Hannah Montana: Grown Up or Sexed Up?

As you are probably well aware Hannah Montana is all grown up.  It appears in order for young females (or young female pop stars) to grow up these days they need to be overtly sexual as if they are trying to prove something.

I wonder what message this sends to our girls, and our boys for that matter, about what it means to be a young woman?

I have no problem with a woman’s right to express herself, but the messages our media seems to send more often than not seem to confuse expression with sexual objectification.

Take a look at the video if you haven’t seen it yet.

You get the message. In case you interpreted the pole dancing at an awards ceremony as advocating a new exercise regime, Miley wants you to know she is all sexed, I mean, grown up.

Sexualisation of Girls

A report by the American Psychological Association (APA’s) states sexualisation occurs when :

  • a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
  • a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
  • a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making

The report goes on to suggest that throughout mainstream media women are constantly depicted in a sexualised manner.  Of particular interest is the reference to a survey of music videos which found 44%–81% of music videos contain sexual imagery with a majority of these images  sexually objectifying  women.

Music Consumption & It’s Effects

Given that well over 90% of tweens and teenagers listen to and / or watch popular music, and nearly 80% do so on a daily basis it is worth considering what are the effects of “pop-culture” on teens.

Some people suggest that children and adolescents use music only for entertainment, and pay little or no attention to the lyrics. However the evidence suggests otherwise.

In a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics there are some findings worth considering:

17% of male adolescents and 25% of female adolescents expressed that they liked their favorite songs specifically because the lyrics were a reflection of their feelings

Furthermore it has been shown the more importance adolescents give to certain types of music, the greater their attention to the lyrics.

The significance of music videos is just as profound:

Frequent watching of music videos has been related to an increased risk of developing beliefs in false stereotypes and an increased perceived importance of appearance and weight in adolescent girls.

Studies performed to assess the reactions of young males exposed to violent rap music videos or sexist videos found:

participants reported an increased probability that they would engage in violence, a greater acceptance of the use of violence, and a greater acceptance of the use of violence against women than did participants who were not exposed to these videos.

Similarly as study on a group of seventh and eighth grade boys found:

watching music videos and professional wrestling was associated with an increased acceptance of date rape.

It is somewhat naive to think that with the level of media consumption amongst our teens that the messages, both implicit and explicit, will not have effect them.

Responding Well

Adults can’t control the amount of media images, but we can have an influence on those who consume it.

  • Sound media literacy training in our schools and youth organisations enabling teens to engage with media critically
  • Adults co-viewing with teens and discussing the nature and  appropriateness of the messages conveyed
  • Encouraging consumption of balanced healthy media and entertainment
  • Limiting consumption of certain material to age appropriate groups

As for me I have am happy for my daughter to keep enjoying Hannah Montana, and in a few years I will let her make her own choice about Miley. Hopefully we get to have some healthy, frank, conversations between now and then.

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