By Caryl Rivers
Friday, June 11, 2010
As Miss USA contestants pout and preen in fishnet stockings, Caryl Rivers says young women are being exposed to an ever-intensifying media message that says sex sells and "you too can be porn star."
(WOMENSENEWS)--The Miss USA pageant, in case you missed this news shocker, is offering Web photos of contestants featuring what might be called stripper chic. The young women pout and preen in fishnet stockings, bustiers and lots of cleavage.
Donald Trump, owner of the Miss Universe organization, of which Miss USA is a part, defended the photos to Entertainment Weekly on May 11. "We are in a different age. They are a little bit sexy but I'll tell you what--everybody's watching, so I have no problems with it," he said. "If you look at Miss America, it's now off network television--and we're doing better than ever, so I really have no problem with it."
That kind of money spawns all kinds of reasons to ignore the negative consequences. An April 2009 national high-profile story about a young woman murdered in Boston by a man she had solicited on Craigslist might have seemed like good grounds to put the site's erotic ads on pause. But no such cleanup effort appears to have arrived. Craigslist is expected to improve its profitability 22 percent this year, due to the personal ads.
Could this be actually dangerous? Yes if, for one thing, it encourages young women to place erotic ads in the personals section. But there's also a more generic danger.
In a major report on girls in 2007, the American Psychological Association found the media emphasizing young women's sexuality "to a stunning degree."
It found that if girls learn that behaving like sexual objects gains approval from society and from people whose opinions they respect, they may begin to "self-sexualize;" in fact, to become their own worst enemies as far as their health and well-being are concerned.
While there's been a commendable trend for women to develop healthy positive attitudes toward their own sexuality--undoing centuries of deep cultural prohibitions in all parts of the globe--the pendulum swing to hyper-sexualization carries its own perils.
Research links hyper-sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems of girls and women: depression, eating disorders and low self-esteem. And, boys as well as girls can internalize the idea that girls are supposed to behave like sex objects. Boys exposed to sexualized portrayals of girls may be more prone to commit acts of harassment.
What's needed--as soon as possible--is curricula in our schools that examine the rapid growth of these harmful images and strategies for both girls and boys to resist them.
Boston University journalism professor Caryl Rivers is the author of "Selling Anxiety: How the News Media Scare Women" (University Press of New England).
Photos of Miss USA 2010 Rima Fakih:
APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girl