live on in feelings and fantasies children are three times more likely to be that are deeply embedded and much sexually abused than able-bodied children; more difficult to remove.387 figures in the UK are thought to be It should also be noted that most studies broadly similar.394 involve adult subjects, although there is Recent figures from the NSPCC show that evidence to suggest links between violent over 21,600 sex crimes were committed pornography and aggressive behaviour in against under-18s in 2008/09.395 More younger viewers.388 A US study of boys than one third (36 per cent) of all rapes and girls aged 11–16 found that greater recorded by the police are committed exposure to R- and X-rated films was against children under 16 years of age.396 linked to greater acceptance of sexual According to the Department of Health, harassment.389 Another study where child sexual abuse is greatly under-identified the average age of participants was 14 and reported: 72 per cent of sexually found a correlation between frequent abused children do not tell anyone about consumption of pornography and the the abuse at the time.397 While the majority belief that it is acceptable to hold a girl of abusers are male, the number of female down and force her to have sex.390 391 Evidence provided to the Review by Tom Narducci, NSPCC (2009) 392 London Safeguarding Children Board (2008) 393 Cawson (2000) 394 Sullivan and Knutson (2000) 395 www.nspcc.org.uk/whatwedo/mediacentre/ pressreleases/2010_25_january_more_ 387 Itzin (2000) than_21000_child_sex_offences_recorded_last_ 388 Flood (2009) year_wdn70725.html, retrieved February 2010 389 Strouse et al. (1994) 396 Home Office Statistical Bulletin (July 2006/12/06) 390 Check and Guloein (1989) 397 Caswon et al. (2000) 71
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review sex abusers in Britain is estimated at Child pornography between 48,000 and 64,000.398 The majority “When girls are dressed to resemble of those who display sexually harmful adult women, however, adults may project behaviour are adolescent males, with 25–40 adult motives as well as an adult level of per cent of all alleged sexual abuse involving responsibility and agency on girls. Images young perpetrators.399 Some clinicians of precocious sexuality in girls may serve to have noted that the sexualised images normalize abusive practices such as child of children that are now more common abuse, child prostitution and the sexual and easily accessible challenge the norms trafficking of children.”403 that commonly forbid sexual interest in children.400 It is a widely held view that the use of child pornography must be considered Victims of sexual abuse can experience and understood as “…one practice within post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a repertoire of child sexual abuse” and not cognitive distortions, anxiety, depression, as an isolated issue which can lead to child somatic concerns, disassociation, eating sexual abuse.404 disorders, sexual dysfunction, impaired self-relatedness, behavioural difficulties, There is very little experimental research relationship problems, aggression, on the effects of viewing images of child substance abuse, suicide, self-mutilation abuse. However, in a study that sought to and indiscriminate sexual behaviour.401 examine this by using adult actors that One study suggested that almost three- looked like young girls (so-called ‘barely quarters of girl victims of ‘contact sexual legal’ pornography), the findings showed abuse’ went on to experience PTSD, while that exposure to such pornography led 57 per cent suffered major depression.402 to stronger mental associations between non-sexual images of children and words The consequences of child sexual abuse related to sex.405 This suggests that viewing can be devastating, and yet, from the sexualised portrayals of children could evidence sessions that fed into this review, lead to viewers making these associations professionals working with victims of even when children are not being abuse pointed out that in many cases, sexualised. children who experience sexual abuse are not given access to support services, An issue of concern that has been raised even following assessment. This is an issue by experts is that the sexualisation of girls that will be explored more thoroughly could potentially contribute to a market by the Taskforce on the Health Aspects for images of child abuse. The APA review of Violence against Women and Children on sexualisation notes that there is a when it reports to the government in new trend for ‘grooming’ children on-line March 2010. whereby paedophiles join on-line teen 398 Lucy Faithfull Foundation (http://lucyfaithfull.org) 399 www.nspcc.org.uk/WhatWeDo/MediaCentre/ MediaBriefings/Policy/media_briefing_sexually_ harmful_behaviour_wda33252.html 400 Emma Rush – What are the risks of premature sexualisation in children. Quoted in Tankard Reist (2010) 403 APA (2008) 401 Briere (1991) 404 Kelly and Regan (2000) 72 402 Jones and Ramchandani (1999) 405 Paul (2005)
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review chat rooms and seduce girls into As academics in the field have pointed performing sex acts for money in front out, modern technology “has transformed of the camera.406 This specific form of the political economy of all pornography, exploitation is tackled in the UK by the making it possible for almost anyone to Child Exploitation and Online Protection be producer, distributor and consumer (CEOP) Centre. simultaneously.”409 Exposure to sexualised images of children Tink Palmer, Internet Watch Foundation, and child pornography could potentially noted in an evidence session for this increase a child’s vulnerability to sexual review that she had encountered several exploitation and abuse. Sexual images of cases where young people were groomed children may have the effect of normalising to consume child porn by sex offenders child sexual abuse. During the Australian who had made initial contact in on-line Conference of Child Abuse and Neglect chat rooms. Her experience is reflected in 2003 it was reported that exposure in research findings that suggest that to X-rated pornography was a significant growing numbers of adolescents are factor in young children abusing other being convicted of possession of child children.407 In her research on how pornography.410 In accord with these 14–16-year-olds present themselves findings are the results of a New Zealand online, Jessica Ringrose made the point study that reported that among offenders, that young girls, inspired by the hyper- the largest group trading in internet sexualised portrayals of women around child pornography were aged between them, are styling themselves in overtly 15–19.411 sexually provocative ways for the consumption of other young people. What we are seeing on social networking sites and in ‘sexting’ is, effectively, children themselves producing child pornography.408 406 Eichenwald (2005) 409 Kelly and Regan (2000) 407 Stanley, et al. (2003) 410 Moultrie (2006) 408 Ringrose (2008) 411 Carr (2004) 73
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Conclusion The evidence set out in this document a study. Second, such a study would suggests that there is broad agreement have to overcome considerable among researchers and experts in health ethical obstacles with regard to and welfare that sexualising children breaches of family privacy and the risk prematurely places them at risk of a of further sexualising child participants. variety of harms, ranging from body Finally, many of the mechanisms through image disturbances to being victims of which sexualisation is occurring are abuse and sexual violence.412 relatively new. Only recently have we begun to see psychologists and other Sexualisation devalues women and social scientists making a concerted girls sending out a disturbing message effort to address the issue. that they are always sexually available. It creates false expectations for girls So, we need more research. trying to live up to unrealistic ‘ideals’, and Nevertheless, we should acknowledge for boys in terms of how they think a that the research and evidence from girl should be treated. It increases self- child experts and clinicians gathered in objectification and limits the aspirations this report points clearly to the fact that and choices that girls feel are open to sexualisation is having a negative impact them. Sexualisation lowers important on young people’s physical and mental barriers to child sexual abuse, and health, and helping to normalise abusive undermines healthy relationships, behaviour towards women and children. increasing the likelihood of violence In 2007 the Department for Children, against women and girls. Schools and Families published its There is both empirical research Children’s Plan413, aimed at making and clinical evidence that premature England ‘the best place in the world sexualisation harms children. There for children and young people to grow is, however, a clear need for further up’ and which highlighted the need empirical evidence in the form of a to reduce the risk to children from large-scale longitudinal study to look in potentially harmful media content. detail at how living in a sexualised culture To do this, we must first accept that affects both boys and girls as they grow sexualisation, as evidenced in this and develop. report and in similar reports from the US and Australia, is harmful. Only then There are several reasons why such can we begin to develop strategies for evidence does not yet exist. First, large helping our young people to deal with longitudinal studies require careful sexualisation and create spaces where development and significant funding: they can develop and explore their in Australia, the federal government sexuality in their own time and in their spent two years debating whether own way. the National Health and Medical Research Council should fund such 412413 412 APA (2007); Coy (2009); Malamuth (2001); Tankard-Reist (2010) 413 The Children’s Plan: Building brighter futures, DCSF (2007) 74
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review 8. Recommendations Introduction I believe that reviews like this one The recommendations outlined below should not only raise awareness and are derived from the main themes that define the issues, they should also look have emerged from the review. They at possible solutions and ways forward. have evolved through consultations with Throughout the course of my work on professionals who work on the front the review, some people have suggested line in relevant areas and they have been that the problem of sexualisation is so informed by those working with the complex and so endemic that it will be practicalities and logistics of government practically impossible to bring about policy. What is required is a joint effort real change. I don’t believe that this is by parents, teachers, professionals, the case. Sexualisation is undoubtedly clinicians, advertisers, retailers and policy a complex and multi-factorial issue, but makers. For the greatest social change social change is always possible, as long comes not from addressing one aspect as people are sensitised to the need for of a problem but from the cumulative that change to occur. effect of many people acknowledging together that change needs to happen. 1) Education and the school culture which discriminate against women and encourage or justify schools gender inequality, sexual bullying and harassment. I believe there is a need for a i) Promoting gender equality in schools greater emphasis in initial teacher training Schools have a vital role to play, together and continuing professional development with parents, in helping young people to on gender awareness and gender-based develop healthy relationships, manage volence. I recommend that: their emotions, and challenge the behaviour of some young men towards • All school staff should have training women and girls. on gender equality. • Staff who teach Personal, Social, School staff report that they do not Health and Economic (PSHE) have the skills or confidence to address education and/or citizenship should gender equality. They need to be aware be given specialist training and of the significant impact of gender on ongoing support to address these experiences within school; and to know issues through the curriculum. how to identify and address aspects of 75
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review High levels of sexist bullying in schools It should include setting personal suggest that schools must do more boundaries and understanding what is safe to meet the ‘Be healthy’ and ‘Stay safe’ and appropriate touching and behaviour. It outcomes of Every Child Matters,414 to should also look at issues like body image fulfil their duty to promote well-being and and violence in relationships and aim to to safeguard their pupils. There is evidence help young people develop an awareness which suggests teachers do not feel of the gap between pornography and real confident to challenge the discriminatory sexual relationships. It is imperative that attitudes and behaviours that underpin all children receive this level of education violence against women and girls. Teachers and guidance including children with should therefore be given a much greater learning difficulties, who often miss out level of support and guidance. I therefore because of their special educational needs. recommend that: It is also important that teaching staff are equipped to deliver high-quality teaching • The Department for Children, about personal relationships which tackles Schools and Families (DCSF) issues sexualisation and that responds to the statutory guidance for schools on realities of children and young people’s gender equality, in order to raise the lives. I therefore recommend that: profile of the issue. The new guidance should be comprehensive, including: • Clear reference is made to how to address gender equality and sexualisation, gender stereotypes and violence against women and girls in pornography within the Department the school Gender Equality Scheme; for Children, School and Families’ the school ethos; in anti-bullying revised Sex and Relationships policies; safeguarding strategies; the Education (SRE) guidance which is wider curriculum; staff training; and currently out for public consultation. the services and information that • Practical ‘How To’ guidance on schools provide. tackling sexualisation is disseminated • Schools should ensure that all widely to schools through incidents on sexual bullying are Teachernet, the PSHE Association, recorded and reported separately to the Sex Education Forum and other other forms of bullying. agencies. This would pull together illustrative material of good practice; ii) Statutory Personal, Social, Health and demonstrate how sexualisation can Economic (PSHE) education and Sex and fit within the existing curriculum Relationships Education (SRE) including SRE, PSHE education, Citizenship and Media Studies; and As part of the Violence Against Women detail what resources are available and Girls consultation, I recommended and links to relevant organisations. that PSHE education, which includes SRE, become a compulsory part of • New SRE resource materials are the curriculum. Ministers have already made available for teachers who indicated that this is their intention. SRE work with children with special provides important opportunities for education needs and learning children and young people to develop the difficulties. language and skills they need to be safe and to understand personal relationships. In many schools, effective work is already SRE should begin in primary schools and under way in the areas of violence against continue throughout secondary school. women and girls and gender equality. This includes lessons given as part of the 76 414 www.everychildmatters.gov.uk
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review PSHE and citizenship curricula, lessons should equip young people with the given in other subjects, assemblies and cognitive filters to critically examine and other school activities. However, there is challenge the media portrayal of both still more that could be done in primary men and women. It should address schools. I therefore recommend that: concepts such as air-brushing of images and the cult of celebrity, and be linked to • Primary schools should make education on safe internet use. specific reference to the influence Alternative media outlets such as blogs, of the media on body image and webcasts and magazines or ‘zines’ personal identity. This could form distributed on the web could provide a part of a planned new area of useful forum for teaching and encouraging learning, ‘Understanding Physical young people to critically examine Development, Health and Wellbeing’, the sexualised or hyper-masculinised and would help equip primary images presented by popular media and school children with tools to marketers. By offering young people a understand and interpret the images chance to create their own content, these and messages they see in the media. channels can promote a powerful sense of Almost all primary schools and a growing validation and ownership. number of secondary schools are using I therefore recommend that: the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) programme to support • Media literacy should not only be children’s emotional wellbeing. I therefore taught through PSHE education recommend that: but also through English and drama, the arts, history and citizenship. • A module on gender equality, A ‘whole school’ approach to media sexualisation and sexist/sexual literacy would reduce the burden bullying be developed as part of on PSHE education, ensure that the SEAL programme. This should relevant links are made in other include discussion of body image and subjects and effectively mainstream objectification. gender stereotyping throughout the curriculum. iii) Media literacy and encouraging activism iv) Working with young people outside of While there are many organisations mainstream education working to address the media literacy In recent years the integration of youth needs of the UK population, efforts to work into other children’s services has date have been fragmented, with little or moved from a universal service to an no co-ordination at either strategic or increasingly ‘problem’ orientated targeted operational level. As a result, resources one. However, there’s a great deal of may be failing to reach those in most need positive work that can be done with or to achieve the desired outcomes. young people, not because they are seen I welcome the government’s desire to as deficient, or victims, or needing to be boost young people’s media literacy ‘fixed’ but as part of more general anti- skills.415 Any media literacy programme sexist and gender equalities-based work with boys and girls. I recommend that: 415 Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls. House of Commons Hansard Ministerial Statements for 14 December 2009 77
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Pro-anorexia (pro-ana) and pro-bulimia • Increased funding should be made (pro-mia) websites advocate and available for staffing, provision and encourage the perception of eating training of existing youth workers disorders as lifestyle choices rather so that they feel confident and than serious psychological disorders. sufficiently skilled to have discussions They often provide tips on how to lie with young people around sexuality, to doctors, which foods are easiest to sexist and sexual bullying and gender vomit up and advice on initiating and/or inequality. More materials are also maintaining anorexic or bulimic behaviour. needed to support youth workers to I recommend that: develop such work. v) Digital literacy and the internet • The government should work with internet service providers to block While the internet brings unprecedented access to pro-ana and pro-mia opportunities for children and young websites. people to learn, develop and enjoy, it also brings risks. Children – and their parents vi) Positive role models for children – need education to understand and Children – especially girls – need positive negotiate those risks. At the same time, role models to help challenge gender steps should be taken to make the virtual stereotypes and encourage them to world as safe as possible. I therefore develop their self-esteem based on recommend that: aptitude and accomplishment, not physical appearance. I would like to put together • The UK Council for Child Internet a working group of inspirational working Safety (UKCCIS) should be women to help identify what we can supported to further develop its do to help this generation of teenagers current online resource centre where realise their potential and shape policy in parents can access internet safety this area. advice. Strategies should be simple and practical, and link to parents’ An initial project for the group could existing life and parenting skills. be a short film featuring a dozen or so inspirational women talking about their From meeting with parents, I appreciate achievements, which could then be that expecting them to take complete distributed to schools or made available responsibility for their children’s digital for download. Schools could be invited to literacy is both unrealistic and unfair. Our compete for a visit from one of the group approach to improving digital literacy must members, or the chance to gain work be two-pronged, and I recommend that: experience with them. Several high profile sports and business women have already • Digital literacy is made a compulsory agreed in principle to be involved. part of the national curriculum for children from the age of five A similar scheme for boys could challenge onwards, and that age-appropriate the hyper-masculine ideal and provide materials are made available to pupils alternative role models. The White Ribbon at every stage of their education. Campaign, for example, already runs workshops where boys can explore issues like gender stereotyping and sexualisation. Such workshops could be funded so that more schools have access to them. 78
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review For both boys and girls, there are obvious During the evidence sessions that opportunities for promoting positive informed this review, professionals working role models in the run up to the 2012 with abuse victims and teenage sex Olympics. The ideal would be to work offenders pointed out that in many cases with a range of people, from sport, children who experience sexual abuse are entertainment and the world of business. not given access to support services, even after an assessment. We must provide As part of the government’s long-term psychological support for every child that communication strategy to tackle violence has suffered at the hands of an abuser, against women and girls, I recommend that: not rely on voluntary bodies or wait for a child to start ‘acting out’. Therefore, • A schools campaign is developed I recommend that: which promotes positive role models for young men and young • Local Authorities must be held women and challenges gender accountable for treating victims of stereotypes. The campaign should child sexual abuse and ensure that build on the positive work already specialist services receive adequate being undertaken in schools by funding for the treatment of children organisations such as the White who have suffered abuse. Ribbon Campaign and Womankind. • One-to-one confidential help • Schools encourage girls to value in school/college from a trained their bodies in terms of their physical professional such as a psychologist ability by encouraging them to should be made available to every engage in athletic and other extra- child and young person. curricular activities. Schools should promote this work by linking it to the 2012 Get Set education 2) Media and programme (run by the London Organising Committee for the awareness-raising Olympic Games). There is a clear link i) A national campaign to tackle teenage here to one of the core values of relationship abuse the Olympic/Paralympic movement The government strategy, Together we can – demonstrating respect for oneself end violence against women and girls, noted and others. my recommendation to run a campaign vii) Support for children who have been aimed at challenging the attitudes abused and perceptions that lead to violence within teenage relationships as the first Evidence indicates that children who phase in a broader cross-government are abused are more likely to display communications strategy/campaign. inappropriate sexualised behaviour. I have worked with the Home Office to Currently, too few children are being inform the development of the Teenage treated for the psychosocial consequences Relationship Abuse campaign, which of sexual abuse; it is not until they start to was launched in February 2010. I also act inappropriately that their behaviour recommend that: is noticed and addressed. Teachers and other professionals do not always have the training and skills needed to identify the early signs of abuse and offer appropriate support. 79
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review of both girls and boys if their efforts were • A specific campaign pack is acknowledged and rewarded. I therefore developed for primary and recommend: secondary schools which they can use to exemplify and build on issues • The establishment of a media award arising from the national campaign. that promotes diverse, aspirational This campaign should not be a ‘one and non-sexualised portrayals of off ’ but be run annually, allowing young people. schools time to prepare activities and lesson plans. iv) Support and guidance for parents ii) A working group to address the I believe that parents should be given sexualisation of women and girls by the information and support to educate media their children about the issues raised in this review. The Teenage Relationship Since so much of the sexualised content Abuse campaign could provide a useful to which children and young people are starting point. Directgov (the official UK exposed comes via the media, there is government website for citizens) will carry a clear need for a forum where this can information for parents, and this should be monitored, discussed and addressed. be developed, maintained and signposted I recommend: within government communications beyond the lifespan of the initial campaign. • Setting up a working group of high profile women in broadcast During the course of this review, many and print media – for example, parents have told me that when they TV commissioners, presenters, see sexualised merchandise aimed at producers, journalists – together children, or inappropriate imagery being with academics to monitor and used in advertising, they are not sure who address gender inequality in the they should complain to. Is it retailers, media. This group should meet manufacturers, Local Authorities, the Press monthly and work with the Complaints Commission, Ofcom, the government to help it implement ASA, or their local MP? It can be difficult its international obligations (see to know who to turn to. I therefore page 20) to tackle unbalanced recommend that: portrayals and the projection of negative and degrading images of • The government launches an online women in the media. ‘one-stop-shop’ to allow the public to voice their concerns with an onus iii) Media awards on regulatory authorities to take It is apparent that there is a lack of action against irresponsible marketing aspiration and ambition amongst a large which sexualises children. This will number of Britain’s teenage girls. I would also help inform future government like the sexualisation working group to policy regarding the sexualisation of also influence policy and establish what young people by giving the public can be done to help this generation of and parents a forum to raise issues teenagers aim higher. The media might be of concern. more likely to provide positive portrayals 80
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review Parents also have an important role to play • The introduction of a system of in challenging gender stereotypes, teaching ratings symbols for photographs their children what is acceptable behaviour to show the extent to which they and language and helping set appropriate have been altered. This is particularly personal boundaries. Initiatives need to be critical in magazines targeting teen developed that encourage parents to talk and pre-teen audiences. to their children about these issues and, where necessary, give them the tools to do The stereotyped – and often sexualised so. I recommend that: – images of women that appear on posters and billboards point to a double • The government includes information standard whereby images that would be on body image, self-esteem, eating unacceptable in a school or workplace disorders and e-safety in its proposed are deemed acceptable for public display. ‘Positive Parenting’ booklets for Realistically, there is no way of preventing parents of older children and young children and young people from seeing people. these images, so I recommend that: v) Advertising and magazines • The content of outdoor Increasingly, media messages are being advertisements is vetted by local delivered via the internet, with companies authorities as part of their gender spending millions on developing interactive equality duty to ensure that images advertisements on their commercial and messages are not offensive on websites. These adverts and ‘advergames’ the grounds of gender. can be targeted at children or contain offensive content and yet are currently vi) Music videos unregulated. I recommend that: Sexually provocative music videos are commonplace and easily accessible by • The government recognises the children on TV and on DVD. Section 1.20 work being carried out by the of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code states Advertising Standards Authority and that: ‘Any discussion on, or portrayal supports it in taking steps to close of, sexual behaviour must be editorially this regulatory loophole by extending justified if included before the watershed, the existing standards to include or when children are particularly likely to commercial websites. be listening, and must be appropriately limited.’416 Yet sexual posing and suggestive Evidence suggests that even brief lyrics are found in many music videos exposure to airbrushed images can lead to shown before the watershed. In the acute body dissatisfaction. To help combat case of DVDs, music videos escape the this, efforts to raise levels of media literacy statutory classification required for other should be accompanied by initiatives types of content by virtue of a loophole in aimed at encouraging society to take a the Video Recordings Act 1984.417 more critical and questioning approach to the harmful perpetuation of unrealistic ideals. I therefore recommend: 416 Ofcom Broadcasting Code (2009) 417 Office of Public Sector Information, Video Recording Act 1984 81
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review I therefore recommend that: I therefore recommend that:420 • Broadcasters are required to • Regulation of UK-based video on ensure that music videos featuring demand services is strengthened sexual posing or sexually suggestive to ensure that they do not allow lyrics are broadcast only after the children to access hardcore ‘watershed’. pornography. Proposals to • The current gap in the regulatory achieve this are currently before protection provided by the Video Parliament420 and should be Recordings Act 1984 be closed, supported. either by removing the general exemption for ‘works concerned viii) Computers and networked gaming with…. music’ or by lowering the Parent often feel under pressure to threshold at which exemption is purchase the latest computer and video forfeited. Proposals to lower the console games for their children. Although threshold at which music videos 18-rated games only make up a small lose their exemption are currently fraction of the total number of games on before Parliament418 and should be the market, many of the most high profile supported or even strengthened. and best selling releases are targeted at an adult audience. Most responsible parents vii) Video on demand services418 would not allow their young children Although the new regulations relating to watch an 18-rated film, yet many to video on demand services operating take a different attitude when it comes from the UK represent a step in the right to 18-rated games, which are equally direction, it is debatable whether the inappropriate in their content and style amended Communications Act offers for a young audience. The latest gaming children sufficient protection from potentially consoles also provide young people with harmful content. In particular, the Act only access to the internet, and parents are requires service providers to apply access often neither aware of this increased controls (such as credit card payment) to access nor know how to censor the material that ‘might seriously impair the information that children receive. physical, mental or moral development of While many games consoles offer parental persons under the age of eighteen’. controls, few parents are aware of how to Ofcom, which regulates UK-based video set these up. Parents have a responsibility on demand services, has stated419 that to speak to their children about the explicit images of real sex between content of games and to be aware of how consenting adults designed to sexually their children are using games consoles. arouse the viewer are not likely to However, many parents have told me they seriously impair under-18s. DVDs would like to see games consoles sold containing this kind of content are with access controls already switched on. classified ‘R18’ and can only be purchased I therefore recommend that: in a licensed sex shop. Yet, according to Ofcom, the same material can be freely provided via video on demand. 418 Digital Economy Bill, amendment 246 419 Statement on the Ofcom Broadcasting Code – Section Two: Harm and Offence ‘R18 Material 82 and its equivalent’ pp108 – 124, May 2005 420 Digital Economy BIll, amendment 251B
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review called ‘lads’ mags’. These are often stocked • Games consoles are sold with a alongside magazines aimed at teenagers or separate ‘unlocking’ code, which even comics in high street newsagents and purchasers can choose to input if supermarkets, flouting the retailers’ existing they wish to use or allow access voluntary code of magazine placement. of the console to adult and online In accord with this, during an evidence content. hearing session a spokesperson from the • This idea could be extended to human rights organisation Object made ‘child friendly’ computers and mobile the point that: phones where adult content is filtered out by default. “ ….pornification impacts on how boys and men are encouraged to view and treat women, with far-reaching implications for 3) Working with gender inequality and violence against businesses and women. The links between pornification, discrimination and violence against women retailers have been recognised at the international i) Corporate responsibility level by the United Nations Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women There are signs that some manufacturers (CEDAW), which calls on States to take are prepared to listen to the concerns decisive action to tackle the objectification of those working to safeguard children. of women and girls. This requires an Numerous companies have withdrawn overhaul of media regulation to move away products from sale following campaigns from inadequate self-regulatory voluntary in the national press, and the NSPCC is guidelines.” working with businesses to encourage them to look at the implications of making I therefore recommend that: and/or selling products that contribute to sexualisation and objectification. • The existing voluntary code for I recommend that: retailers regarding the placements of ‘lads’ mags’ be replaced by a • The government supports mandatory code, allowing customers the NSPCC in its work with to report retailers who continue to manufacturers and retailers to place such magazines at children’s encourage corporate responsibility eye-level and/or next to publications with regard to sexualised aimed at children and young people. merchandise. • ‘Lads’ mags’ should be marked clearly • As a first step, guidelines should be as recommended for sale only to issued following consultation with persons 15 and over. major clothing retailers and parents’ iii) Recruitment groups so that a broad consensus can be reached with regard to what is A report released by the Department appropriate for different age groups. for Work and Pensions421 shows that job centres are routinely advertising ii) ‘Lads’ mags’ vacancies at escort agencies, lap-dancing Many parents have complained to me clubs, massage parlours and TV sex about the sexually explicit imagery and channels. In 2007-08, Jobcentre Plus straplines featured on the covers of so- 421 www.parliament.uk/deposits/ depositedpapers/2008/DEP2008-3155.doc 83
    • Sexualisation of Young People Review advertised over 350 vacancies in the adult • Funding be made available for entertainment industry, including ones research that will strengthen the for topless and semi-nude bar staff. In evidence base. There is a particular allowing this to take place, the government need for longitudinal research; is promoting the normalisation of these research into the impact of trades as viable career choices. I therefore sexualisation on black and minority recommend that: ethnic groups, gay and lesbian groups and disabled populations; and • The government overturns its carefully designed ethical research decision to allow vacancies for jobs in into the impact on child populations. the adult entertainment industry to be advertised by Jobcentre Plus. • Funding for trend research into teenage relationship abuse and the frequency of sexual bullying and 4) Research abuse. i) A multi-disciplinary approach to • Clinical outcome research should be sexualisation funded and supported to find the most effective ways to identify, assess A multi-disciplinary approach, bringing and work with the perpetrators and together psychology, media studies, victims of child sexual abuse. neuroscience and sociology would help to give a rounded picture of the • A detailed examination of media various factors and offer a more holistic literacy programmes should be understanding of all the variables at play. carried out jointly by the DCSF and I therefore recommend: the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). • The establishment of a new Specific topics for research could include: academic periodical and an annual possible links between sexualisation and conference series focusing solely on child sexual abuse; child pornography and the topic of sexualisation. sex trafficking; the influence of portable ii) Improving the evidence base devices on risky behaviour and levels of exposure to inappropriate content; the A great deal has already been written risks faced by younger children and those on topics raised in this review, from with special educational needs online; newspaper editorials to scholarly journals. the prevalence and impact of ‘sexting’ While there is strong preliminary evidence and cyber-bullying; the changing media to support a link between exposure to landscape; and public attitudes towards sexualised content and unhealthy beliefs violence against women and girls. about sex and relationships and attitudes that support sexual coercion, there is also a clear need for further research. I therefore recommend that: 84
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    • Sexualisation of Young People Review 10. Acknowledgements Researching and writing this review A very special thank you to Rhys has been one of the most interesting Scudamore and Trystan Dafydd, whose and thought provoking journeys of my tireless work and assistance throughout career. I have been very lucky to have made this project not only possible but a the support of a great team behind me genuinely enjoyable working experience. to make the task of collating, reviewing I am especially grateful to both Jacqui and writing up this work possible. A big Smith and Alan Johnson who had the thank you to Steven McDermott and insight and bravery to recognise that the Louise Bell for helping me wade through sexualisation of young people is an issue seemingly endless reams of research; that needs be addressed and discussed, and to academics like Jessica Ringrose, and who decided to get the conversation Katherine Sarikakis and Maddy Coy for the started by commissioning this report. constructive feedback and input. Finally, and very importantly, I’d like to I am very grateful to the members of the thank all the children and young people VAWG Advisory Group for their valuable who have helped shape and inform this insight into the role that schools and review by taking part in focus groups teachers can play in promoting gender and research studies and by sharing their equality and preventing violence against experiences so generously – and in the women and girls. Thank you also to case of my little daughter Jessica, for front-line clinicians and those working in reminding me that the way she sees the child protection like Sara Delaney, Peter world around her will inevitably shape the Johnson, Holly Elsdon-Smithers, Davina way she sees herself… James-Hanman, Tom Narducci and all the members of the steering group for their invaluable input, help and advice. 100
    • Dr Linda Papadopoulos Dr Linda Papadopoulos is one of the most well-known and respected psychologists working in the UK. Her comments regarding the psychology behind news and current events are often syndicated by the press and discussed by television and radio networks both in Britain and in America. She has a very prolific academic publication record and has published widely in peer reviewed academic journals in the field of Counselling and Medical psychology. She has also written several academic and self-help books and is often invited to give specialist lectures at numerous universities and medical schools both in England and throughout the world. Founder and director of the successful Programme in Counselling Psychology at the London Metropolitan University, Dr Papadopoulos was appointed Reader in psychology in 2001 – a great distinction at such a young age. Dr Papadopoulos is a chartered counselling and health psychologist who has worked in various treatment settings both privately, with her own practice and in the National Health Service. During her 12 years as a chartered psychologist, she has gained extensive experience in the counselling of individuals, couples and families. With a prolific and distinguished career that keeps her very busy, Dr Papadopoulos values her free time. She enjoys family life in London with her husband and their young daughter.
    • When you have nished with This publication is printed this publication please recycle it on 50% recycled paper © Crown copyright. February 2010. Ref. 299136. ISBN: 978-1-84987-186-0