Through the media they are steeped in, American girls learn that to be sexually attractive to boys is the most important thing about womanhood. Teaching our kids—boys as well as girls—to view girls in this way is known as sexualization. Sexualization starts in the media and extends to the mall, as the products that are marketed to girls—from Barbies to Bratz dolls to pre-teen clothing—reinforce this message. Although there is nothing wrong with a girl enjoying a tiara, our culture makes it very clear that girls should put on the tiara and never pick up a toolbelt.
Concern about the effects of sexualization on girls is so great that the American Psychological Association has a task force that has been studying it for years—and proven that sexualization in our media leads to low self-esteem, eating disorders, and other unhealthy consequences for American girls. That’s the bad news. The good news is that many people recognize the unhealthy effects of raising our kids on sexist ideas, and are forming organizations and companies that empower, rather than limit, girls.
In this workshop, we’ll consider:
- Examples of disempowering messages American girls receive in the media, and their consequences.
- Examples of toys and clothing that send American girls disempowering messages.
- The role of sexism in female disempowerment, and the difference between sexual objectification and sexual empowerment or agency.
- The role of racism, classism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination in female disempowerment, and how these factors affect some girls and young women.
- The importance of media literacy, and of talking to girls about cultural messages.
- Alternative media—books, magazines, movies, TV shows, music—that empower, rather than limit, girls and young women.
- Examples of organizations that support and empower girls and young women.
- Talking points for female empowerment.
- Actions you can take to change our cultural treatment of girls and young women.
- Resources for further reading and reflection.