In 2008, Maggie Hamilton wrote a book called What’s Happening to our Girls?. Four years later Maggie is a contributor to Getting Real – Challenging the sexualisation of girls. Her essay, The Seduction of Girls: the Human Cost, is one of many contributions to a book that seeks to expose and address the sexualisation and objectification of girls. Some of Australia’s leading critics of this harmful cultural practice have written papers that highlight the issues and provide suggestions for how individuals can challenge the culture.
The Hon Kate Ellis, Minister for Early Childhood Education, Childcare and Youth, Federal Parliament said:
Young women and girls today face extraordinary pressures to meet body image expectations that are unhealthy, unhelpful and unrealistic. The contributors to this book make a valuable contribution to an important national debate on how we can help make young women to grow up with a healthy self-image and with the freedom and strength to be their real selves.
The book has been edited by Melinda Tankard Reist - author, speaker, media commentator and advocate for women and girls. She is well known for her work on the sexualisation of girls and the objectification of women. As Melinda says in her essay ‘The Pornification of Girlhood: We Haven’t Come a Long way Baby’:
There’s a lot of dark material in this book. However there is hope. A new movement is taking shape against objectification and sexualisation, one that goes beyond the usual polarities of left and right and religious and other differences. A diverse collection of organisations and individuals are coming together to agitate for the dignity and worth of girls and women, using everything from culture-jamming activism to more formal lobbying.
Melinda is right, there is a lot of dark material in the book, but we must not put our heads in the sand. It is so important for parents, and caring responsible adults, to understand the culture and seek to protect children from the messages they are bombarded with daily.
The American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualisation of Girls reported in 2007 there were links between the objectifying and sexualising of girls and ‘the most common health problems suffered by them.’ The report said:
There is evidence that sexualisation contributes to impaired cognitive performance in college-aged women, and related research suggests that viewing material that is sexually objectifying can contribute to body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depressive affect, and even physical health problems in high school aged girls and in young women.
Different aspects of this issue are dealt with in the book, including the Psychological and Developmental Impact of Sexualisation on Children written by Professor Louise Newman, Director of the Centre for Developmental Psychiatry & Psychology at Monash University who has been working with young children who have experienced trauma and abuse. One Woman’s Activism was written by Julie Gale, a comedy writer and founder of Kids Free 2B Kids, who has been raising public, corporate and political awareness about the sexualisation of children since 2007. Steve Biddulph, psychologist and prolific author on parenthood gives a father’s view in the essay How girlhood was Trashed and What we can do to get it Back: A Father’s View.
This is a compelling read, and a must for those who are seeking to understand the culture that girls and young women are growing up in. As disturbing as some of the articles are in the book, I was encouraged as the writers also gave hope to the reader for how individuals can make a difference.