Exploitation of women in mass media

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A model promotes Jägermeister, 2006

The exploitation of women in mass media is the use or portrayal of women in the mass media (such as television, film and advertising) to increase the appeal of media or a product to the detriment of, or without regard to, the interests of the women portrayed, or women in general. Feminists and other advocates of women's rights have criticized such exploitation. The most often criticized aspect of the use of women in mass media is sexual objectification, but dismemberment can be a part of the objectification as well. Women are oftentimes considered objects instead of subjects. Objects are considered passive and something that is being acted upon. Women being objectified in media creates social stereotypes for both men and women which also creates unhealthy social attitudes and physical habits of behavior involving females. Women who are taught to see their bodies as sexual objects can develop problems like eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression. This can stem from the sexualized images in advertising and media.

Criticisms of the media[edit]


Robert Jensen, Sut Jhally and other cultural critics accuse mass media of using sex in advertising that promotes the objectification of women to help sell their goods and services.[1][2][3]

Clothing designer Calvin Klein was criticized for using images of young, sexualized girls and women in his ads, having said -

"Jeans are about sex. The abundance of bare flesh is the last gasp of advertisers trying to give redundant products a new identity."

Calvin Klein has also received media attention for its controversial advertisements in the mid-1990s. Several of Calvin Klein's advertisements featured images of teenage models, some "who were reportedly as young as 15" in overly sexual and provocative poses.[4]

The overt use of sexuality to promote breast cancer awareness, through fundraising campaigns like "I Love Boobies" and "Save the Ta-tas", angers and offends breast cancer survivors and older women, who are at higher risk of developing breast cancer. Women who have breast cancer say that these advertising campaigns suggest that having sexy breasts is more important than saving their lives, which devalues them as human beings.[5]


In considering the way that films are put together, many feminist film critics have pointed to the "male gaze" that predominates in classical Hollywood film-making. Budd Boetticher summarises the view thus: "What counts is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she represents. She is the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the concern he feels for her, who makes him act the way he does. In herself the woman has not the slightest importance."[6] Laura Mulvey's germinal essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (written in 1973 and published in 1975) expands on this conception of the passive role of women in cinema to argue that film provides visual pleasure through scopophilia and identification with the on-screen male actor.[6] She asserts: "In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness," and as a result contends that in film a woman is the "bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning."[6] Mulvey argues that Lacan's psychoanalytic theory is the key to understanding how film creates such a space for female sexual objectification and exploitation through the combination of the patriarchal order of society, and 'looking' in itself as a pleasurable act of voyeurism, as "the cinema satisfies a primordial wish for pleasurable looking."[6]

Music videos[edit]

Gan, Zillmann and Mitrook found that exposure to sexually explicit rap promotes distinctly unfavorable evaluations of black women. Following exposure to sexual rap, as compared with exposure to romantic music or to no music, the assessment of the female performers' personality resulted in a general downgrading of positive traits and a general upgrading of negative ones.[7] A 2008 study by Zhang et al. showed that exposure to sexually explicit music videos was associated with stronger endorsement of sexual double standards (e.g., belief that it is less acceptable for women to be sexually experienced than for men). Exposure to sexual content was also associated with more permissive attitudes toward premarital sex, regardless of gender, overall television viewing, and previous sexual experience.[8] However, Gad Saad argues that the premise that music videos yield harmful effects and that the harm would be sex-specific (e.g., women's self-concepts will be negatively affected) has not been supported by research.[9]

A survey found that 72.2% of black, 68.0% of white, and 69.2% of Hispanic youths agree with the suggestion that rap music videos contain 'too many' references to sex.[10][11] It's true that women are objectified in hip hop and rap videos all the time. It's usually done by the way they are dresses, to how they speak in seductive or suggestive tones and how they dance in a sexual manner. Sometimes the woman's face isn't shown in these videos. Her body becomes a showpiece and is put on display. The woman loses her identity and it reinforces her role as the sex symbol.

Women's bodies are often dismembered in these videos as well. Breasts, butts, or legs are usually put on display, which makes some people think that the woman's body is no longer connected to her mind and emotions. Also, where the woman is placed can also convey male superiority.


In her article, "Negative effect of media on girls," Monique Smith discusses the evolution of acceptable female figures throughout time. The transition between sexy meaning curvaceous to sexy meaning thin made it difficult for women to keep up with the ideal feminine figure. Striving for the virtually unattainable perfect body, women were viewed as a new way to make money.[12][self-published source] The use of size 0 in advertisements and products of the clothing industry has been met with criticism. For example, Dawn Porter, a reporter from the UK who had been challenged to go on an extreme celebrity 'size zero' diet for a new BBC programme, Super Slim Me, logged her experiences about her journey to a size zero.[13]

A study conducted in the UK found evidence that anorexia nervosa is a socially transmitted disease and exposure to skinny models may be a contributing factor in the cause of anorexia nervosa.[14]


While some feminists view mass media in general to be objectifying, they often focus on pornography as playing an egregious role in habituating men to objectify women.[15]

In Effects of Prolonged Consumption of Pornography, a review of pornography research conducted for the Surgeon General in 1986 Dolf Zillmann noted that some inconsistencies in the literature on pornography exist, but overall concluded that extensive viewing of pornographic material may produce some negative sociological effects, including a decreased respect for long-term, monogamous relationships, and an attenuated desire for procreation.[16] He describes the theoretical basis for these conclusions stating:

The values expressed in pornography clash so obviously with the family concept, and they potentially undermine the traditional values that favor marriage, family, and children... Pornographic scripts dwell on sexual engagements of parties who have just met, who are in no way attached or committed to each other, and who will part shortly, never to meet again... Sexual gratification in pornography is not a function of emotional attachment, of kindness, of caring, and especially not of continuance of the relationship, as such continuance would translate into responsibilities, curtailments, and costs...[17]


Recently, television has come under fire for the sexual exploitation of women on screen, particularly when teenagers are involved. In 2013, the Parents Television Council released a report that found that it was increasingly more likely for a scene to be exploitative when a teenage girl was involved. The report also found that 43 percent of teen girls on television are the targets of sexually exploitive jokes compared to 33 percent of adult women. Rev. Delman Coates, a PTC board member said, "young people are having difficulty managing the distinction between appropriate and inappropriate sexual conduct". This report is of a series that's about media sexualization of young girls.[18]

The researchers from the study claim that "[i]f media images communicate that sexual exploitation is neither serious nor harmful, the environment is being set for sexual exploitation to be viewed as trivial and acceptable. As long as there are media producers who continue to find the degradation of women to be humorous, and media outlets that will air the content, the impact and seriousness of sexual exploitation will continue to be understated and not meaningfully addressed in our society.”[19]

A 2012 study led by sociologist Stacy L. Smith found that in both prime-time television and family films, women were highly likely to be depicted as thin and scantily clad. They were also vastly underrepresented in STEM fields when compared to their male counterparts, and had less speaking roles. According to this study, only 28.3 percent of characters in family films, 30.8 percent of characters in children's shows, and 38.9 percent of characters on prime time television were women.[20]

According to a report by the Women's Media Center (WMC), it found that the gender gap has not declined and that in some industries it has gotten worse. In television, it found the percentage of female TV characters has decreased and that the ones who make it on-screen are not likely to get the lead roles compared to the male characters. "According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film's 'Boxed In' report, CW Television Network [21] is the only TV network where women can be seen in accurate proportion to their representation in the U.S. population".[22]''

Video Games

Video games have been a common form of media in which a gendered marketplace took place, often criticized[23] for promoting spreading an exclusive, misogynistic ideal.

Effects on society[edit]

Critics of the prevalent portrayals of women in the mass media observe possible negative consequences for various segments of the population, such as:[24][25]

  • Women of average or normal appearance feeling inadequate or less beautiful in comparison to the overwhelming use of extraordinarily attractive women.
  • Unrealistic expectations by men of how women should look or behave.
  • Stereotyping of women who are positively portrayed by or sexualized in the media, such as the theme of a "dumb blonde" or "blonde bimbo", limiting the societal and career opportunities for people who fit these stereotypes.[26]
  • Psychological disorders such as body dysmorphic disorder, anorexia, bulimia and so on.
  • The excessively coercive nature of appeal to strong sexual instincts to sell products or promote media.
  • Increase in the likelihood and acceptance of sexual violence.[27]

Many studies have shown the negative effects that this exploitation of women in the media has on the mental health of young women,but recently the studies have focused on Aging women in western societies.It has been observed that the exploitation of young attractive women in the media causes aging women to feel a variety of emotions including sadness, anger,concern, envy, desensitization, marginalization, and discomfort that their appearance was being judged by others.[28]

The common use of sexualized female images in the media is concerning because often these women are very young. Some critics think that this is causing men to feel entitled to seeing women's bodies, also including teen and adolescent girls. This leads to objectification and dehumanization of young women by men and the normalization and acceptance of being subjected to this type of behavior by young women. [29]


Counter arguments[edit]

Gallup & Robinson, an advertising and marketing research firm, has reported that in more than 50 years of testing advertising effectiveness, it has found the use of the erotic to be a significantly above-average technique in communicating with the marketplace, "...although one of the more dangerous for the advertiser. Weighted down with taboos and volatile attitudes, sex is a Code Red advertising technique ... handle with care ... seller beware; all of which makes it even more intriguing." This research has led to the popular idea that "sex sells".

To a small minority of feminists, claims about the objectification of women are flawed. Camille Paglia holds that "Turning people into sex objects is one of the specialties of our species." In her view, objectification is closely tied to (and may even be identical with) the highest human faculties toward conceptualization and aesthetics.[30]

Danish criminologist Berl Kutchinsky's Studies on Pornography and sex crimes in Denmark (1970), a scientific report ordered by the Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, found that the legalizing of pornography in Denmark had not (as expected) resulted in an increase of sex crimes.[31] Since then, many other experiments have been conducted, either supporting or opposing the findings of Berl Kutchinsky, who would continue his study into the social effects of pornography until his death in 1995. His life's work was summed up in the publication Law, Pornography, and Crime: The Danish Experience (1999).[32] Milton Diamond from the University of Hawaii found that the number of reported cases of child sex abuse dropped markedly immediately after the ban on sexually explicit materials was lifted in 1989.[33]

Some social conservatives have agreed with aspects of the feminist critique of sexual objectification. In their view however, the increase in the sexual objectification of both sexes in Western culture is one of the negative legacies of the sexual revolution.[34][35][36][37][38] These critics, notably Wendy Shalit, advocate a return to pre-sexual revolution standards of sexual morality, which Shalit refers to as a "return to modesty", as an antidote to sexual objectification.[35][39]

Do some women like to be objectified[edit]

In today's society we have to raise the question about whether or not women want to be objectified in a sexual way. Sexual objectification involves viewing and treating another person's body as an object valued based on sexual appeal, usually to the neglect of other aspects of the person, such as their thoughts, feelings, and desires.[40] Objection holds a standard of unattainable beauty. It also makes it seem like appearance is the most important thing. Exposure to objectifying images or videos can lead to self-objectification. One will begin to monitor one's own body and physical appearance.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jensen, Robert (1997), "Using pornography", in Dines, Gail; Jensen, Robert; Russo, Ann, Pornography: the production and consumption of inequality, New York, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195105568. 
  2. ^ Jhally, Sut (director) (1997). Dreamworlds II: desire, sex, power in music (Documentary). USA: Media Education Foundation. 
  3. ^ Frith, Katherine; Shaw, Ping; Cheng, Hong (March 2005). "The construction of beauty: a cross-cultural analysis of women's magazine advertising". Journal of Communication (Wiley) 55 (1): 56–70. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2005.tb02658.x. 
  4. ^ name=http://www.icmrindia.org/casestudies/catalogue/Marketing/MKTG084.htm
  5. ^ Szabo, Lisa (30 October 2012). "Sexy breast cancer campaigns anger many patients". USA Today. Retrieved 9 November 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d Erens, Patricia (1990). Issues in feminist film criticism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 9780253206107. 
  7. ^ Gan, Su-Lin; Zillmann, Dolf; Mitrook, Michael (September 1997). "Stereotyping effect of black women's sexual rap on white audiences". Basic and Applied Social Psychology (Taylor and Francis) 19 (3): 381–399. doi:10.1207/s15324834basp1903_7. 
  8. ^ Zhang, Yuanyuan; Miller, Laura E.; Harrison, Kristen (August 2008). "The relationship between exposure to sexual music videos and young adults' sexual attitudes". Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media (Taylor and Francis) 52 (3): 368–386. doi:10.1080/08838150802205462. 
  9. ^ Saad, Gad (2007), "The Darwinian roots of cultural products: music videos", in Saad, Gad, The evolutionary bases of consumption, Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., pp. 196–197, ISBN 9780805851502. 
  10. ^ Cohen, Cathy; Celestine-Michener, Jamila (2010), ""Minority Report": Kanye West, Barack Obama, and political alienation", in Cohen, Cathy, Democracy remixed: black youth and the future of American politics, Oxford New York: Oxford University Press, p. 71, ISBN 9780195378009. 
  11. ^ Conlon, Michael (February 1, 2007). "Young U.S. blacks believe in politics: study". Reuters (Chicago). 
  12. ^ Smith, Monique E. "Negative effect of media on girls". Academia.edu. Retrieved 22 July 2015. 
  13. ^ Porter, Dawn (1 February 2007). "'My quest for size zero'". Daily Mail. 
  14. ^ Boseley, Sarah (1 March 2012). "'Anorexia research finds government intervention justified'". The Guardian. 
  15. ^ MacKinnon, Catharine (1993). Only words. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674639348. 
  16. ^ Zillmann, Dolf (June 1986). Effects of prolonged consumption of pornography. United States. Public Health Service. Office of the Surgeon General. Arlington, Virginia. Retrieved 14 March 2013.  Pdf.
  17. ^ Zillmann, pages 16-17
  18. ^ Elber, Lynn (10 July 2013). "Are women On TV being sexually exploited? Female TV characters are sexual targets, says new study". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  19. ^ Ramirez, Ximena (25 July 2013). "Study finds girls sexually exploited on television with humor". Care2. care2.com. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  20. ^ Bahadur, Nina (13 November 2012). "Women in the media: Female TV and film characters still sidelined and sexualized, study finds". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  21. ^ CWTV.com
  22. ^ Schilling, Malia (25 February 2013). "Surprise! Women are still under-represented in media". Ms. Liberty Media for Women. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  23. ^ "The Male Domain: Exclusion of Women in Video Games | Kayleigh Connor – Digital America". Digital America. Retrieved 2016-02-11. 
  24. ^ Fredrickson, Barbara L.; Roberts, Tomi-Ann (June 1997). "Objectification theory: toward understanding women's lived experiences and mental health risks". Psychology of Women Quarterly (Sage) 21 (2): 173–206. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00108.x. 
  25. ^ American Psychological Association, (APA) (2010). Report of the American Psychological Association task force on the sexualization of girls, executive summary (PDF). American Psychological Association (Report) (Washington, DC). 
  26. ^ Wells, Alan; Hakanen, Ernest A. (1997). Mass media & society. Greenwich, Connecticut: Ablex Publishing Corp. p. 553. ISBN 9781567502886. 
  27. ^ Jennifer Siebel Newsom (writer / director, Miss Representation), Margaret Cho (performer), Katie Couric (performer), Regina Kulik Scully, Geralyn Dreyfous, Sarah Johnson Redlich (2011). Campus sexual violence (DVD). USA: Health.arizona. Campus Health.  Pdf.
  28. ^ Rochelle Hine (15 April 2011). "In the Margins: The Effects of Sexualized Images on the Mental Health of Aging Women" (1): 16. 
  29. ^ "Girls, Sexuality, and Popular Culture". Off Our Backs. Vol. 32 (5/6): p22. May/Jun 2002.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  30. ^ Paglia, Camille (1991). Sexual personae: art and decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. New York: Vintage Books.  ISBN 9780679735793
  31. ^ Kutchinsky, Berl (1970). Studies on pornography and sex crimes in Denmark. New social science monographs. United States: Nyt fra Samfundsvidenskaberne, eksp.  OCLC 155896 Online.
  32. ^ Kutchinsky, Berl; Snare, Annika (1999). Law, pornography and crime: the Danish experience. Oslo: Pax Forlag A/S for The Scandinavian Research Council for Criminology. ISBN 9788253018287. 
  33. ^ Diamond, Milton (1999), "The effects of pornography: an international perspective", in Elias, James; Elias, Veronica Diehl; Bullough, Vern L.; Brewer, Gwen; Douglas, Jeffrey J.; Jarvis, Will, Porn 101: eroticism, pornography, and the First Amendment, Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, ISBN 9781573927505.  Transcript.
  34. ^ "Dr. James Dobson". The Interim: Canada's life and family newspaper (Toronto, Canada: via True Media). 12 January 1997. 
  35. ^ a b Shalit, Wendy (2000). A return to modesty: discovering the lost virtue. New York: Touchstone. ISBN 9780684863177. 
  36. ^ Reisman, Judith A. (1991). "Soft porn" plays hardball: its tragic effects on women, children, and the family. Lafayette, Louisiana: Huntington House Publishers. ISBN 9780910311922.  (pp. 32-46, p. 173)
  37. ^ Holz, Adam R. (2007). "Is average the new ugly?". Plugged In Online (Focus on the Family). 
  38. ^ National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families (July 1997). "Subtle dangers of pornogaphy (special report by the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families)". Pure Intimacy (website) (Focus on the Family). Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  39. ^ Shalit, Wendy (2000). "Modesty revisited". orthodoxytoday.org. Fr. Johannes Jacobse. 
  40. ^ "Do Women Want To Be Objectified?". Psychology Today. Juliana Breines, Ph.D.