This book discusses the way even very young girls are sexualised by the media and by society and the ways parents and teachers can combat the pernicious effect these unhealthy stereotypes can have on children. It looks at the clothes which are marketed to appeal to children even though they would be more appropriate to sex workers and it looks at the effects Barbie and Bratz dolls can have on girls by making them think there is only one way to look attractive and appeal to boys. The author dissects popular magazines for both young girls and teenagers and shows how they convince girls that their only aim in life should be to please boys and dress in a certain way.
It is an excellent introduction to the subject and will be of interest to those who have noticed the trends in the media and in their own children. It will be of particular interest to parents as it provides examples of questions to ask children about the magazines they read and ways to get them talking and criticising the stereotypes they see all the time. There are lists of resources at the end of the book - both online and in the form of books and articles to read. There are comprehensive notes on each chapter which also provide leads to other material.
While this is an American book it is still relevant to life in the UK. It is easy to read, well balanced and thought provoking. I recommend it to the general reader as well a parent concerned about the way their children are dressing and behaving.
on 28 December 2010
Suitable for parents, teachers, youth workers and those of us interested in gender studies, this is a well presented and thoughtfully written book that combines feminist philosophy and media studies, to present an intelligent discourse on the subtle but powerful effect of media images in the shaping of acceptable and thereby expected notions of sexuality and gender power relations within society.
This book will resonate powerfully for those of us interested in equality issues and concerned about the apparent loss of ground previously gained through the feminist movement of the latter part of the C20th. Indeed, if some of us had hoped to be moving toward gender equality and the potential to blur the distinction between genders then our vision of the future is being challenged by a counter-movement that seems determined to position women primarily (or perhaps exclusively) as objects of male visual desire, thereby reinforcing compulsory heterosexuality and subordinately positioning women in the process.
Durham discuses how the effect of a so called 'Barbie ideal' universally and subliminally promoted by visually based commercial media, endlessly sets girls and young women up for failure in their aspirations to achieve what are objectively, unachievable standards and ideals of physical presentation. The promise is of course that by adoption and purchase of the products and solutions provided advertisers who support the media women might come closer to this ideal. But, as she points out, the process devalues the personal qualities, skills and values of the person over physicality and reinforces gender disparity by suggesting that women are the passive recipients of approval by men and not sexual beings themselves. As increasing numbers of young girls develop eating disorders or engage in plastic surgery at earlier ages to achieve the 'ideal body' we are also now seeing a reciprocal pressure on young men to achieve a particular look based on hyper-muscularity - often involving the excessive use of the gym, and abuse of steroids and protein drinks in a disorder now being referred to as bigorexia.
In chapter 4, Durham explores the impact of computer games and a genre of film known as the slasher movie. Aimed primarily at teens the common motifs are adolescent and nubile scantily clad girls being murdered, attacked or assaulted by males. She makes the point that the imagos are essentially based around the idea of "female sexuality as a logical target for violence" and that subliminally the link between sex and violence particularly for the male viewers of the films would be hard to separate since the "premise is ...sexy female bodies, and male arousal, are connected to violence". Through recognition and understanding of the underlying drivers and messages comes the possibility of change and this book does offer a message of hope.
A real strength of the book is that each chapter presents a summary at the end, with a range of ideas and strategies to facilitate discussion with young people and help them develop greater awareness of the values, drivers and commercial influences of the messages being promoted to them via the media and to help them become more media-savvy and more empowered as individuals. The book also offers a list of resources and web-links for further information for people to investigate and work with the themes further. I certainly came to have much more respect for 'meeja-studies' through reading this book (think for a moment how the media has dissed its own analysis) and I thoroughly recommend it.
A very readable text, well worth five stars.