Comment on “Report of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls”

What would you expect of a report — written by a group of Leftist women — about the influence of the media on girls? Shriek! Shriek! and Shriek? You would be right.

A recent report issued under the aegis of the American Psychological Association — but which was apparently not considered good enough for publication in any of their many peer-reviewed journals — has attracted a fair bit of media attention — e.g. here. Excerpt:

Inescapable media images of sexed-up girls and women posing as adolescents can cause psychological and even physical harm to adolescents and young women, a study has found.

The pressure of what experts call “sexualisation” can lead to depression, eating disorders, and poor academic performance, said the report, released by the American Psychological Association. “Sexualisation of girls is a broad and increasing problem and is harmful to girls,” it said.

Adult women dressed as school girls in music videos, bikini-clad dolls in hot tubs, and sexually-charged advertisements featuring teenagers were among the many examples cited. Such omnipresent images – on television and the internet, in movies and magazines – could also have a negative effect on a young girl’s sexual development, the study said.

As one indication of the “kick the media” mentality of the report, roughly the first half of the report is devoted to a big session of finger-pointing at examples in the media of young females being portrayed in attractive ways. That attractiveness and sexual attractiveness are closely linked in females should surprise no-one but it apparently surprised the harpies who wrote this report. No doubt advertisers could portray young girls in dowdy ways if they chose but who would want to look at such images?

The only interesting part of the report therefore is whether or not research has been pointed to which shows harm coming from media portrayals — and there is indeed a small section in the report devoted to summarizing such research. What that research generally shows however is that females feel bad if they do not see themselves as pretty. We needed a report to tell us that?

There are a few studies mentioned that purport to show a linkage between particular media messages and a decline in female self-esteem but there are large lacunae in what is discussed. There is, for instance, no systematic attempt to separate out findings about young girls and (say) teenage girls. That what is true of pre- and post-adolescent females might differ has apparently not occured to these female authors. Since it must have occurred to them, however, I think we have to conclude that the blurring is deliberate. They want to take findings about troubled teenagers and make them appear much more worrisome by implying that they apply to young girls too.

Furthermore, we are told little about the magnitude or permanence of any adverse effect mentioned nor are we given any assurance that the results reported are in any way representative. In almost any research field worthy of the name, there are contradictory results. From this report one gathers that there are no contradictory results. One has to conclude therefore that this is not an honest research summary. It is just a feminist shriek. No wonder no APA journal would publish it.

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