Saturday, March 6, 2010

Media, Sexuality, Children

Today's recommendation is The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It by M. Gigi Durham, PhD.

This book examines the recent media tendency to sexualize and objectify young (female) children. Outlining and analyzing magazines, toys, and TV shows, Durham presents a really depressing picture of what it is to be a female in America and the reaches that this media picture has into other cultures. She lays out in meticulous detail the schizophrenic picture presented by society, the expectations for how much time women and girls should spend on body maintenance, and presents the negative repercussions of these beliefs. She historicizes these phenomena, too, taking account of the relatively recent belief that childhood is a separate time. Durham lays out the recent phenomena as myths, which is engaging, if problematic (I wonder what scholars of myths would have to say).

It's a rather depressing read, but the reason I'm recommending it is because unlike a lot of authors, M. Gigi Durham has specific action steps that educators, parents, caretakers, and concerned citizens can engage in, in order to reduce the media's negative effects on girls and fight back. She explicitly lays out discussion starters and activities that may help to undo some of the damage that this media myth has provided.

The only real loser here is Vladimir Nabokov, whose Lolita is subject to the most superficial reading possible.* But that's a minor issue, I guess. I also would have liked more explicit footnotes - there's a lot of "anecdata" here and sometimes I think Durham makes cases of nothing, for instance, she devotes a lot of time to examining the impact of the use of the word "hot" without accounting for linguistic change, slang, and the slippery possibilities of language (What of the word "nice," which used to refer to a loose woman?).

As a pedant, I must inform you that the edition I read (clearance hardcover for the win!) was also riddled with typos, but I am linking you, beloved blog readers, to the paperback edition, which hopefully is better-edited.

Despite these imperfections - which I often thought may have been the result of "translating" academic work to a mainstream audience - this is an important book.
Teachers, parents, and others who care for young girls (that is, those who care for them in totally non-creepy ways) will need to read this. So that's today's recommendation. Aren't you glad this entry wasn't about cats?

*Like, I get that the book is about a creepy old guy and a girl. But (pulls out literature degree) is that really what it's ABOUT? It's so metaphorical. But I also get why "The Myth of Media Sexualization of Children" would probably sell fewer copies.


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