PARENTS

In my last blog, I considered whether sexting is liberating for girls or if it’s just making them think they’re liberated as they’re plunging right into the cultural pressure to show up as sexualized objects for others’ pleasure. We live in a culture that packages self-objectification as liberation for girls and women. But exactly what does that mean? How is someone an object or a subject?

Self-objectification is the act of treating oneself as an object instead of a subject. Objects don’t really do things. Instead, their value comes from how they look or how they are used. Subjects do things to objects; their value comes from what they do. So here lies the conundrum, girls get sexual value for how they look (as objects) and boys get sexual value for how much they can get in terms of number of sex partners or getting their partner to do many sexual behaviors (subject).

Many 3rd-wave feminists have tried to liberate themselves through self-objectification. This means labeling strip-tease classes, waxing, tanning, make-up, lingerie, etc. as liberating and a choice to be sexual, like men get to be. Yet, these behaviors are not linked with sexual satisfaction, greater sexual meaning, or even more orgasms. I always tell college students in my seminars, if it is not making more orgasms happen, sex more pleasurable or naturally occurring in some way, AND more meaningful, it’s probably not liberating-at least sexually.

Don’t get me wrong, doing things to make youreself more attractive or "hot," can be fun, and it can be uplifting to feel desired, but let’s not call these behaviors liberating.  This new ‘liberating’ self-objectification is only the other end of the same spectrum of Victorian-Era chastity, perpetuating an unrealistic standard which women can never truly attain and can't even come close to unless they have specific physical characteristics. Bottom line - the act of girls and women sending naked pictures of themselves is still centering female sexual expression around men’s pleasure and approval.

So what can we do about this? We need to support girls to foster their own talents and abilities in multiple areas of life, and encourage boys to support them, too. You don’t want your teen to sext? Try telling them not to do it. That didn’t work you say? Shocking. The pressures are immense.

It’s important for parents of boys to acknowledge the pressure girls feel to prove they are sexy and to encourage them to recognize girls' interests, talents and knowledge above their looks whenever possible. For parents of girls, it’s important to focus on their abilities and not just their looks or dress. It’s not that it is wrong for teen girls to express their sexuality, it’s just that their only dose of daily self-esteem shouldn't come from a sexy selfie because their sexual worth is their only worth. Even better, we need to teach teens that their sexual and romantic experiences are just as much a part of their life and identity as their other experiences are - so they better match up! Remember the Golden Rule? Chinese fortune cookie? Treat others the way you want to be treated…in bed.

We also need to hold boys and men accountable for their actions and credit them with the ability to do the right thing. They are capable of not acting on sexual impulses. Our “boys will be boys” mentality perpetuates a myth that boys and men cannot help themselves sexually, and that their penis is what guides all of their decisions. This is a disservice and degradation of boys and men. They are capable of so much more.

Parents and schools should be telling boys that asking girls for nude photos is sexual harassment, and that sexual harassment can have consequences under Title IX. Posting and forwarding nude photos or videos is known as non-consensual pornography or revenge porn, and is becoming illegal in many states. This is where our focus should be. Think of how maniacal and vile it is to hurt someone so badly by utterly humiliating them and potentially ruining future possibilities by posting nude photos online. Compare this with the act of complying with a partner’s request to send a nude photo. Whose motivation is unhealthy? The person who sent the photo hoping for a sexual relationship or sexual intimacy? Or the person who posted or forwarded a photo that was intended to be private for all to see?

We need comprehensive sexuality education that includes media literacy in every single middle school and high school. The problems mentioned above are complex and not being explained to our youth. Indeed, while our society argues about the appropriateness of teaching adolescents the basic biology involving their reproductive systems, 93% of boys start viewing pornography online during this time.

Finally, we need to equip teens who choose to have sex with the proper tools to carry out safe, healthy and pleasurable sexual experiences. This is done through sex education in the home, at school, and online. We can do this while also supporting adolescents who choose not to have sex. Teens report learning more about sex from porn than any other outlet. So how does this affect sexting and revenge porn? We don’t have scientific evidence of that yet, but it doesn’t take a scientist to understand the need educate youth on the sexual reality they’re living in instead of ignoring their sexuality all together.

by Dr. Megan Maas, Professor and researcher at Michigan State and member of the Girlology Expert Panel

 

REFERENCES:

  • Grabe, S., & Hyde, J. S. (2009). Body objectification, MTV, and psychological outcomes among female Adolescents. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39, 2840-2858.
  • Muehlenkamp, J. J., & Saris–Baglama, R. N. (2002). Self–objectification and its psychological outcomes for college women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 371-379.
  • Morry, M. M., & Staska, S. L. (2001). Magazine exposure: Internalization, self-objectification, eating attitudes, and body satisfaction in male and female university students. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 33, 269-273.
  • Albury, K. (2014). Porn and sex education, porn as sex education. Porn Studies, 1, 172-181.
  • Ward, L. M. (2016). Media and sexualization: State of empirical research, 1995–2015. The Journal of Sex Research, 53, 560-577.

 

Tags: 
sexting, revenge porn, nonconsensual pornography, consent

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