Sexualisation of women and girls in our society is a topic that has been stirring in my heart and mind for years. Growing up in the 80s in Scandinavia, my looks and how boys saw me formed one of the most important parts of my identity as a young woman. Especially in my teen-age years and even in my twenties to some extent, my self-worth was measured by whether or not boys – and later men – found me sexy.
I have since come a long way and can clearly see the impact of our society on my self-image and the mistakes I made along the way, but can’t stop wondering that if I battled with this (and I am quite confident and strong!) then how much are other women struggling with this, especially in today’s society? Because, the sad thing is, it is not getting any easier for our girls. In actual fact it seems to be getting harder and harder for girls to grow up feeling valued for anything else than how sexy they are. Public images of women heavily concentrate on the way they look, and often in overly sexualised ways, rather than highlight their intelligence or work capacity. This puts emphasis on the subtle (or not so subtle!) message that women’s sexual attributes are their most important assets.
In fact, sexualisation is prevalent in so many parts of our society that it is easy to become quite blind and desensitised to it. What used to be soft-porn is now main stream TV (think Game of Thrones or Vikings or anything that basically isn’t a period drama!). Furthermore, what used to be hard-core pornography is now considered ‘soft’. Marketers and film-makers are having to constantly push the boundaries for the shock value, which normalises things like graphic sex scenes, including rape scenes in prime-time TV, as well as violence against women in advertising and using naked and sexualised images of women to sell basically anything and everything.
So what does this sexualisation do and why should we care about it?
Firstly, sexualisation in our culture contributes negatively to women of all ages, and younger girls in particular, to thinking that their worth is mostly tied into how they look. I struggled with this 20 years ago and can only imagine the pressures young girls have today.
According to existing research some of the negative impacts of an overly sexualised culture are issues such as negative body image, low self-esteem, depression and eating disorders. Worryingly, in the overly sexualised culture we live in, girls and boys both are starting to treat girls as sexual objects, in other words objectifying them. When women are objectified, they are treated more as a thing to look at and own, rather than as human beings with value. This self-objectification by girls in particular is alarming and visible in the recent phenomenon of girls posting semi-nude and nude pictures of themselves on the internet – think Instagram, Snapchat and sexting. This is an extreme example of self-sexualisation, but sadly very common. Women and girls increasingly seem to think that the most important thing is for them to be sexy and hot and to be looked at by men.
Secondly, sexualisation of our culture contributes negatively to the relationships between men and women. In its most brutal form, the sexualisation and objectification of women is prevalent in pornography. Research says that by the age of 12, 100% of boys have seen pornography and more than half (52%) of young women today are exposed to sexually explicit material by the age of 14. So why is this a problem? Basically, if you learn about sex from porn and grow up filling your brain with visuals that portray women as mere sexual objects to be looked at and used, rather than as a real human being with feelings and thoughts, it will have an impact on your idea of what sex is about and how you treat women, or yourself. It can make it very difficult to be able to have healthy, adult relationships – ones that do not objectify women – or where women don’t self-objectify themselves. Instead, women are treated commodities that can be used and are only meant for the pleasure of men.
Finally, the sexualisation of our culture and the consequent objectification of women in general has been linked to the prevalence of domestic violence, rape and other forms of violence against women in our society. This is a big topic of conversation in itself, but sufficient to say this is problematic and a concerning direction our society is heading to.
In conclusion, sexualisation of our culture and the objectification of women on all levels of our society is prevalent, which is why this topic has been stirring in my heart for a while. It is impossible to escape these sexualised images that objectify women and the impact of it creeps into all aspects of our lives; into our thinking, our view of other people and our relationships. Although I can honestly say I am now comfortable in my own skin and have learned that men who value me for my mind, rather than my looks are the keepers, my – and Lumi’s – concern is for all the women in our lives. It is difficult to reach your full potential if you think your sexuality and looks are your most important attributes.
So if you feel as stirred (or even a bit stirred) about this all as I do, what can you do about it?
Here’s a few things to get you started:
- Learn about sexualisation, be aware of it on TV, in advertising and in films. Organisations like Collective Shout (www.collectiveshout.org) are great places for more information.
- Speak up – don’t let sexualised and objectifying videos, pictures and comments go unnoticed, this will contribute to normalising it. Sign petitions and point out examples of sexualisation to those around you, women and men.
- Notice and compliment people for attributes other than just their looks.
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