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Objectification & our Hyper-sexualized Media

June 30, 2010

GRIID recently presented to a group of people who are working with teenagers in Kent County and promoting the idea of safe dating and healthy relationships. They invited us to do a session on how media objectifies women, hyper-sexual images and messages and how it normalizes violence against women. Here is a summary of that workshop, including some examples of the media we looked at.

The Reality

We know that sexual assault in the US happens at an astronomical rate. According to some sources someone is sexually assaulted in the US every 2 minutes. Another statistics states that 1 in 6 women in the US will be sexually assaulted at some point in their life. However, statistics do not reflect the actual harm, the pain and the trauma of sexual assault. Statistics do not have names or stories, nor do they encompass the emotional realities of sexual assault, a reality that will affect victims for the rest of their lives.

There are numerous factors that contribute the high levels of sexual assault in this country. Male dominance in economic, political and social spheres are contributing factors in sexual assault, as is the theological justification for men having power that most world religions preach.  Then there is the role that popular culture plays through the media, with an instantaneous 24/7, no holds barred approach to hyper-sexual content.

Objectification

Objectification of women is so pervasive in media that many of us don’t even recognize it and if we do we may not think much of it since we are all so desensitized to those images. Objectification of women’s bodies is so normal, that we don’t even blink. Look at this example from Budweiser, where the woman’s body is available to consume just like the beer.

The same could be said about this ad for a video game, where the text of the ad sends a clear message about sexuality.

Hyper-Sexualized Images and Messages

With the advent of the Internet and all other kinds of digital media humanity has seen a whole lot more hyper-sexualized content. Not much is left to the imagination and the exposure to such images and messages is at a much younger age. According to the group Stop Porn Culture, the average exposure to pornography online is 11 years old. And it is important to point out that the kind of images are not like the Playboy magazine that many of us saw as a kid, but images much more graphic.

However, the kind of hyper-sexualized content that we are exposed to is much like this billboard or this clip from the recent movie Kickass.

In many of the teen and tween targeted films not only are kids having sex, but they use highly sexualized language. All one has to do is look at films, video games and music videos that target predominantly younger audiences and you can see the hyper-sexualized content. The most popular music video online is a Lady Gaga video where she uses her body in a mostly sexualized fashion. One other example is this JC Penny ad.

Sexualized Violence

One other way that media contributes negatively to relationships or how we see woman’s bodies in our culture is the sexualizing of violence. Talk show host will often comment that a woman who was raped by a man either “asked for it” or “provoked” the man into doing it by her being sexually provocative. This blaming the victim mentality is quite pervasive amongst the predominantly male talk show hosts in the US.

However, sexualized violence is now the norm within pornography and other forms of popular media. Look at this Calvin Klein ad, where the actors are simulating what could be interpreted as a sexual assault.

Even though it may be difficult to look at these images and one might be disgusted by them, it is important that we have an understanding about how these popular images and messages contribute to creating a climate of hyper-sexuality and sexualized violence.

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