By Richard Muhammad
and Nisa Islam Muhammad

Graphic: MGN Online/Timothy 6X

Corporate drive for profits is damaging girls, women and eroding healthy relationships

( – College-age women often come to Professor Gail Dines in tears after she lectures about how popular culture has become poisoned with a hyper sexuality that demands women offer themselves to any man who asks.

The young women feel isolated and alone because they refuse to degrade themselves in exchange for male companionship, said the professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston and founder of the Stop Porn Culture movement. It’s time to end a corporate-driven effort to promote “slut culture” in the United States, Professor Dines said.


The oppression and misuse of women is not new to America, or American culture, but many see a crisis of misogynistic and racist elements that are damaging the soul of the nation and hurting children, women and men in the process.

Black women, in particular, have historically been portrayed as sexual objects to justify slavery, rape, sexual abuse and denial of respect and opportunity, advocates and scholars say. Negative messages solely concerned with “hotness” and sex appeal are also being pushed on adolescents and younger girls in a dangerous way, advocates warn.

Adolescence is the time when girls form an identity based on messages from society, said Professor Dines. If the messages focus on physical attributes and access to men, the young girls are not growing in a healthy way, she said. Professor Dines will be featured at “The Sexualization of Childhood” symposium, June 13-14, at Point Park University in Pittsburgh.

The American Psychological Association, in a study released last year, reported that girls and young women suffered intellectual, psychological and physical problems as a result of messages that push sexualization, which is defined as a “person’s value coming only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics; a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy; a person is sexually objectified–that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making, and/or; sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.”

Researchers looked at a wide form of media–television, music videos, music lyrics, magazines, movies, video games and the internet as well as advertising campaigns and found messages in advertising, merchandising and products aimed at girls.

According to the research, the sexualization of girls and young women:

  • undermined feelings of confidence and comfort with their own bodies, leading to emotional and self-image problems, such as shame and anxiety;
  • was linked with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women–eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed mood;
  • had negative consequences on girls’ ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image.

Marketing sex to children

“A lot of very sexual products are being marketed to very young kids,” said University of Iowa journalism professor Gigi Durham. “I’m criticizing the unhealthy and damaging representations of girls’ sexuality, and how the media present girls’ sexuality in a way that’s tied to their profit motives.”

“The body ideals presented in the media are virtually impossible to attain, but girls don’t always realize that, and they’ll buy an awful lot of products to try to achieve those bodies. There’s endless consumerism built around that,” she said.

When a teen TV sensation was pictured nearly nude in a Vanity Fair magazine controversy erupted. “Although Disney’s ‘Hannah Montana’ franchise was reportedly one of the most prolific in the industry, following Miley Cyrus’ recent photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz in which she is pictured with her bare back, covered only by a piece of fabric, looking sensually at the camera, audiences for the latest episode of the show dropped 14% from the previous fresh episode, which aired just under two months earlier, New York Daily News reported,” according to writer Chris Georg of The piece was headlined “Miley Covers Up As ‘Hannah Montana’ Ratings Drop.”

“Compared to the first original show of the year, which aired in January, viewership for Sunday’s show was down 26%. An estimated 3.1 million viewers tuned in for ‘Hannah’s’ 7 p.m. Sunday edition, which aired out of the network’s usual pattern for fresh episodes,” wrote Mr. Georg.

Others appear less worried about public opinion and more obsessed with profits from pushing adult-style products on children. According to Ms. Durham, Abercrombie & Fitch sold little girls thong underwear tagged with the phrases “eye candy” and “wink wink.” Young readers of the magazine Seventeen were offered “405 ways to look hot” like Paris Hilton.

The sexualization of ‘tween girls, girls between the ages of 8 and 12, is a growing problem fueled by marketers’ efforts to create cradle-to-grave consumers, Ms. Durham explained.

“The consequences of the sexualization of girls in media today are very real and are likely to be a negative influence on girls’ healthy development,” said Eileen L. Zurbriggen, PhD, chair of the American Psychological Association Task Force and associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“Years ago there used to be separate worlds for children. Now they are exposed to the same things adults experience. Today we have very young parents and we aren’t protecting our children. Popular psychology said that this was OK,” explained Dr. Tarshia Stanley, a Spelman College English professor.

“As a result, we have really high rates of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world, twice that of the U.K. and eight times that of Japan,” added Ms. Durham.

The increased sexualization of young girls coincides with the increase over time in teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and single parent households. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, Black women have the highest teen pregnancy rate (134 per 1,000 women aged 15-19), followed by Hispanics (131 per 1,000) and non-Hispanic whites (48 per 1,000). Although the pregnancy rate among Black teens has decreased 40 percent between 1990 and 2000, more than the overall U.S. teen pregnancy rate declined during the same period, it still remains the highest in the country.

A March report by the Centers for Disease Control found Black teenage girls had the highest prevalence of sexually transmitted disease at 48 percent compared to 20 percent among both Whites and Mexican Americans. “Moreover, one in four girls in this country have had a sexually transmitted disease. We are not doing it right; we are not giving these girls what they need,” said Dr. Stanley.

Oppression, racism and Black females

La Vida Davis, of the Chicago-based Asha Group, sees the use of sexual and harmful images as part of the historical degradation of Black women and oppression. Her group co-sponsored a Mother’s Day campaign in Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles that gave radio stations an approved playlist of alternative songs to counter corporate driven and sexually-oriented songs. She also quickly points out that music is only one part of the problem.

Historically women across all races have been seen as property, but Black women have been especially debased, she observed. During slavery, the Black woman’s value was connected to how many children she could bear and servicing the sexual needs of slave owners, Ms. Davis said. The current situation is consistent with America’s sad history and a White patriarchal society, she said.

Another problem is Black internalization of oppression, which is borne out in the “pimp and hoe” culture and even support for singer R. Kelly, who is accused of sexual crimes against a child, she said.

Singer Beyonce is talented, but her clothing line, which doesn’t show skin still sells lip gloss and grown folks clothes to children, Ms. Davis said. It’s unsettling that clothes are sold to children that look like clothes made for adults, she said.

“It says you are valuable for how you look,” said the activist and community organizer. Little girls are taught to trade their bodies for benefits and acceptance, Ms. Davis said. Their only value is what they can be used for and for boys the question is how many “hoes” do I have, she added.

“Boys as well as girls are put in boxes to play out this foolishness,” she said.

Professor Dines, of Wheelock College, believes the aggressive sexual culture and negative images of Black men promoted by White corporate execs is undermining Black male and female relationships. The Black community is the most besieged community in America and if you break down and undermine the relationships, just like Whites did in slavery, it allows for control of Blacks, she said.

The hyper sexual image of the Black woman was used to justify raping Black women in slavery, Professor Dines said. The self image of Black girls that traditionally rose during their teen years is being chipped away and all girls are engaging in more indiscriminate sex, she said.

“They are capitulating because they don’t know any alternative,” Professor Dines said.

Overall relationships are suffering as men find it difficult to have healthy relationships with women because of exposure to pornography, she added. These men are often very upset because they are experiencing real problems, Professor Dines added.

“While people protest the images they see on channels like BET, people are rewarded for these images. Girls see that the ones who do this get money, glamour, fame and power. The anti-BET message is just one in a whirlwind of thousands of messages about sex that girls receive,” said Dr. Stanley of Spelman College.

“Music is now all about sex. In order to groove to a beat, the body is moving, but what you are doing is the sex act standing up,” said the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, in a lecture at Mosque Maryam, where he talked about the value of women. (

‘Let girls be girls’

In Ms. Durham’s new book, “The Lolita Effect,” she identifies the myths of sexuality that are believed by many in society. Sexual representations of children are getting younger with images of girls as young as 11 or 12, Ms. Durham said.

Chris Richburg, writing on took on Beyonce and ads for her new House of Dereon kids clothing line, Dereon Girls. “The ads apparently show seven-year-old girls wearing feather boas, leopard hats, full make-up and high heels as they pose in front of the camera. … I know you got to make that money, but having a bunch of mini-yous on display may not be the best way to go. Tone it down and let the girls be girls.”

Black men and women need healthier relationships that are not so focused on looks and appreciate individual gifts everyone has, said Ms. Davis.

Blacks must become conscious consumers and parents must communicate with children about messages in the media, music and society, she said. “We got talk about it, it’s not enough to say this bad and censor it,” she said.

Alternatives in music, books and movies and need to be supported, Ms. Davis continued. Teen actress Raven Symone, who also has a show on the Disney Channel, has had an amazing career, she said.

Issues like sexual assault and domestic violence must also be included into larger Black agendas and not seen as separate, Ms. Davis added. The subjugation of women and girls is connected to failing education, lack of jobs and other oppression, she said. “How sisters go goes the race,” Ms. Davis said.