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protect our girls: sexualization, exploitation and the media

ICJW co-sponsored a side event for NGOs at the UN's 60th Commission on the Status of Women in March 2016, together with the US Fund for UNICEF and Together for Girls.

Madeleine Brecher
The event included a panel discussion and performance by “Girl Be Heard”. It highlighted the repercussions of the media’s exploitation of girls. ICJW's Madeleine Brecher welcomed the “standing room only” audience with an introduction describing ICJW's mission, and Fran Butensky closed the program.

Jessica Greer Morris, the executive director and co-founder of Girl Be Heard, was the moderator. She spoke of girls’ empowerment, gender-based violence and inequity.

Girl Be Heard is a nonprofit theatre company that brings global issues affecting girls center stage by empowering young women to tell their stories. The topic of their presentation focused on the 55 billion dollar weight loss industry and its impact on girls. Beginning in the 1920s a “new ideal” for women was established with an emphasis on weight loss, diet, the reliance on dangerous pills and drugs, self worth based on looks, and society’s value on “being thin”. Through storytelling the girls shared important lessons and personal feelings about weight and image.

Hannah Gould works at the US Fund For UNICEF project where she educates communities on the issue of human trafficking. She engages students, faith-based and community groups across the country and mobilizes them to take action against trafficking and exploitation. Hannah addressed the issue of objectification in the media and the harm it has caused to girls. 

The false depiction of girls in the media has led girls to question their natural self and caused them to attempt to duplicate the images they see in print and on screens. The self-loathing that occurs when girls are not able to achieve these horrific goals of mirroring what they see in the media has resulted in suicides, self-harm and negative feelings. Research also suggests that only 5% of rapes are reported because girls thought the assaults were either not serious enough or they felt such shame, hence, they chose not to report. 

Hannah told us that gender stereotypes by the media effect men and boys as well and reinforces violence as a norm. Depictions of men and boys in positions of power translates into the false visions of what an acceptable relationship should look like. Objectification needs to be replaced, by the media, to promoting healthy body images for girls.

Jaimee Swift is the Communications and Youth Advocacy Officer at Together for Girls, a global partnership dedicated to ending violence against children with a focus on sexual violence against girls. Her topic was the global aspects of sexual objectification in the media. She spoke about negative images, stereotypes and connected sexism and racism. There are mental, physical and emotional implications impacting a girl’s self image with a strong connection between how they look on the outside and self-esteem. She stressed the importance of “self-care” including the helpfulness of therapy. There has been some progress in the media with more portrayals of real women.

Protect Our Girls Panel
(l to r) Hannah Gould, Jaimee Swift, Ashley Marinaccio and Jessica Greer Morris

Ashley Marinaccio, Artistic Director and Co-founder of Girl Be Heard. Ashley shared with us the importance of art and theater as a tool to be used in human connections. She says we use our bodies and our voices to tell our stories, all ages respond, connect and feel more comfortable sharing their stories. Through their (Girl Be Heard) voices we tell our audience “we didn’t ask to be bulimic or anorexic”. Such messaging helps to connect with those in the audience who might be struggling with an issue. To be sure to be effective in the effort the staff practices self-care in leading Girl Be Heard.

Topics and comments brought up during the question and answer period included:
  • How the porn industry is connected to trafficking and referenced that very young boys are beginning to investigate and engage in the use of porn
  • The violence in entertainment including video games depicting girls in objectifying ways
  • The difference between the definitions of sex and violence and the importance of engaging children in conversation at an early age so they have a healthy model
  • Inclusion of the LGBT community and their needs through open conversation
  • The need for positive talk about sex in schools