Why We Need Humane Education: Helping Kids, Parents Sabotage the Sexualization of Girls

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via Creative Commons.
We've written about the increasing sexualization of girls before, but especially when you consider that marketers are now aggressively targeting infants to 3-year-olds, a recent article in Christian Science Monitor about the "Disney princess effect" and the rampant sexualization of girls in American culture highlights the necessity of empowering parents and children to combat these omnipresent messages and of launching discussion of this issue onto the national stage.

As the article says, parents feel that they're "losing control of what happens to their girls at younger and younger ages." And while many corporations, government officials, and even parents say that all parents have to do is choose not to subject their children to such media and advertising, try actually doing that. While parents can control much of what their children are exposed to in their own homes, children don't stay in little Rapunzel-like towers, free from the influence of others. They're in school and in stores and at their friends' houses, and traveling to and from different places -- all environments in which they can be confronted with messages telling them that girls can do anything... but they have to be "hot" and "sexy."

Thus, as the article reports, the studies that have shown that half of 3-to-6-year-old girls worry that they're fat; and that a quarter of 14-to-17-year-olds have sent or received naked pictures; and that more than $1.6 million/year is spent on thong underwear for 7-to-12-year-olds. (So, it's not just a matter of parents struggling to find a safe haven for their kids, but parents are also struggling themselves with what's appropriate.)

The article offers an excellent overview of the issue and of how some parents and organizations are countering sexualized messages, from reducing and removing harmful media exposure as much as possible, to teaching critical thinking skills, to implementing girl empowerment and mentoring programs, to working with advocacy organizations to inform parents and provide support.

As humane educators, parents, and concerned citizens, we can use humane education (providing accurate information, fostering creativity & critical thinking skills, instilling respect & responsibility, providing positive choices, etc.) to help others recognize and analyze sexualizing message, to make informed choices, and to take positive action to create systems that nurture and support healthy views of young girls and women.

~ Marsha

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