Hollywood targeted for sexualizing teens

God’s timing is always perfect. I was reminded of this during a recent radio interview I was conducting with Jenn Giroux of Human Life International (HLI). The pro-life missionary movement has been joining forces with other pro-life organizations in speaking out on the harmful emotional, spiritual and physical side effects of the birth control pill. HLI is doing what it can to educate the public on the connection not only between the pill and increased cancer risks, but also the connection between contraception and the overall objectification of women. 

It just so happened — and here is where the Lord’s timing comes in — that during the interview, my producer and I received a news bulletin via email on a startling report just issued by the Parents Television Council. As I quickly glanced at the headline, I felt an affirmation encouraging my guest and me to continue exposing the impact our over-sexualized culture is having on all of us, especially young women. 

Tinseltown’s new target: A study of teen female sexualization on prime-time TV would make any parent of a teenage daughter want to run into the house and throw out the television sets. The report is based on content analysis of the most popular prime-time broadcast shows viewed by 12- to 17-year-olds during the 2009-10 TV season. In addition to finding that underage female characters are shown in an increased number of sexual scenes, the PTC also found the following: 

  • The vast majority (86 percent) of all the sexualized female characters depicted were high school aged. 
  •  98 percent of the sexual incidents involving underage female characters occurred outside of any form of a committed relationship. 
  • 73 percent of the underage sexualized incidents were presented in a humorous manner or as a punch line to a joke. 

“The results from this report show Tinseltown’s eagerness to not only objectify and fetishize young girls, but to sexualize them in such a way that real teens are led to believe that their sole value derives from their sexuality. The report is less about the shocking numbers that detail the sickness of early sexualization in our entertainment culture and more about the generation of young girls who are being told how society expects them to behave,” said Parents TV Council President Tim Winters. 

This study reminds me of another report released by the American Psychological Association. The APA’s “Sexualization of Girls” showed how the proliferation of sexualized images of young women in all advertising, media and merchandising are extremely harmful to a girl’s self-esteem and healthy development. 

I don’t know how many reports we need before we start taking the issue of media awareness more seriously. I wish I could say that I see an improvement among families, but I don’t. One good example of this still sorry state of affairs was a frustrating conversation I had with a mom following my talk at a Catholic women’s conference about the impact of media on women. Her comments had me biting my tongue, as at first I wanted to ask her if she had fallen asleep during my talk. The reason for my outrage was her question asking if I thought it was a good idea to let her teens have their “private time” with cable TV and the Internet downstairs without any supervision or restrictions — and several times a week no less! 

I’m thankful for the little nudges from God to keep on with efforts to raise awareness regarding media. I guess the Lord is trying to tell me that I won’t be out of work any time soon. 

Teresa Tomeo is the host of Catholic Connection, produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.