It’s important to speak out – and loudly – against overt sexualisation of young women.
Collective Shout is a grassroots campaign movement highlighting the objectification of women and their sexualisation in popular culture. We believe serious problems arise when:
- A person’s value is derived from her/his sexual appeal.
- A person is sexually ‘objectified’. In other words, regarded as a ‘thing’ for the sexual use of others.
- ‘Sexuality’ is imposed upon another person.
Mass media and popular culture routinely depict females in a highly sexualised and objectified manner. This has a profound impact on how both women and girls are perceived by others and, more importantly, how they ‘see’ themselves.
A recent meta-analysis of relevant publications found consistent evidence that regular exposure to sexually objectifying content is directly associated with higher levels of body dissatisfaction, greater self-objectification and increased tolerance of sexual violence toward women. And there are a number of recent studies suggesting that exposure to this type of material results in both men and women having a diminished view of human sexuality.
In a submission to the NSW Parliament earlier this year, the Australian Psychological Society outlined some of the consequences of exposure to highly sexualised and objectifying material. It stated that young women learn to regard their bodies as objects of desire and one of the flow-on effects is impaired cognitive function. Such negative sexualisation has also been linked with depression, low self-esteem and eating disorders.
The mainstreaming of internet pornography is also having significant negative health outcomes for young people. Easily accessible online pornography is a significant factor in the escalating rates of surgical labiaplasty among healthy young women. It’s no surprise that women end up comparing their vulvas to female porn performers and end up believing that their own genitalia is abnormal and requires surgical alteration.
GPs are also reporting a rise in sex-related injuries in adolescent girls. Many of them are being pressured to engage in porn-inspired ‘rough sex’ with predictable consequences.
This culture of objectification permeates our lives. I was recently helping my six-year-old daughter put on a pair of jeans that she was rapidly growing out of. I was horrified when she said to me, ‘I like them, they make me look skinny, and skinny is pretty’.
All those countless conversations we had about healthy bodies that come in all shapes and sizes!
It’s very difficult, as a parent, to counter these endless cultural messages equating female thinness with being physically attractive.
A friendly chat in a GP’s surgery regarding unhelpful, and often dangerous, cultural messages may well prove to be a timely intervention. And what a wonderful thing if more doctors participated in ongoing advocacy to tackle the increasing problems linked with sexual objectification.
References available on request
ED: Caitlin Roper is WA State Coordinator and Campaigns Manager for Collective Shout.