Glee, GQ and the Sexualization of Young Girls

November 11, 2010

The recently released November issue of GQ has some highly sexualized photos of select members of the Glee cast.  I weigh in on the impact that a photo shoot that takes actors who play high school students on a widely popular television show has on the sexual and gender identities of young people and their sexual lives.  This is just one example of MANY images that infantalize adult women and fetishize young girls.  Instead of sexualizing young people (and the imitation of young girls by adult women) for the (very disturbing) pleasure of adult men, we, as a society should be supporting and cultivating healthy sexual development and exploration in youth.

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Transcript – Glee, GQ and the Sexualization of Young Girls

The latest issue of GQ includes some highly sexualized photos of select members of the Glee cast.  Namely, the white, straight ones.  I’d say they have created a new public controversy but it’s really just the same old argument about whether images of sexually objectifying women are acceptable.  The reason this photoshoot is different from the thousands of half naked women that grace the pages of men’s magazines is that this one is crossing the line into simulating pornographic pedophilia.  Frankly, I find it sad that there is even a debate about whether the Glee GQ photo series is disturbing or not.

The Parents Television Council released a statement against the photo shoot saying: “It is disturbing that GQ, which is explicitly written for adult men, is sexualizing the actresses who play high school-aged characters on ‘Glee’ in this way. It borders on pedophilia. By authorizing this kind of near-pornographic display, the creators of the program have established their intentions on the show’s direction. And it isn’t good for families.”

In response to the GQ released this statement: “The Parents Television Council must not be watching much TV these days and should learn to divide reality from fantasy… As often happens in Hollywood, these ‘kids’ are in their twenties. Cory Montieth’s almost 30! I think they’re old enough to do what they want.”

First, It does not matter what age the actors are, they are known for their portrayal of high school students on a very popular television show.  This photoshoot is specifically representing those fictional TV characters in a high school setting.  These images are no different from the countless pornographic style images and videos that both infantalize adult women and sexually fetishize young girls. How many times in mass media do we see women dressed up like young girls with a lollypop or wearing a school girl uniform all so that straight men can indulge in some disturbing dominator fantasy about corrupting innocence.  GQ isn’t kidding anyone, they were absolutely clear on what this spread is and who their audience is and the fact that people are actually defending it shows how desensitized our society has become to the pervasive sexualization of young girls. It is important to remember that GQ is a business whose sole desire is to make a profit IE sell magazines or rather sell ad space in their magazine based on audience size).  They know that these sorts of images will appeal to male readers, they know that it will cause controversy and they do not care nor take any responsibility for promoting and encouraging images of sexually objectified young people and the larger social impact that it has.

Secondly, what is this nonsense about Fantasy vs Reality?  That is really a stretch GQ, it is a TV show about high school students that millions of people watch every week and they have taken those characters and turned them into a male pornographic fantasy for the readers of their magazine.  This isn’t an issue about whether an 8 year old picks up the magazine and sees it, this is a public health issue about the way that women are constantly sexualized and how by help of the media young men and boys are trained to view and expect certain sexual behaviors such as women being willing to submit to men’s sexual demands at any time and place, or the right to complete access to a woman’s body.  The pervasiveness of these types of images clearly harms women and women’s sense of self respect but it also hurts young men and boys who are being taught to have no sexual integrity or empathy, that women’s bodies are something to be used sexually, that women are not whole and complete beings.  The less schools are teaching complete sexual education the more the media becomes a critical tool that helps shape their gender identities and can really limit both genders capacity for love and healthy sexuality in relationships in the future.

It is not enough to talk to girls and women one on one, it has to be addressed as a wide spread problem that affects both men and women.  A key component to addressing this issue is separating sexualization from sexuality.  Sexualization turns people into objects and teaches women that their only value comes from their sexual appeal.  Sexuality is the capacity to have and express sexual feelings and desire and that should be harnessed and explored and encourages in healthy and positive ways.

Often it is the anti-everything religious right that criticizes and dictates the terms of how we talk about what is and isn’t acceptable in the media.  Progressives and feminist need to actively reframe the issue to be about the equity and equality of women as whole and fully realized human beings and not about the patriarchal teachings of some old religious book.  Many people do not publicly criticize sexualized images of women being debased and dehumanized because they fear being slapped with the absolutely useless and ambiguous term anti-sex.  It is a term that was developed during the feminist pornography debates in the 80’s to create a false dichotomy that feminists who oppose pornographic images were actually against sex and sexuality.

I’m not necessarily against erotic or sexual images, stories, and video of people engaging in healthy sexual lives and experiences but I am against the patriarchal objectification and sexualization of womens’ bodies.

So ask yourself next time you see images of women being objectified or infantilized in magazines, movies or advertising what it is exactly you are seeing and why you object.  Is it a healthy, full and complete human being represented or just a woman who is nothing more then a sexual object.

18 Responses to “Glee, GQ and the Sexualization of Young Girls”

  1. GQ intentionally enjoys the controversy that they were trying to create because even more people are going to buy it now. You are right, this should not even be debatable. People should be able to clearly see it for what it is, girls dressed inappropriately and being exploited for money. It doesn’t matter how old they really are. They are being used by GQ simply to make them a lot of money.


  2. When the GQ controversy first broke, I have to admit, I wasn’t too upset. While the spread was undoubtedly sexist, I reasoned these are 3 consenting adults who chose to participate. But Anita, I think you make many valid points. The pervasiveness of the infantilization of women, particularly young women and girls, needs to stop. Women owning their sexuality differs from the objectification that is actually taking place here. It’s also interesting to note that Dianna Agron, in her response to the controversy, defended the photos yet admitted that she didn’t really want to do this kind of photo shoot as it didn’t “represent her.” You’re right that we’ve become desensitized; we need to be critical of what we watch. Women are not merely sex objects and should stop being treated as such. The fact that we still must contend with this kind of sexist bullshit makes me want to scream.


  3. Fantastic video as usual, Anita. I like that you present the issue as one both sexes should engage with. As a male, I do feel as though I’ve been sold a “correct” way of performing sexuality with very, very little in the way of a counterbalance. Those which do prick up above all the palaver are often ostracised for making more of an issue than it need be. Or worse than that, “not getting” what a lolly-pop-mini-skirt-bra-on-parade slice of subtle sexualisation is all about.


  4. Thanks so much for creating a reasoned argument.

    I really appreciate the definitions of sexualization and sexuality and debunking the ‘feminisits are anti-sex’ myth.

    You are doing totally amazing work!


  5. Brilliant analysis. This is a huge problem in our culture and you are doing a huge public service with your post.

    thanks for standing up for young girls, females in general


  6. I just wanted to offer my perspective and say that yes, the religious right does pull patriarchy ideas from the Bible. However, some would say they are definitely misinterpreting is. They pull their ideas of patriarchy from the Bible because they want to have control, not because that what the Bible is actually saying.
    Many would claim that the Bible is actually against patriarchy and preaches egalitarianism more. So please be aware that the Bible isn’t all about patriarchy.


  7. Yeah … but no. Overwhelmingly, the Bible advocates patriarchy and instructs women to obey men (fathers, husbands.) Granted, the Bible was written piecemeal over many centuries, and contains many contradictions – including several female characters who can arguably be described as strong and independent (i.e. Esther, Judith.) Of course there are several positive portrayals of women, and of course some of the Biblical men – most notably Jesus – are supportive of better conditions for women.

    The Bible was written by men (well, probably they were all men – who knows) from a deeply patriarchal culture, and its patriarchal and anti-woman language was enforced in later eras, for example during the early 1700s when it was officially translated into English at King James’ behest.

    Bottom line: I don’t want to be rude, and I do respect your opinion, but I’m just tired of hearing people defend the Bible on this (and other) issues. I’m sure it’s difficult to balance Biblical teachings with feminism, but trying to recast the Bible as “not patriarchal” smacks of apologetic whitewashing.


  8. It’s interesting that you say you are “not necessarily against erotic or sexual video or images of people engaging in healthy sexual experiences and lives…”

    I am curious, what is it and how do you personally define “healthy” sexual experiences? What rubric or measuring stick are you using to come to the decision that a specific sexual experience is “healthy”?


  9. thank . you . so . much .

    all your videos/analyzes are “spot on” and, at least for me, a pleasure to watch and listen to and also : food for my thoughts and my ongoing meta-analyzes concerning sex/gender-topics from “a woman’s perspective”.


  10. I just have to say that I love your analysis and views on everything to post. You touch on such important issues that I think really need to be spoken about in our daily lives. I really agree with you on this whole media literacy and sex education and most of all the patriarchal societies views and exploitation and objectification of women. What I find interesting though is when other women do not see this as a problem.


  11. “Progressives and feminists need to actively re-frame the issue to be about the equity and equality of women”

    Amen. Because no one else is going to do it. Most men who see this will either get angry or say, “Uhhhh…so…making women and young girls into sex objects…where do I sign up?”


  12. I have really enjoyed watching the videos on your site, and must admit, I have learned a lot. Thank you so much for posting them. It is very encouraging to hear and educated and generally well-balanced critique.

    I do have to admit, however, that the comment about ‘some old religious book’ doesn’t seem fitting to your discussion about sexuality and sexualization. The role of women in religious groups is a vast and complicated subject, and I think, deserves a lot more than a sarcastic sounding comment.

    Thank you so much for this site. I will continue watching!


  13. I generally enjoyed this video, but I have a small complaint: please eradicate the term “both genders” from your vocabulary. There are much, much more than just two gender identities. Not everyone identifies as a man or a woman, and having a vagina does NOT make one a woman. Please, educate yourself on transgender issues. ❤


  14. […] found this article on Feminist Frequency by Anita Sarkessian called Glee, GQ and the Sexualization of Young Girls while looking for something specific about Gail Dines, the most compassionate and sex-positive […]


  15. I like (and by like I of course mean HATE) the way that one of GQ’s repsonses was “Cory Montieth’s almost 30!”

    Even if that was relevant, it’s not Cory fricking Monteith who’s sitting on a bench, sucking a lollipop wearing a skimpy top, and abbreviated white panties with his legs spread wide apart!

    The men are fully clothed, the women are dressed provocatively and in pornographic poses. None so blind as those who will not see, huh?


  16. […] fangirl videoblogger Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency* did a beautiful video response to this whole debate, that you should definitely check out, and she absolutely nails it when she […]


  17. I found your argument about sexuality and sexualization and the attack of ‘anti-sex’ to everyone against hetero-normative representations of sexuality very accurate. I do however, question the idea that GQ sexualised the cast so as to suggest that the cast had been cast as non-normatively organised to begin with. From watching Glee I have always been troubled by the construction of femininity as short-skirt wearing, cheer-leading, a certain kind of make-up, with certain patriarchal fantasies and ambitions from themselves as always-already extremely problematic. The problem lies in not defining an idea of the ‘human’ versus ‘object’, as those terms are in themselves liberal-humanist tropes deployed to discriminate, so much as rearticulating the body in terms that is not oppressive and/or oppressed but rather in terms that may disturb the stereotypes. I don’t believe Glee does that too much to begin with but I do think your work, in general, is going a long way in doing that. Fantastic stuff!


  18. (Currently playing “catch-up” with your posts and enjoying them all)

    I remember the GLEE GQ photo spread controversy when it happened and took a look at the photos. I found the whole spread designed to make a mockery of not just the show but also its characters. They were caricatures and the photos only took this silly view of a high school and took it up a notch. GQ is a male magazine and caters to it audience but in this case I think it was more comical than enticing. Lollypops…Please.



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