Feminism, Consumerism, and the Sexualization of Girls

Steven Mosher
By Joseph A. D'Agostino
PRI Weekly Briefing
2 March 2007
Vol. 9, No. 9
Reproduced with Permission

Missing from the American Psychological Association's report last month about the sexualization of girls, and the media coverage of it, was feminism's responsibility for this cultural disaster, which is currently harming severely the psyches of tens of millions of American young women.

The politically correct view is that the sexualization of girls and feminism are opposing forces, but in fact they have gone hand-in-hand. And, according to the report, men today have exchanged "domesticity" for "sexy" in what most find the most attractive quality in a woman. Doesn't that do a lot to explain the decline in the American family and our below-replacement birthrate?

But valuing domesticity in women is so oppressive!

More than 30 years after feminism's triumph, prepubescent girls can be seen regularly in public dressed in mini-skirts. Instead of seeking to emulate domestic-oriented women, presenting themselves as future virtuous wives and mothers, little girls seek to emulate Paris Hilton. Children's dolls are made-up to look like prostitutes. "Toy manufacturers produce dolls wearing black leather miniskirts, feather boas, and thigh-high boots and market them to 8- to 12-year-old girls," the APA noted. "Clothing stores sell thongs sized for 7- to 10-year-old girls, some printed with slogans such as 'eye candy' or 'wink wink'; other thongs sized for women and late adolescent girls are imprinted with characters from Dr. Seuss and the Muppets. In the world of child beauty pageants, 5-year-old girls wear fake teeth, hair extensions, and make-up and are encouraged to 'flirt' onstage by batting their long, false eyelashes. On prime-time television, girls can watch fashion shows in which models made to resemble little girls wear sexy lingerie."

Back in college in the early 1990s, I first noticed that it was the feminist men who most objectified women. I was a member of a fraternity, so I had considerable opportunity to observe various types of college men discuss and pursue women. With few exceptions, those men who loudly proclaimed their feminist beliefs and advocated complete equality between the sexes, believing women should be just as career-oriented as men and the like, had the most predatory attitudes. They were interested in sleeping with as many as women as possible, as quickly as possible. The more conservative fellows generally slept around less and were more interested in building long-term relationships.

For those who believe in the illusions created by intellectuals and their media sycophants, this is counter-intuitive. Aren't conservative, sexist men the ones who are supposed to view women as sex objects? After I puzzled over this quandary for a while, I realized that the natural result of feminism plus consumerism was the sexual objectification of women.

You see, the feminist young men viewed women as being more or less just like them. And what they wanted most from these equals was sex. They had no any religious or ethical concerns about chastity, and not many about the sanctity of female sexuality or the fragility of female psychology concerning sex, and regarded their relationships with females as transactional. After all, they didn't force women to sleep with them. It was just a question of getting what they wanted from them, just as one man in business seeks to get what he wants from another in a business transaction.

My professional life in Washington has taught me the same lesson. The liberal, feminist men in their 20s and 30s that I have known tend to be the most predatory; the conservative, religious ones much less so. Even when it comes to top politicians, the pattern holds. What conservative Republican of the past 20 years can you name who has whored around like Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy? I'm not claiming conservative Republican congressmen and senators have been models of virtue -- far from it. But they've got a much better record on this question than the other side.

Feminists have taught girls and women that chastity is oppressive, that they should liberate themselves. They have also taught that there are no natural limits to sexuality. Witness their enthusiastic embrace of homosexuality. So, based on feminist principles, why shouldn't little girls sexualize themselves? And why shouldn't adult men and women view them as sexual if there is no such thing as unnatural sexuality?

If you constantly bombard boys with sexualized images of girls and the message "girls are the same as boys" in countless different forms, the primal drive of male sexuality will lead them to prey on girls. Since they're told male and female psychology is the same, the girls must be just as eager to have sex as they are -- they just need a little convincing, or a little alcohol or drugs, to loosen up from social constraints. It's really very simple.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not some self-hating male-basher who views every girl who has sexual relations as somehow a victim of male aggression, even if she consents to sex. Up to 40% of rape allegations are completely bogus. There are just as many morally reprehensible women out there as men. There are many girls around these days eager to have sex with boys, and some even seduce the males rather than wait for the reverse. They have a degraded mentality. But so do men and boys who view every attractive female as primarily a sex object.

Of course, when a girl or woman goes around exposing half of her body, how can men and boys be blamed for viewing her as a sex object? A woman's naked legs or midriff triggers a biological sexual response in most men. It's called nature.

Thus is the confluence of two powerful social forces, consumerism and feminism. The first makes us view everything in the world as an object of gratification and every relationship as transactional, and the second makes promiscuity easy and seem natural-feminism puts men and women into the consumerist category when it comes to sex. Of course, the unconditional commitment that marriage used to imply is no longer fashionable. Since sexuality is such a powerful primal force, especially for the young, this consumerist sexuality becomes a huge part of their lives. It's obvious that women tend to suffer more psychologically from this arrangement.

Indeed, the APA report links sexualization of girls to the three most common psychological problems girls experience: eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression. Even the rage for unnaturally thin women is reminiscent of desire for the prepubescent body. What is the media leading us to?

Lest you think it has been always thus, just in a different form, the APA report mentions a very interesting study of girls' diaries. First, the report says, "A focus on physical attractiveness is not new; over three decades ago, Unger (1979) argued that physical beauty can translate into power for girls. But the definition of attractiveness differs depending on the tastes of the culture. Whereas yesterday's culture may have equated 'domesticity' with attractiveness in women, today's culture equates 'sexy' with attractiveness (Wolf, 1991)."

Of course, feminists have always deplored domesticity. The woman who may be our next President famously dismissed those women who "stayed at home and baked cookies." Yet, if men used to find "domesticity" attractive, doesn't that imply they were interested in forming life-long relationships with women that included home, family, and children? Now, men find "sexy" most attractive instead. What does that imply interest in?

The report continues, "Moreover, there is evidence that physical appearance was not always the prime currency for girls' social success. Brumberg (1997) examined diaries of adolescent girls in the United States over the past 100 years to explore how they discussed self-improvement. Whereas girls of earlier eras focused on improving their studies and becoming more well-mannered, in the last 20 years that Brumberg studied, girls almost exclusively described changing their bodies and enhancing their physical appearance as the focus of their self-improvement."

That's right. Back in the bad ol' pre-feminist days, when women were so oppressed, teen girls were concerned with getting better grades and improving their social graces. Now, they want to look hot. Write Gloria Steinem today and thank her for what's she done for America's girls.

For the APA report, go to http://www.apa.org/pi/wpo/sexualizationrep.pdf.