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How YWCA youth resist the sexualization of women and girls

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Did you know: almost every type of media contributes to sexualization and encourages self-objectification of girls and women?

Teens are surrounded by images of sexualized women and girls on social media, in movies, on television—virtually everywhere they look. Recently, there has been a steep increase in these types of images.

Last month, the YWCA High School Mentorship program and Strong Girls, Strong World Youth Advisory Committee teamed up to deliver a workshop called Media and a Critical Eye to support teen girls to become more critical of images and messages they see. We also wanted to grow their awareness of the impacts these images can have on their lives, such as:

  • Body dissatisfaction, disordered eating
  • Shame, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem
  • Self-objectification
  • Endorsement of sexual stereotypes
  • Development of sexist attitudes
  • Sexual harassment
  • Hindering of gender equality
  • Societal tolerance of violence against women
  • Exploitation of girls and women
  • Difficulty establishing healthy relationships*
    * Source: Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls

Two Grade 12 students from the YWCA Youth Advisory Council facilitated the workshop to mentors and mentees from the YWCA High School Mentorship program. The content, created by the YWCA’s Tessa Russel and Amanda Pullishy, covered the objectification of women in art history and also focused on the problematic and complicated relationship between self-sexualization and empowerment.

There are countless celebrities and social media stars who build brands on their sexiness. It may seem like a new and different way for women to attain power, but in fact, it’s often still objectification. 

At the end of the workshop, the Grade 11 and 12 girls were asked, “What we can do to change sexualization and objectification of women?”

Here’s what they came up with:

  • Promote girls being themselves
  • Have women talk about their passions
  • When women support other women
  • Stop judging people on physical appearance
  • Put women in power
  • Change how society sees women
  • Don’t allow insecurities to be exploited
  • Educate young girl about empowerment versus objectification
  • Remove gender roles
  • Increase the number of speaking parts for women in movies (New York Film Academy's findings on gender representation in media 2007-2012—only 30% of speaking character in movies are women and roughly 1/3 of those are show in sexually revealing attire or are partially naked)
  • Increase the number of women who are clothed in movies

Education and mentoring can also mitigate the impact of sexualization on girls. By sharing their time and their stories, mentors expose young women to diverse perspectives on how women can look and behave, and what they can achieve. It can make a big difference when we often see one-dimensional representations of women in media. 

What else do you think government, schools, businesses and individuals can do to stop the hypersexualization of women and girls?

Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

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