Glee, GQ and the Sexualization of Young Girls

November 11, 2010

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Anita Sarkeesian

Executive Director and Buffy the Vampire Slayer Enthusiast

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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For full video transcript click here >>

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.

Related Links and Articles:

Transcript

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.