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‘Media to blame for sexualization of women’: Senior journalist hits back at internet trolls

Sexual objectification contributes to harmful gender stereotypes that normalize violence against girls, says UNICEF in a study released earlier in the year

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Senior journalist Ansar Abbasi was once again in the news on Monday after he advised his followers on social networking platform Twitter to read a United Nations report on the objectification and sexualization of women in the media.

According to the UNICEF report shared by Abbasi, every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence and nearly one in five girls is sexually abused at least once in her life. The report was released earlier this year.

Social media users in Pakistan had reacted strongly last week after Abbasi objected to the telecast of an exercise routine in a morning show on the state-run Pakistan Television (PTV). Abbasi had posted the video on his Twitter page.

The video showed a woman exercising alongside a man in a morning show aired by PTV. The male trainer was instructing the woman in the video. The journalist wrote: “Mr PM @ImranKhanPTI this is PTV. @AsimSBajwa @shiblifaraz.”

The tweet set off an interesting debate on the social networking platform. Some internet users disapproved of his comments while others supported him. A few also discussed the implications of airing the content on national television.

The report shared by Abbasi earlier this week meant to answer some of the concerns raised by users on the internet who had taken to trolling him for his comments. Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry had also ridiculed Abbasi.

‘Media only contributes to harmful gender stereotypes’

According to the report shared by Abbasi, the objectification and sexualisation of girls in the media is linked to violence against women and girls worldwide. UNICEF claims that women and girls are repeatedly objectified and their bodies hypersexualized.

The media, far from preventing such objectification and sexualisation, only contributes to harmful gender stereotypes that far too often trivialize violence against young girls and women, the report by the international body adds.

UNICEF refers to a study on the sexualisation of girls in the media, produced by the American Psychological Association (APA), which found that girls are depicted in a sexual manner more often than boys. Factors ranging from dressing, bodily postures, and even facial expressions were identified that implied sexual readiness on the part of girls.

Read more: Pakistani Twitter trolls Ansar Abbasi for objecting to PTV women fitness video

In addition, a study of print media by researchers at Wesleyan University, USA discovered that on average, across 58 different magazines, 51.8 percent of advertisements featured women, soley portraying them as sex objects. Furthermore, when women appeared in advertisements in men’s magazines, they were objectified more than 76 percent of the time.

A study published by The American Journal Of Psychiatry criticises how “social media has amplified age-old pressures for teenage girls to conform to certain sexualized narratives.” The study examined the “sexting” habits of teens and found that between 10 percent and 25 percent of adolescents surveyed had sent sexts — photos or texts of a sexual nature — and 15 percent to 35 percent had received sexts.

The problem with statistics

UNICEF warns how advertisements can set the scale for what a culture considers to be normal. ‘Rape Culture’ is a term commonly used in South East Asia. When the media reinforces power dynamics that degrade and harm women and make gender-based violence seem trivial, it reduces the likelihood that acts of violence against girls and women especially acts of sexual violence will be reported.

Read more: Op-ed: There is no legal basis for two-finger virginity testing on women

According to data from 30 countries, only 1 percent of adolescent girls who have experienced forced sex reached out for professional help. In the US, only one in five female student victims between the ages of 18 and 24 reports the crime to law enforcement, according to the Department of Justice.

Shame, denial and fear of repercussions all contribute to the reluctance of young women to share their stories. Of course, this is a dangerous problem, for not only does it put all women and girls under threat, but serves as a disastrous impediment to securing women’s rights and security across the world.

Consequences of hypersexualizsation for girls

“Social media has amplified age-old pressures for teenage girls to conform to certain sexualized narratives”, claims UNICEF. Hypersexualized models of femininity in the media affect the mental, emotional and physical health of girls and women on a global scale.

Read more: Netflix cancellations jump as Cuties sparks global outrage

UNICEF notes some side effects to be anxiety about appearance, feelings of shame, eating disorders, lower self-esteem and depression. All too often, the media sends the message that girls should be pretty, not powerful; noticed, not respected. UNICEF notes how this is incredibly harmful, not just to a girl and her development, but to every culture and society at large.

Putting a stop to the misuse of media

While the sexual exploitation of women and girls is widespread, there are changemakers and organizations working to combat the media objectification of girls. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, for instance, works within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate and influence media producers to not only dramatically improve gender representation in films, but also to stop stereotyping girls and women and to create diverse female characters in entertainment targeting children aged 11 and under.

Similarly, SPARK (Sexualisation Protest Action Resistance Knowledge), a girl-powered, intergenerational activist organization, is working online to ignite an anti-racist, gender justice movement. It is a movement for girls, by girls who are creating innovative solutions to combat sexualisation, objectification and images of violence against women within the media and society. Equally engaged is the 4 Every Girl campaign, which is calling out to entertainment and media industry leaders to create an environment where young girls feel valued and are defined by health media images of themselves.

Read more: Child abuse: A growing cancer within Pakistan

Of course, combatting the objectification and sexualisation of women and girls must not only continue, but is also a long time coming. Women and girls everywhere must be valued and empowered, so they are seen for who they are, not what they look like. In the words of UNICEF, “Empowering adolescent girls and giving them the opportunities they deserve leads to healthier families, strengthened economies, and more equitable societies. It’s not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do as we strive to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

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