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.

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:

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Sexualisation of-young-people

  1. 1. Sexualisation of Young People Review by Dr Linda Papadopoulos
  2. 2. 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
  3. 3. 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
  4. 4. 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
  5. 5. 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)
  6. 6. 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)
  7. 7. 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
  8. 8. 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 24 Ofcom (2008) womeninperil/main.asp 8 25 Ringrose (2010) 19 Kelly and Smith (2006)
  9. 9. 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
  10. 10. 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 37 of-surgery/breast-enlargement/breast-implants- 38 Zuckerman and Abraham (2008) 10 linked-to-suicide-risk/105
  11. 11. 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 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)
  12. 12. 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)
  13. 13. 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 MediaBriefings/Policy/media_briefing_sexually_ 52 Malamuth, Addison and Koss (2000) harmful_behaviour_wda33252.html 53 Paul and Linz (2008) 56 Carr (2004) 13
  14. 14. 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)
  15. 15. 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
  16. 16. 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
  17. 17. 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
  18. 18. 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
  19. 19. 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 violenceagainstwomen.pdf 60 19
  20. 20. 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. 65 pressreleases/22_may_2006_unwanted_sexual_ against-women-poll?view=Binary 20 experiences_wdn33559.html 66 Barter, McCarry, Berridge and Evans (2009)
  21. 21. 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
  22. 22. 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)
  23. 23. 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 “ 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
  24. 24. 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)