Because I was unable to attend the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood's Sixth Annual Summit in Boston I have invited a guest poster to fill us in.
Lisa Ray, founder of Parents for Ethical Marketing and author of Corporate Babysitter has been kind enough to write this post for So Sioux Me to help us understand what sexualization of girls is costing us and what we can do about it. Thank you Lisa.
Not a day goes by that an example of the new sexualized childhood doesn’t rear its ugly head. This week, the U.K. is up in arms over a plunging, defining sexualization – when a person is sexually objectified and not seen as a whole person. The APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls identifies sexualization of girls by this criteria:
* a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics; or
* a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy; or
* sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.
Sexualization is not about sex.
And the problem is not that children are learning about sex when they are young. Diane Levin and Jean Kilbourne’s presentation, based on their upcoming book So Sexy So Soon: the New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids, suggests that children are being robbed of positive, age-appropriate experiences and are instead learning to treat themselves and others as objects. Kids are exposed to – and mimicking – highly sexualized behavior long before they are able to understand and appreciate what a healthy sexual relationship means. Girls learn narrow definitions of gender and that their value is based on how well they meet a sexualized ideal.
The world of the sexualized child has reached into pornography, as we learned from Gail Danes, co-author of Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality. She discussed the prevalence of “teen porn” (using models who appear younger than 18) and the explosion of pornography on the internet, saying that “soft porn” has moved from adult magazines into marketing and advertising.
One of the primary messages of the Summit was that the sexualization of children is becoming a more integrated aspect of our culture. Since it’s out there more, we see it less. It’s becoming an accepted part of our lives and our kids’ lives. Parents complain about the clothing choices available for young girls, yet stores continue to sell them because parents continue to buy them.
What to do? Two solutions that were repeated by multiple presenters and attendees are:
* Ban advertising to children(age cutoffs range from eight to twelve); and
* Talk to kids about healthy sexual relationships, including a robust sexual education curriculumin schools.
The beauty of the CCFC Summit was the number of committed people attending who will continue to work against childhood sexualization. Levin and Kilbourne noted that we need to work together to “create a society that supports the healthy sexual development of children and that limits the ability of corporations to use sex to sell to them.”
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