Stockholm Syndrome in Media

mcyrus.jpgContributed by Nancy Gruver, the author of “How To Say It to Girls,� Founder of the international publication, New Moon for Girls and CEO of New Moon Girl Media, Inc.
Cross-posted at Girl Media Maven.
You can imagine that the sexed up photos Vanity Fair published of Miley Cyrus have been a topic of discussion at New Moon, just as on [the organization's blog]. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments so far on the topic – they’re well worth reading.
Kathleen Kvern and I were talking about how the prevalence of sexualized images of girls in our public culture creates an atmosphere of impersonal, silent, constant harassment for girls.
Like an iron grip in a velvet glove, the hypersexualization of girls in the media holds actual girls hostage under the pretense of entertaining and informing them. And, like in the Stockholm Syndrome, it’s not surprising when girls start to identify with the all-powerful culture that’s holding them hostage.
It feels more subtle than verbal or physical harassment, but that’s part of its stealthy effect. It’s like a neverending buzz in the background that you try to ignore but can’t. Gradually, sub-consciously, more and more of your energy and attention is spent on trying to ignore the buzz.
Girls are barraged by sexualized images all around them and everyone they come into contact with in daily life is also surrounded by those images. The images viscerally teach “the importance of being sexy” if you are female. The images teach all of us that acting sexy is how girls/women can have power without being rejected as domineering or bitchy (see media coverage of Hillary Clinton for the way “non-sexy” female power is conveyed).
Now imagine the extreme confusion girls feel when they are surrounded by images promoting the power of female sexiness and at the same time are told that it’s bad for girls to be interested in sex, to act sexy themselves, to dress sexy, etc. The real message being conveyed, of course, is that girls shouldn’t want to be powerful.
The conflicting messages about personal power create an epic inner struggle for girls that stays with us into adulthood, sapping creative energy and focus that would be better used in changing the culture and making our world a better place for everyone.
I believe media oppression of girls and women via hypersexualiztion is one of the most serious barriers standing between us and full equality. We need to break that barrier down and release the power it’s holding back. That’s why I work with girls’ media and bringing girls’ voices to the world at New Moon.
How would you do it?
Note: The above post does not necessarily represent the opinions of Feministing or its bloggers.

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60 Comments

  1. dondo
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Some thoughts from a father of a 13-year-old girl:
    1. I think the image captures the awkwardness of a little girl on the edge of becoming a woman. To my eye, there is nothing sexual about it. It strikes the same chord for me as some of the comments and questions my daughter asks, a little girl who understands that she is becoming a woman but hasn’t, yet.
    2. The people who interpret this as explicitly, unambiguously, and offensively sexual are projecting.
    I think this image presents a great opportunity for parents to talk to a daughter about sexuality, about comfort with her body, and yes, about the inevitability of perverts projecting their twisted desires onto her, trying to make her a dehumanized object and then blaming her for their own shortcomings. My daughter, it turns out, is far more interested (and dismayed) by the realization that Miley lip-synchs than Miley’s choices about how much skin to display.
    To me, the shame here is not Miley’s behavior. The shame is the people who can only see her as a sexual object.

  2. Posted April 30, 2008 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I’m a totally decadent European with no moral values but what’s sexual about this photograph, the hell? I guess that the overall feeling is towards a classical artistic nude. The meaning is in the eye of beholder, someone thinks female beauty, someone thinks sex.
    In this town, there was a guy who humped statues. To be exact, those depicting nude women. I’m quite sure that 19th century allegories of Orchard and Vineyard weren’t made as sex toys. The guy saw them this way, though.
    I don’t see a post-coital woman in the photograph. Maybe I’m totally wrong and I should immediately start overexplaining all the possible meanings and implications? FIY, I never heard about Miley Cyrus before I saw the ‘scandalous’ photographs and weren’t it for the context (teenage star or what the hell), I would think it just a nice photograph. I said that, decadent European I am, one who knows nothing of real life:D

  3. Posted April 30, 2008 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    My friend’s blog has a wonderful take on this topic. Please read: http://missnomered.wordpress.com/2008/04/30/teenager-shows-back-world-explodes/
    It’s really great!

  4. Vodalus
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    What I found frustrating about this whole thing is the gotcha-game that the media is playing about her complaints. Evidently her initial statements about feeling beautiful but not “skanky” are binding and she’s not allowed to complain about it now. Not even if she’s being confronted by all sorts of other sources about how super-sexy she looks.
    Given how either opinion is potentially valid…she should be allowed to make up her own mind whether she feels sexually objectified.

  5. Vodalus
    Posted April 30, 2008 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    also:
    3 more Chirstmas’s and she’s a freaken “adult”.
    W
    T
    F
    ?
    Does anyone else remember what a loooooong time 3 years is when you’re a teenager?

  6. Cha-el-see
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 3:37 am | Permalink

    While I agree that the overly sexual representation of girls/women in the media is destructive, I honestly don’t see anything wrong with the picture above. Is this really the controversial image everyone’s in a huff about? As a photograph it’s artistically done. Yes, she’s fifteen and it does allude to nude art, but it’s tastefully done. Not all nudity is sexual. Well, thats assuming you’re not some perverse sexually constipated statue humper.
    ( kultakutri, the imagery you’re story gave me made me giggle :D )
    I don’t see this as a negative or even sexual image at all. She is well covered up and hunched over so that all that’s exposed is her back. It’s not like she’s posed in a pin-up position or anything. Come on people! It’s absolutely ridiculous that she had to apologize like she did something wrong.
    Besides, the fact that this was even published in Vanity Fair was to stir up attention and sell magazines. Mission accomplished: we all bit the bait.

  7. Cha-el-see
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 3:39 am | Permalink

    While I agree that the overly sexual representation of girls/women in the media is destructive, I honestly don’t see anything wrong with the picture above. Is this really the controversial image everyone’s in a huff about? As a photograph it’s artistically done. Yes, she’s fifteen and it does allude to nude art, but it’s tastefully done. Not all nudity is sexual. Well, thats assuming you’re not some perverse sexually constipated statue humper.
    ( kultakutri, the imagery you’re story gave me made me giggle :D )
    I don’t see this as a negative or even sexual image at all. She is well covered up and hunched over so that all that’s exposed is her back. It’s not like she’s posed in a pin-up position or anything. Come on people! It’s absolutely ridiculous that she had to apologize like she did something wrong.
    Besides, the fact that this was even published in Vanity Fair was to stir up attention and sell magazines. Mission accomplished: we all bit the bait.

  8. K
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 5:08 am | Permalink

    As the mother of a tween and a teen I thought that the assessment made by Ms. Gruver was spot on.
    I also think that wee need to have as many conversations with our sons as we do our daughters about these things.
    My older daughter and her friends didn’t think it was beautiful and they were annoyed at how passive she appears and how she seems to be looking upward at someone standing over her. From a teen point of view it looks like, “now that we’ve done this do you still love me?” Not empowered or celebratory at all. My tween asked, “is that sexy?” Ack.

  9. Mina
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 5:34 am | Permalink

    “As for how we help young women learn other forms of power and not to overvalue the power of sex, one thing is protecting them from so many of the media images that contribute to this.”
    Another thing is reminding them to look around themselves instead of only looking at the media.
    True, in my case, looking like my classmates was an unattainable ideal too, but for girls who aren’t like I was and do resemble their classmates more remembering what they look like IRL instead of only seeing what models in the media look like could be helpful.

  10. lyndorr
    Posted May 1, 2008 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    You know, whether or not this image is sexual or was meant in that way, it’s hard to believe Miley and her parents thought this wouldn’t be a big deal. She’s 15, seen as a role model for kids, and she does these photos. It may not be fair or make sense but I’m not surprised she’s being asked to apologize. A lot of parents have expectations for people working in children’s shows.
    I do wonder at what age this would be okay. 16? 17? 20? Or is the age just an excuse for people who don’t want to see any girl appear sexual to the public.

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