Stop The Insanity – Sexualization of Women in the Media

Stop The Insanity – Sexualization of Women in the Media

I did not watch the 2013 VMA’s on Sunday night.  Apparently, I was the only person who didn’t because Miley Cyrus’s performance was all everyone else was talking about Monday morning (even my mother of all people)!  Feeling out of the loop, I was compelled to record a replay on MTV to see for myself what all the fuss was about.  Unlike a lot of people, I wasn’t shocked by Miley’s performance.  And quite frankly, I’m not sure why anyone was surprised by it.  Why?  It’s because sexualization of women in the media is rampant.

Just flip through your television viewing options to see how women continue to be sexualized, even exploited.  Some of the most popular programming tells it all – Real Housewives, Bad Girls, The Bachelor.  It’s not just TV shows. Sex is pervasive in movies, video games, much of the content on YouTube, music lyrics and music videos, even in commercials.  Let’s face it, when advertisers think the best way to sell shampoo or shoes is by having beautiful, young women making orgasmic sounds; why in the world would anyone be surprised that a beautiful, young, singer like Miley Cyrus would think the best way to get attention on the VMA’s is to simulate sex?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think her performance was appropriate in any way.  It actually made me sad, and very angry.  I’m sad that I’m raising my 11 year old daughter in a world in which I have to set parental controls on everything – the television, her phone, her computer, even her iPod apps and game devices.  I’m sad that the message young girls are getting from media is that their value and worth is directly related to how they look.

I’m angry that so many media pundits profess to be outraged by Miley Cyrus, but not at media’s contribution to the hyper-sexualized society that she’s a product of.  I’m really angry that sexual exploitation of women in the media exists, and by all accounts, is socially acceptable.  Even with the progress we’ve made and the evolution of the ‘conscientious’ corporate environment in which sexual harassment training is standard practice, many corporations continue to market their products and services through advertising in which women are portrayed as sex objects.

As women, we should all be outraged at the media, the advertisers and the corporations who perpetuate hyper-sexualized images of women.  What’s the impact of pervasive social exploitation of women?  It dehumanizes us and diminishes our power.

Thanks to the 2012 elections, women now have the greatest representation in the Senate than ever before – yet it’s only 20%, less in the House of Representatives.  While we celebrate this progress, women comprise 51% of the U.S. population. Why don’t we have equal representation in government?  Why isn’t there equal representation in business?  Women hold less than 5% of the CEO positions in the Fortune 500.  Could the lack of gender equality be attributed to how professional women are portrayed in the media?

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brokered peace deals and calmed volatile situations throughout the Middle East.  Yet, what was reported?  That she looked old, haggard and was wearing frumpy clothing.  Similarly, the press seemed more interested in whether former U.S. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, had undergone a facelift than the work she was doing to get the economy stabilized.  And, why was it acceptable for a Fox News reporter to ask Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin whether or not she had breast implants?

When the most powerful women in the U.S. are continually objectified by the press, what messages do working women receive?  That appearance matters more than results, and that regardless of what we accomplish, we will always be judged more harshly than men.

Early last year I was invited to a screening of Miss Representation, a stunning documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom that explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence.  If you’re a woman or you have a daughter, you MUST see this film.  It highlights how the media’s portrayal of women feeds stereotypes and leaves young women feeling powerless. View the trailer:

The statistics from the film are shocking, here are just a few:

–          78% of 17 year old girls are unhappy with their bodies

–          65% of women and girls have an eating disorder

–          Depression among women and girls has doubled between 2000 and 2010

–          The U.S. is 90th in the world in terms of women in national legislatures

–          Women own only 5.8% of all television stations and 6% of radio stations

–          Women hold only 3% of clout positions in telecommunications, entertainment, publishing and advertising

–          The television industry targets men ages 18 – 34, so does the advertising

Here are facts from Miss Representation that highlight the media’s impact on society:

–          In 1972, A Surgeon General’s report cites a link between screen violence and aggressive behavior

–          In 1976, the American Medical Association called TV violence an “environmental hazard”

–          In 1982, the national Institute of mental health said there is a clear link between TV violence and aggression

–          In 1985, the American Psychological Association showed a link between TV violence and real violence

–          In 1992, the American Psychological Association called for a federal policy to protect society when research is ignored

–          In 2004, the centers for Disease Control found that media violence enhances violent behavior

–          In 2007, the FCC unanimously recommended Congress regulate TV violence

–          In 2007, Congress held a special hearing on the prevalence of women’s sexualization in music videos

–          In 2009, studies proved exposure to sexually explicit video games and music videos is linked to men’s acceptance of rape myths and sexual harassment

You may be asking yourself, why is this important?  As a volunteer at my daughter’s school, I had to take a child abuse prevention training course.  One of the statistics cited in the training was not only shocking, but abhorrent:  1 in 3 girls will be sexually assaulted or abused by the time they are 18 years old.

Is this the society we want for ourselves or for our daughters?  Let’s not vilify the young women and girls, like Miley Cyrus, who are simply products of the environment in which they are raised.

Let’s stand together as strong, powerful women and STOP THE INSANITY – sexualzation and exploitation of women which perpetuates the inhumane treatment of and violence against our girls.   I encourage you to join me in taking the Miss Representation pledge to “use my voice to spread the message of Miss Representation and challenge the media’s limiting portrayal of women and girls.”

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Passionate advocate for the advancement and empowerment of women. Prior HR exec and co-founder of Ask Ajna - helping women find their voice in the workplace.


  1. Thank you for this well-written article! It is about time women started to get upset about the sexual/nudity portrayals of women on TV (and total lack of male erotica, male nudity and male sexuality for entertainment purposes). I guarantee that the sexuality imbalance on TV, and the ginormous “positioning” of women as “the sex-objects of society” is a root cause of misogyny. Men don’t respect that so many girls appear to be sexual exhibitionists, and they never have, but now just about every woman on TV or the Internet comes across as a bitch, slut, whore, stripper, sexual manipulator, or some “old, ugly gal” who is no longer relevant or even worth watching.

    Try reading the TV channel program guide (on cable or satellite) descriptions for all the vast numbers of “soft-core TV porn” that’s always on. This is the climate boys grow up in: Full frontal nudity of women on TV, tons of girl-on-girl porn on TV, plus all the other TV-MA, TV-14 shows that depict strippers, prostitutes, bikini/underwear models, and the huge presence of women filming their waxed and shaved “hoo-ha’s” for the Internet. I’ve noticed “up-skirt videos” are a new trend, where the girl has no underwear on. Often she KNOWS she is being filmed. The channel guide descriptions for the “adult only” shows on TV (satellite and cable) are visible to kids and teens, and contain lurid descriptions such as “watch these horny teenage sluts masturbate each other when they should be in school!” What are boys supposed to think? We live in a huge climate of porn and the only ones “acting out the porn-part” are the naked young women. There are no shows like that with naked teen boys masturbating.

    I would like to add that women are complicit to this problem. We don’t create a demand for male erotica and sexuality, and we don’t boycott the shows that show all this female nudity for no reason other than to titillate males and to give them the power in society. Why are we not discussing this issue in the countless mainstream women’s magazines or TV-daytime talk shows? Why did I have to see a sex scene on my TV recently, with a woman’s naked breasts flopping all over the place as she was being “made love to in an aggressive way” just because at 2pm in the afternoon I happened to click on a Sean Connery movie on IFC channel (Rising Sun, 1993)? Because it’s OK to show women’s sexual body parts in media, that’s why. And because women are willing to be portrayed that way, and we aren’t fighting to get it off our TV sets. If there weren’t so many women willing be nude and sexualized on camera for money, maybe men would have more respect for women.

    Also an issue – just the way women dress. Watch the Today show on NBC. See how the women all dress compared to the men. With women, it is always about their body. Their naked legs and arms, their form fitting clothes, the full make-up, the short dresses. Look at Dancing with the Stars, for crying out loud. Women sexualizing themselves, that’s what that is. The ultimate message that all the TV images of women send to men and boys is this: Women are into showing off their bodies, are superficial bimbos who are petty and narcissistic with each other, women are into making themselves “caricatures” of what a woman is supposed to be, and that most young women are sexy, slutty and bi-sexual. When in fact, with actual women, most young women are not any of those things. We are just smart, lovely people trying to live it this world too. So remind me, Why do we have to put up with all this female-sexualization all around us, when men don’t? It’s a civil rights issue.

  2. Well written! I agree totally with what youve said. Everthing on tv or movies or advertising seems to have women naked or semi naked. Why? Its so unneccesary. Is there anything that we can do, anyone we can write to or website.?


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