Sex Objects: USC Study Reveals Hollywood’s Role in Sexualization of Teenage Girls

Winning Hollywood’s War On Girls

There are a number of ways that faith-based filmmaking could make a significant difference in the culture-making impact of Hollywood: perhaps none more than as a movement aligned with Women’s groups against the radical sexualization of women in the media.

While violent and perhaps masculinized, Saoirse Ronan's role in 'Hanna' demonstrates that Hollywood is capable of portraying strong young women without resorting to overt sexualization.

A recent study by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism (below) confirms what the American Psychological Association has asserted for years: allegedly pro-women’s rights Hollywood is guilty of waging war against the psyche of young women.

The APA’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls reports that “Virtually every media form studied provides ample evidence of the sexualization of women.In study after study, findings have indicated that women more often than men are portrayed in a sexual manner (e.g., dressed in revealing clothing, with bodily postures or facial expressions that imply sexual readiness) and are objectified (e.g., used as a decorative object, or as body parts rather than a whole person). In addition, a narrow (and unrealistic) standard of physical beauty is heavily emphasized. These are the models of femininity presented for young girls to study and emulate.”[1]

The impact of sexualization on teenage girls has been devastating. Frequent exposure to media images that sexualize girls and women affects how girls conceptualize femininity and sexuality and often leads to young girls placing appearance and physical attractiveness at the center of a women’s value.

Once acculturated into this sexualized way of thinking of themselves and other woman, many young women suffer with: Ongoing struggles with shame, anxiety, and even self-disgust, Failure to develop healthy and enjoyable sexuality even as adults, Inabilty to develop healthy friendships with young men OR young women, Mental health issues such as eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression Reduced vocational excellence and academic performance (especially in math, science, engineering, and technology).

Jennifer Lawrence's imperiled role in 'Winter's Bone' earned the young actress an Academy Award nomination. Will "Hunger Games" explore or exploit her gender?

Now the world’s most prestigious Film School has joined the APA’s chorus against sexualization.

Perhaps it is time for Christian filmmakers to unite with the American Psychological Association, and Women’s rights groups in helping provide a counter-balancing influence in the entertainment industry. What such efforts might look like (certainly not boycotts), I will leave for other’s imaginations. Recent films featuring strong young women in a variety of genre’s–Hanna (action-adventure), Winter’s Bone (drama), Soul Surfer (family-friendly)–all point to the possibility of profitable and even Oscar-worthy projects free from sexualization.

With women currently filling less than 15% of the content creating positions in feature film–writers, directors, producers–and Christians perhaps even less, it will not be an easy project. Still an alliance between these two groups of ‘outsiders’ could be exactly what Hollywood, and the young women of America so desperately need.

Read the USC Report below.   . .

Study reveals new data on sexiness on screen

In USC Annenberg News

A new study released by USC Annenberg researchers Stacy Smith (pictured, left) and Marc Choueiti shows that Hollywood continues to be a difficult place for women to find on- and off-screen role models, and provides some grim details about society’s sexualization of teenaged girls.
In a survey of the top 100 grossing movies from 2008, Smith and her research team found that 39.8% of female teen characters were seen in sexy clothing, and 30.1% were shown with exposed skin in the cleavage, midriff or upper thigh regions. For male teen characters, the numbers were drastically lower – 6.7% shown in sexy clothing and 10.3% showing skin…
“These findings are troubling given that repeated exposure to thin and sexy characters may contribute to negative effects in some female viewers,” Smith said. “Such portrayals solidify patterns of lookism in the entertainment industry.”
Hollywood’s emphasis on sexualizing its women continues, the study found. Across four out of six measures of sexuality – from wearing sexy clothing to being referenced as attractive – female characters were much more likely than their male counterparts to be portrayed with objectifying attributes.
Nearly one quarter of female characters were shown exposing skin in 2008’s most popular movies…

. The study’s conclusion?

Our findings reveal that motion picture content is sending… consistent and troubling messages… that females are more likely than males to be valued for their appearance. Roughly a fifth to a quarter of all female speaking characters are depicted in a hypersexualized light. These numbers jump substantially higher when only teenaged females are considered. This result is particularly troubling, given the frequency with which young males and females go to the multiplex.




Read 2010 Report

Read 2011 Report: Hollywood Hooked on Sexualizing Teenage Women and Teen Girls


[1] Quotations from The APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. See also, Gow, 1996; Grauerholz & King, 1997; Krassas, Blauwkamp,& Wesselink, 2001, 2003; Lin, 1997; Plous & Neptune, 1997; Vincent, 1989; Ward, 1995.

20 Replies to “Sex Objects: USC Study Reveals Hollywood’s Role in Sexualization of Teenage Girls”

  1. Here are a couple of interesting resources that I have stumbled upon recently that speak to this issue. – This business was started by a Biola student who has “a passion to see women develop a beauty and strength that comes from within.”… – a book review on “Fashioned by Faith” – a book on modesty written by a model.… – interview of the same author – blog from the author of radical womanhood (feminist turned Christian)

    Look forward to hearing from Sue on the modesty issue…

  2. i am pumped to see Hanna. Saorise Ronan has been on my radar since atonement and i've been excited to see the kind of influence she will have on young female actors.

    1. @Erin yeah I would like to view "Hanna" as well. Want to study how Saorise Ronan's representation is set apart from other female action stars. After viewing the trailer…from the surface, she looks like a no-nonsense, normal decent young female that knows how to fight – definitely different than Uma Thurman in "Kill Bill" who is a more mature woman who is sexualized in an athletic, healthy way. Think they de-sexualized Jodie Foster in "Silence of the Lambs" and gave Jodie a more professional, conservative & intelligent image to make her be taken seriously. Saorise has a very young, innocent teenage look. Almost like a young child Lolita type. @ Lindsay Marshall's remark above – has kind of a "disturbing sexual representation". Sad to say (from the trailer, the look this Saorise has is the type of look that child molesters seem to go for…a very young innocent look. Sorry for being so analytical – have a knee-jerk reaction as to how very young girls are portrayed as in relation to child abuse (which is another subject altogether). Also did a lot of critical analysis of films & film theory in film school…especially on the portrayal of women – female action protagonists was one of my focuses – as I (like many) would love to see better, more empowered representations of women out there in film. Would have to view this film in it's entirety – don't know that Hannah would be such a great role model for young teenage girls. Almost (from the trailer) seems as if she is a young Lolita freak of nature. Don't get a warm vibe off this…Xena had a warmer vibe than this… Anyways, enough of the analysis 🙂

      1. You're welcome! Dove into these books while studying film along w/ feminist theory while @ Regent. It was good stuff and knowledge I plan to use when making my own films in the near future. Sure you will find a lot of the studies interesting… 🙂

  3. From Susan via Facebook

    Lindsay Lohan said she learned about sex from Sex And The City. Nuff Said.

    1. LOL! As a father with a 14 year old daughter, I'm just glad that Lindsay provides such a great morality tale for why you should NOT get your role models in the media… unless of course they're Susan Isaacs!

  4. Powerfully said! You really get at what I am trying to say (in the article, not the perhaps poorly chosen picture caption), but of course, being male, don't really know what I am talking about. I am going to have my 14 year old daughter read this entire conversation.

  5. From Amanda via Facebook

    Being feminine is NOT being male or like men, it is being like women. HANNA could have easily been GEORGE and both of them would have been awful movies. Being feminine is something that most men will not understand thinking that it is a fascination with shoes or Kim Kardashian. Feminine is something altogether unique and hard to quantify. Female impersonators even find it difficult. It is movement, it is thought patterns and a way to view the world that is not a form of masculinity and unfortunately (or fortunately for the human species) it is exciting for men to observe. Hence the idea of procreation. What feminine is not, yet has been done by Hollywood, is cheap. Cheapened mostly with agreement from women themselves. It has become the selling of a form of sexualism that is neither sexy or feminine but a hollow imitation of both and then sold back to women wrapped in a feminist pill. "See, your only power lies in being sexy and ruling over men." Lies…lies. Femininity should be protected by our modesty and not flaunted cheaply like a handgun by a gang member. There is nothing feminist about it, it is unique and in some quarters, holds its own against the onslaught against our daughters. It should not be for sale or to be bargained away and yet is has been done so. Everything from mini-skirts, the current fascination with platform shoes, and hooker style make-up does it to us with our cooperation. It is more than Hollywood. It is part of the philosophy of cheapening life itself. I could go on but I would run out of post space.

    1. Via Facebook

      Great analysis Amanda…couldn't have expressed it better. You are right, femininity is an intangible quality that men have a difficult time understanding…and even portraying. All they see is things from their angle and perspective – which many times is frighteningly warped. I do not consider myself a feminist as I try to adhere to the God-given ways that women are supposed to be naturally in femininity. But know that even in my own life, it's been a struggle as there are so many confusing and bizarre messages sent out to women in the media…how are they supposed to act? Well the ways of our grandmothers seemed to work best…the modest "finishing school", ladylike ways of femininity always had the best results throughout history. But this shifting to another extreme in making women cave warriors or whatnot. Why masculinize a woman to make her have worth? She was not intended to be a man! It seems now from a woman's career paths in the business world on down to just normal everyday life, they are looked upon as having no worth if they adopt normal feminine roles or traits. It's almost as if we do not have any options now but to be neutered and sexless to maneuver throughout society or go to the other extreme and become defeminized or masculine "its" with no feminine identity that go against our natural grain emotionally to deal with people on a "business" and "professional" level. And then you have the "harlot extreme" that is selling out in Hollywood where women have to remain cheap tramps and mindless blonde bimbos in order to stay on top of the game out there. Basically compromising who you are as a woman and also in the eyes of God….and definitely sending the wrong message to men and everyone that you are a cheap harlot. You would think by now, that society (& Hollywood) would have already gotten beyond these unhealthy and hurtful stereotypes that they want women to fit into. Bottom line is that is doesn't work. If women dare design their personal lives from these images…the men basically disrespect them and will use them as yesterday's trash. Very horrible, hurtful, degrading and counterproductive for the everyday self-image of a woman. And you wonder why women are increased targets of rape and young children are sexually assaulted on a regular basis…with abortions occurring at a continuous alarming rate? Because the patriarchal sexism that has been passed on has gotten worse and women are following these wrongful messages in their own personal lives…and getting used, burned and raped in more ways that one continuously. Viewing themselves only worthy if they keep up with these Hollywood images. Men will only view them as property or whores….to be used and abused and that's it…perpetuating the domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and lack of respect and dignity in society. It's wrong – pure and simple. Some men get their own sexual satisfaction and power trips off for the moment with their part on these degrading behaviors…but many lead a lonely existence in their self-absorbed porn obsessions…never really finding a decent connection with a female as they go from one relationship to another. Or some are smart enough to hide this hidden dark life away from their unsuspecting wives or girlfriends…but this behavior eventually catches up with them. The usual result from all of this for men are child support checks, alimony, expensive property settlements in divorces….or being incarcerated for child porn, child abuse, domestic violence, rape….the list goes on and on and on. For impressionable teenage girls it's teenage pregnancies, STD's, abortions, anorexia, bulimia, etc. Yeah it's high time that faith-based filmmakers take the bull by the horns and generate more positive images for women, children, the family unit…the way things God intended for them to be…instead of these other images that promote death to the human species, distance from God and destroying the family unit as a whole.

  6. I took a "Race and Gender" course @ Regent on reversing stereotypes in Hollywood films. What Laura Mulvey labels the "male gaze", my professor went even further and called it the "male glare" in one of her dissertations. It's all interesting analysis, but the Bible specifically outlines that women are supposed to wear appropriate dress so as to NOT make men lust or be tempted with their thoughts. Nowadays w/ the way women dress in Hollyweird, all that has gone out the window and many think nothing of dressing like cheap call girls & tramps…thinking it's all hip…and the aging women out there make sure they do their regular nip & tuck to look like plastic Stepford wives. I honestly think all of that idiocy is rather degrading…the guys out their just view and treat these women like Charlie Sheen was. Who wants that degradation? But it's sad that the young teenage girls have had Madonna, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and now Lady Gaga as role models…it's frightening and now people wonder why they see so many young women the victims of sex crimes?? They send out the wrong message w/ their garb thinking they are being cool. It's all very twisted…need to get back to the days of finishing schools and how to be a lady. Decency has vanished in the confusion of mixed messages…

  7. I continue to find a strange bias in these studies, namely it ignores inherent gender differences. While I hate the continual porn-ification of our culture, nonetheless, as a business, Hollywood knows that males and females see different things. This is a more complex issue than sexual equity on TV. Males WANT to see scantily clad females more than females want to see anyone scantily clad. That's why they're so far "ahead" of males in this category.

    Also consider: most males are less likely to watch female-protagonist narratives because they don't readily identify with them, but females are accustomed to watching male-protagonist narratives, not just because of the bias of male writers, but because of character arcs. Females are more frequently perceived as being right in stories (whether this is a compensation for anything I'm not sure) but males are more frequently portrayed as stupid and/or wrong in storyies, not just in romcoms, but even in yogurt commercials! This bias in favor of "the man's curse" that woman will want to lord over him, has resulted, for story purposes in a predominately male protagonist narratives, and those males like to look at hot chicks.

    Hollywood also compensates for that by making their female characters unrealistically tough and indestructible (Hanna, Bones, Lara Croft, Hit Girl, etc.) while making beefy tough guys wimps either physically, emotionally or socially. Who's really wearing the pants in Bones, Castle, In Plain Sight, and other shows? Not only does this lie to children about humanity, society and gender roles, the effect of which can be devastating BTW, worse, it's defining females based on male values. Why don't women, instead of promoting females to be more like men, forge a new path of identity that doesn't make them sex objects or male competitors?

    1. Well said. Amanda said something similar on Facebook. I'll see if the data transfers. (Below.)

  8. Hey, Dr. Stratton!

    Great to hear this discussion happening and very timely for us. I have an almost 7 year old girl and bathing suit shopping has been a nightmare. I found a tankini, but the neckline ended up being of the plunging variety. Ugh.

    But, having only seen the trailer for Hanna (and not being able to get through it because it was so disturbing to see a young girl kill people so callously), I don't know that I consider it a victory that she wasn't over-sexualized. It might make some diehard feminists proud that in 2011 we finally have a 9 year old girl portraying an emotionless assassin, but I don't consider that progress in Christian terms.

    I do agree however that we need to link arms with feminists who are finally coming around to realizing that sexualizing young girls is not an example of freedom and advancement for women. (Unfortunately, I think it's a by-product of the extreme reactions of the movement, but don't tell them I said that.)

    I just had a conversation with our dear neighbors (non-Christians, liberal, feminist, sociology professor and caring parents of a 6 year old girl) and their strategy is to try to direct her toward sports where she feels empowered to be active, yet is still clothed by nice baggy uniforms. =) And for the not so athletically inclined what about animals/arts/music? 4-H, horseback riding, theatre, orchestra, etc. Not a bad idea…

    My concern is that we are moving back to CA this summer (Santa Barbara area) and the beach culture where sweet little Christian girls still wear teeny-weeny bikinis scares me now that I have daughters. My husband and I plan on seeing Soul Surfer and have read great reviews and the neat testimony of Bethany's life, but how are Christians viewed by others when they look pretty much the same as the world? Does the light of the Holy Spirit blind teenage boys from lusting after a scantily clad Christian girl? I wish…

    I honestly can't believe how I sound. My college-age self would be scoffing and rolling her eyes at this conservative, over-protective sounding mother. But the stakes are higher now and the world is creepier than I remember. BUT God is gracious and I have to adjust to the fact that my kids can't get through this life unscathed, so I have to trust, PRAY, lead by example, teach and share wisdom and then give them the freedom to be who they are.

    Lord help us all…

    melanie sunukjian

    1. Melanie, Wow! Do I ever know what you mean. I remember taking our oldest daughter Biola's pool (when you were a Biola student) and wondering if I could ever navigate the world of beach and pool culture. Now, back in CA with a 14 year old daughter working in the entertainment industry, it is even more complicated. I think I'm going to have Sue weigh in on this one. She has been more on the forefront of these decisions (in the dressing room) than me.
      She's out of town until Tuesday, but she said she would try to respond ASAP.
      PS SB, huh? Is there a Westmont connection? I'd always hoped you two would end up back in higher ed, and our youngest son is a Westmont sophomore.

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