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New Study Says Teenage Girls Are Sexualized On Network Television

No, Penny from the Big Bang Theory is not a teenager but frankly, this illustrates the point rather well, don’t you think? 

In what may be another “no, duh” moment for a lot of folks (Did you read this post on women and video games?), a new study suggests teenage girls are sexualized a great deal on broadcast network TV. The study was conducted by the Parents Television Council’s4 Every Girl Campaign.” From their press release:

[We] found that underage female characters on primetime broadcast television are more likely to be presented in sexually exploitative scenes than adult women, and the appearance of underage female characters in a sexually exploitative scene increased the probability that the scene would be presented as humorous.

Study results revealed that out of 238 scripted episodes which aired during the study period, 150 episodes (63%) contained sexual content in scenes that were associated with females and 33% of the episodes contained sexual content that rose to the level of sexual exploitation.

The likelihood that sexual exploitation would be considered humorous increased to 43% when the sexual exploitation involved underage female characters. Topics that targeted underage girls and were presented as humorous included: sexual violence, sex trafficking, sexual harassment, pornography, and stripping.

“Our study exposes a very real problem of teen girls being shown in sexually exploitative situations on TV, and that these situations are being presented as humorous. Sexually exploiting minors on TV – especially for laughs – is grotesquely irresponsible and must end,” said PTC President Tim Winter.

So when we write stories about rape references at events like E3, this is what we’re talking about. References, jokes, and exploitation of women so ingrained in our culture through entertainment, people think it’s acceptable behavior toward women.

Holly Smith, a survivor of child sex trafficking, made a statement in regards to the study’s findings. [Trigger warning] “By intermediate school, I was so sexualized that I was first sexually exploited at age 11; a high school boy forced a sexual act in the local skating rink. By age 12, I had been sexually assaulted by another boy in high school,” she wrote. “What’s most disturbing is that when these assaults occurred I had no idea that I had been assaulted. I thought these acts were part of teenage dating. I literally had no idea that saying no was an option; I never saw a girl say no on television and be respected for her decision.”

“The prevalence of images that trivialize sexual exploitation can be interpreted as sanctioning the sexualization of women. When these messages, images and ideologies are delivered via mass media, the definition of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors are communicated both implicitly and explicitly to viewers. Similarly, when the media associates humor with sexual exploitation they are sending a strong message that these issues are harmless and require neither urgency nor a strong response,” said Winter. “We hope that these disturbing findings will spur concern, increased dialogue, and a collective responsibility to find answers that will result in a qualitative difference in the lives of young girls and women everywhere.”

“Fox and ABC declined comment on the findings. NBC, CBS and CW did not immediately respond to requests for comment,” reported CBS News, adding, “The report’s release, intended for last year, was delayed by the PTC’s decision to focus its resources on the subject of violence in media after the Newtown, Conn., school shootings. Networks also weren’t heard from on that PTC study.”

You can read the full report here in PDF form.

(via CBS)

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  • Anonymous

    Not a surprise.

  • Nicole Elizabeth Currie

    They needed a study to figure that out?

  • Jill Pantozzi

    Guys, the point is, a lot of people still don’t “get it.” Most of us here at The Mary Sue do, that’s why we roll our eyes but a study brings it to the forefront of public discussion again and that is a GOOD THING. The more people realize this is happening, the less likely we are going forward of having young girls like Holly accept sexual violence against them because they think it’s normal because they saw it on TV.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t like The Big Bang Theory, but I also don’t like the use of that image on this article. There are many things wrong with the show, but I don’t think it’s fair to associate it with the sexualization of teen girls if it didn’t actually do it, since Kaley Cuoco’s 27, and she’s playing an adult woman in the show.

  • Kalynn Osburn

    Okay I am going to do my best to word this correctly so please follow me for a moment.

    The problem is not the teenage girls are “sexualized” the problem is adults who find teenage girls attractive.

    Yes I will agree that young women are indoctrinated into a media culture where pretty is right, thin is in, sex is what makes people like you, and this is causing our next generation to grow up much MUCH faster than they should. I agree that the television turning young girls into sex objects is disgusting, and marketing products to young girls using sex as a factor is wrong.

    Yet at the same time, the teen years are when ones sexuality begins to formulate. Marketing sees this, which is why they use it as a factor when considering teenagers. My concern isn’t so much that marketing does…what marketing does. My concern is that no one seems to be taking it upon themselves to educate young girls otherwise. No one is teaching them that “Hey they do this crap to adults too.” No one is sitting the girls down, explaining to them what their bodies and sexual feelings are going through, and telling them it is okay to feel this way OR teaching them how to be in control of their own sexual choices. In short, no one is demonstrating how to ignore the media bully.

  • Jill Pantozzi

    Said this on our FB page but i’ll repeat it here.

    You’d rather we use an image of a teenager and further their sexualization? We chose Penny because she IS an adult, and also because the study shows how teens are sexualized even MORE than adult women. And adult women are sexualized plenty.

  • Nicole Elizabeth Currie

    I agree it’s always a good thing, I think I’m just depressed at the fact that something so bloody obvious needs a study for people to “get it”.

  • Anonymous

    Topics that targeted underage girls and were presented as humorous
    included: sexual violence, sex trafficking, sexual harassment,
    pornography, and stripping.

    Shit, that comment makes me angry on so many different levels and for so many different reasons.

    That. That’s RAPE CULTURE.

  • Magic Xylophone

    It’s a little unclear from this summary that they count any mention in dialogue of sexual exploitation as “a scene involving sexual exploitation,” and also count scenes where the girl is not the victim, but the one who perpetrates or mentions the exploitation. And a third of their examples are from L&O:SVU.

  • Anonymous

    I’m just saying that if the article is about how teen girls are MORE sexualized than adult women, it wouldn’t make much sense to use the image of a sexualized adult woman to illustrate that.

    Maybe not an image of actual sexualized teens, but what about an image of adult women who play sexualized teenagers on TV?

  • Anonymous

    Pretty Little Liars. Secret Life Of An American Teenager. Glee. Where do I start? You have people in their 20s and older playing teenagers, doing things no self-righteous teen should do. What do you expect?

  • Emily

    My main question, though either way this is still disturbing, is are they talking about underage female actresses or underage female characters or both?
    The only reason I ask is because a lot of teenagers are played by people int heir twenties.

    Either way this is way to gross. I hate the way these serious issues are so trivialized in such harmful ways. As a young teenager the sexualization of teen girls in TV really messed with my head. It added to my insecurities and it really messed up my perspective. I thought that kind of behaviour was expected and should be happening. Looking back on it I am horrified and I fear for other girls who will think the same is true.

  • Anonymous

    When your primary audience is a group of people well aware that a) teen media figures are sexualized and b) this is not exactly one of the positive things in our culture, then yes, I’d rather you accurately provide an illustration that is readily available and even frequently advertised in the modern media with the presumption that most of your typical audience will be in no way encouraged by that depiction to suddenly decide against their previous convictions that sexualizing teens is A-OK, and even the possibility that someone who already finds sexual appeal in that depiction (which, again, pretty well floods the mainstream) will follow the link, read the article, and recognize that this is exactly why they clicked the link in the first place, and maybe they need to reassess their perspective on teen girls.

    Reiterating a sexualized image in the context of an article of an article on sexualized images is no more furthering sexualization than publishing content discussing sexualization in childhood from the perspective of the person sexualized. You didn’t replace Holly’s story with one discussing sexualization of an adult. So why does an image’s content differ from text’s content?

  • DJRM

    Kaley Cuoco is actually the perfect choice for this. When she was still a teenager she was on a sitcom called 8 Simple Rule for Dating my Teenage Daughter and pretty much the whole joke of the show was “haha look how sexy teenage girls are”

  • Anonymous

    Well, Kaley Cuoco played a sexualized teen in 8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter. Does that help?

  • SJ Mitchell

    Parents, get involved. Make sure your children are watching age appropriate content. Then when ratings go down for shows that sexually exploit teens, the TV execs will realize it isn’t selling and they’ll stop making shows that do this. As long as people tune in to watch…they’ll keep making them.

    ‘Cool’ Parents, stop letting your kids watch YOUR shows. While you may think it’s spending quality time with them, it’s actually doing more harm than good.

  • drgeek

    I think it is a question of the structure of the discourse. It needs to *sound* scientific – there needs to be talk of studies and percentages, etc – in order to be heard. It is (slightly) less likely to be dismissed by the “You’re just keying in on a few marginal cases because you are too sensitive” dismissal (there are still plenty of other pat dismissals, but the #s get us past that one).

  • Aeryl

    That depends.

    Do you discuss the context of what happens in those shows? If you are watch a show that depicts rape, do you discuss this with your child? Explain why what happened was wrong, explained who was doing the violating?

    There is a world of difference between allowing children to watch shows that have adult content without supervision and engagement, and with that engagement.

  • drgeek

    How many conversations do you think it will take to combat the literally tens of thousands of hours of social modeling performed by these images? (It is, sadly, not the case that anyone – especially teenagers – can simply rationally override their social indoctrination by being told, or even by *firmly believing* that a girls’ self-worth does not lie in her sexuality. That is, unfortunately, not how human psychology works. As a result, since Plato we have realized that we have unfortunately to beware of what media children are exposed to, not simply throw them into the world without a filter and say: “Don’t pay attention!”)

  • Aeryl

    And this harping that it’s about “age appropriate” is a crock, this shit is EVERYWHERE!!

    My daughter watched iCarly while it aired, and the recurring antagonist is a fucking rapist! He blackmails Carly in an attempt to get a kiss from her! And this is NEVER called out on this show for the terrible and violating behavior it is, it’s just written off as “boys will be boys”. THIS IS A CHILDREN’S SHOW!

    So yeah, I’d rather let my daughter watch “my” shows where we can have a constructive dialog about what she’s seen, than LET THAT SHIT slide by without comment.

  • Aeryl

    Like Kaley Cuoco?

    This is a massive derail, just knock it off.

  • SJ Mitchell

    That’s why I specified ‘age appropriate’. I’m not going to let my 8 year old daughter watch anything with a rape scene. When she’s 13 and it comes up, then my talk with her will make more sense.

    As a parent I need to make myself accessible to discuss any questionable content the kids may watch on TV. Knowing what they’re watching is a key first step in protecting them from seeing a girl (or any child) their age sexualized.

  • Nicole Elizabeth Currie

    When I was younger (not too young- maybe 10-13ish) I would occasionally catch Law and Order while my mom was watching it. We’d watch it, and we’d talk about it. We’d talk about the context, the issues, and the unfortunate implications. It’s actually something Mom and I still do today.
    I’m pretty sure that’s where my consciousness of social issues started, and I’m grateful for it.

  • Aeryl

    Well then don’t let your let your 8 year old watch Nickelodeon either, because it’s all over their programming too, which was my entire point.

    Age appropriate doesn’t mean shit when children’s shows perpetuate rape culture.

  • SJ Mitchell

    Yes. While those shows deal simply with kissing (at most times), it goes back to being accessible to talk with them.

    Putting it simply, if I set my 8 year old in front of Law and Order and there’s a rape or sexual assault, she won’t fully understand what’s happening so we automatically start off with a communication barrier. The show isn’t age appropriate so I won’t let her watch it.

    If I let her watch iCarly and a boy tries to blackmail Miranda Cosgrove into giving him a kiss, that’s something my daughter can relate to. I can educate her on who it’s appropriate to kiss and when kisses are acceptable. It’s content she can understand with age appropriate material and therefore I’ll let her watch it.

  • Anonymous

    Not to rain on anything here but last I checked (which was a while ago so I may be wrong) PTC was one of those… Moral Guardiany, ‘won’t somebody think of the children!!!11′ type organizations. They have been known to be somewhat homophobic and a whole lot more.

    I’m not saying they’re wrong in this case but be wary of the source.

  • Anonymous

    They are wrong in one big structural way… they believe that it’s just as bad to portray teenagers as being sexual in their right, with free agency, as any of the stuff that’s actual exploitation.

    But I don’t think they’re lying about the numbers.

  • Aeryl

    Why wouldn’t an 8 year old understand? Do you think rape only happens to older people?

    I mean I sorta understand a desire to “protect” children from the harsh realities of this world, but by the time I was 8, I knew all to well what sexual assault was, but because no one explained it to me, thinking to “protect” me, more damage was done.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed. There are any number of shows that depict and exaggerate teen sexuality exploitatively, both for humor and to create a glamorous ‘adult’ world around idealized sophisticates.

    It’s an interesting study, and clearly spurs some interesting discussion. I’m beginning to see a pattern here where a theory is extended and then profuse debate follows, and that’s not a bad thing. Mary Sue, maybe there needs to be a “Hot Topic” of the day where, instead of extrapolating a brief theme, offering some support, and putting it forth as a conclusive statement (to be picked at by your readers), you put forth the interesting subject, make a few points, then leave it open-ended for user discussion.

  • Aeryl

    Family Guy, satirical or not, has a lot to answer for when it comes to perpetuating tropes that encourage rape culture and the sexualization of girls(don’t we all remember that “hysterical” episode where Meg is raped for the opening gag scene on SNL?)

  • DJRM

    the ‘humor’ on Family Guy crossed the line from satirical to straight up sexist a long time ago.

  • SJ Mitchell

    So are you suggesting it’s okay for young girls to watch shows with rape or molestation because that’s how we should introduce them to it?

    I’m sure your not, but that’s what it sounds like.

    I’ve had the ‘no touching’ talk with her. ‘No Touching’ covers it all at this age and is something she can understand. I don’t need to put her in front of L&O: SVU or a show like that simply because she may ‘understand’ what’s happening. I will educate her with more detail when she gets older, her body develops more and the books and television shows targeting her age group make that conversation more relevant.

    For now, she watches age appropriate shows and understands kisses are for family only and touching is not allowed unless she’s at the doctor with either her mother or me present.

  • Aeryl

    No, I’m saying they should have already been introduced to it.

  • Anonymous

    I hate how they intellectualize the other 2 female leads on The Big Bang Theory. I mean two female characters with PhDs? Who’s going to want their kids to watch that? Wait, one of the actresses has a PhD in real life? The whole show is disgusting. Boycott Big Bang!

  • Anonymous

    It’s known as objectification, and there’s no shortage of it anywhere in Western society. My intention is not to downplay what you posted, but to agree and try to elaborate just how serious the problem is. And we wonder why there are so many cases of rape, domestic violence, human trafficking…the list goes on. When society is consistently telling you, “This gender is less than,” it makes harmful behavior the norm. All the times I was sexually assaulted, including the one that happened only a year ago, my first thought was to deny what had just happened. To downplay. To “oh well I wanted to kiss him anyway, he just made the first move” bullshit. Regarding the sexualisation of boys, that is a huge problem as well. In the context of our society, including internationally, how we view women, this objectification is a different can of worms then the sexualisation of men.

  • Xavier J.

    Ironic that you went by “Has boobs, reads comics” as your rise to geekdom journalism that you now are critical of using sex as a selling point….

  • Xavier J.

    The picture just comes off as non sequitur if it’s not in relation to the article. I get not wanting to further along the objectification, but not having it in relation to the article takes away from the study.

  • JosieLou

    Anyone with half a brain cell would realize that “Has boobs, reads comics” is a reference to the belief that women don’t enjoy geek media. It’s in no way an attempt to use sex as a selling point. How would simply stating a body part even factor in to that?

    So no, not ironic. Completely unrelated in fact.

  • Katharine Ellis Tapley

    This is actually why I like “Castle”. I like Alexis, and the fact that she’s so NOT this. And the one time when someone made a comment about her, her Dad punched them in the face.

  • cusinemakaty

    мy coυѕιɴ ιѕ мαĸιɴɢ $51/нoυr oɴlιɴe. υɴeмployed ғor α coυple oғ yeαrѕ αɴd prevιoυѕ yeαr ѕнe ɢoт α $1З619cнecĸ wιтн oɴlιɴe joв ғor α coυple oғ dαyѕ. ѕee мore αт…­ ­ViewMore——————————————&#46qr&#46net/kkEj

    It’s a little unclear from this
    summary that they count any mention in dialogue of sexual exploitation
    as “a scene involving sexual exploitation,” and also count scenes where
    the girl is not the victim, but the one who perpetrates or mentions the
    exploitation. And a third of their examples are from L&O:SVU.

  • Jill Pantozzi

    Thanks for showing up and proving what a gentleman you are, sir. Did you follow me over here from Facebook or Twitter where I was showcasing other folks who thought they had some devastating point to make my copy and pasting my personal blog title?

  • Anonymous

    Look at the examples they cite. A teenaged victim of child molestation on an episode of Law and Order. I don’t think that qualifies as sexualization, really.

    I’m not saying that shows don’t sexualize teenagers – I’m sure there are examples – but the ones in this “study” are deeply flawed and misleading.

  • Jill Pantozzi

    I love when people try and say my satirical blog title is using sex. Like “has boobs” is inherently sexual. Well…I suppose it is for those who only see women as a pair of boobs…

  • csb

    Of course ‘boobs’ is inherently sexual. Just try thinking of man boobs without getting aroused, I dare you.

  • Aeryl

    Also, to go by your example of L&O and mine of iCarly, which do you think is more healthy, in regards to developing a better grasp of assault and violations of autonomy, a police procedural, where the incident is given a proper consideration by the characters and show, or a kids show where such an incident is played for laughs????

    With the L&O example, at least the show also conveys the gravity of the situation, while the kids show example, you having to speak with your child about what happened, is in contradiction to how the show portrays it, and that’s where I have a problem with “age appropriate” considerations.

    In addition, one thing that is also pushing my buttons here, is that in an article about a widespread systemic problem, you came here to shame parents to exercise their individual power, which is like telling someone in a hurricane to take their umbrella. It’s not a response that is truly interested in solving a problem, but systemic problems can’t be fixed with individual solutions.

    The only time content is inappropriate for children is if there is no engagement to explore the complexities and contexts of the subject matter. There is no “age appropriate” bright line that makes sexual assault, death, oppression and war acceptable topics to discuss with children.

  • Aeryl

    Boobs are mammary tissue designed to provide sustenance to human offspring. Crack a biology book sometimes.

  • David Liao

    Uh, blackmailing someone to get a kiss doesn’t make you a rapist. Possibly sexual assault, extortion, or just plain sexual harassment but there is a difference.

  • Aeryl

    Within the context of a children’s show rated Y7, yes it is.

    Blackmail for the purposes of sexual penetration/intercourse, be it tongue or penis, is rape.

    Within the context of a more adult show, his demand would have been for oral or vaginal sex, because that’s HOW THIS TROPE PLAYS OUT! The fact that it was written to be acceptable for a Y7 rating, doesn’t make it less heinous.

  • David Liao

    I don’t know why no one bothered to look at the details of the source and the study. The Parents Television Council is a politically biased group that advocates for the kind of wholesale censorship of TV that we have abandoned in the 90′s with a negative rating for financial efficiency from the AIP. They’re also the group that spammed the FCC with hundreds of thousands of complaints year after year about “indecency”.

    The two biggest categories are references to strippers and pornography, hardly shocking even 20 years ago. The study also avoids the fact that it cherry picks easy targets like Family Guy or obviously explicit shows like Law & Order: SVU.

    I didn’t see anyone being outraged at either of those 2 shows before today. This study or its group’s agenda of holding back any attempt to cover women’s issues at all isn’t anyone’s friend.

  • Alan Kistler

    First, that’s not the correct way to use ironic. Second, your tenses are off because she STILL goes by that tagline and she has ALWAYS criticized sex as a selling point, so it’s not just “now” that she’s doing so. Third, saying that a woman with breasts mentioning the presence of her breasts is selling herself as a sex object only paints you as an ignorant anachronism. Combined with the first two problems you have with the English language, you just look like an idiot.

  • Alan Kistler

    I guess no one can blame you for being this distracted concerning the depiction of breasts. . . Wait, yes they can.

  • Anonymous

    Parents Television Council is one of the major and most vocal advocates of censorship and raise a ballyhoo about literally everything that interferes with their puritanical ideals concerning politics or “morality.” I would have loved specific examples about underage sexuality.

    And Kaley Cuoco is well in to her late twenties, so the picture above doesn’t illustrate anything about teenage girls being sexualized.

    It also helps to note that The Big Bang Theory, while flashing hot women around much like shows like Two Broke Girls and Two and a Half Men have, does currently help influence the more interesting and appealing inner beauty in women with characters like Bernadette who is bespectacled and short, along with Mayim Bialik who is very confident in her body, in spite of being the bookish type.

    And to add context to the screen cap above, Penny uses her sexual appeal to help Leonard win a high ranking position at his job. It’s a hilarious moment and only helps to emphasize Penny’s sexuality, which she owns and implements only when she chooses to. And yes, the show has shown her depth plenty of times in the past.

    There’s nothing scary here except another morally upright group trying to create a hysteria.

  • Jill Pantozzi

    Let me just copy/paste from the other 10 times I’ve had to say it today: We chose Penny because she IS an adult, because the study shows how teens are sexualized even MORE than adult women, and because adult women are sexualized plenty, as seen here.

  • Aeryl

    So you agree it’s a problem, but we shouldn’t be talking about it because…?

    And having positive representations of women, doesn’t give you a free pass to exploit women. On tonight’s episode Penny realized she doesn’t need likes or interests of her own, because her passion is Leonard?!?! What the hell is “empowering” in that? Not only does the show objectify Penny, they can’t even be bothered to write her as a well rounded individual.

  • Aeryl

    No, what takes away from the study in question is that it’s done by a bunch of uptight puritans that want to police women’s sexuality.

    The TOPIC is completely valid, and is not invalidated by something as silly as an illustration.

  • Mina

    I think part of it, though, is that even though people might kind of know it’s happening, it makes more of an impact when a study not only confirms it but actually quantifies the data. Sometimes seeing the actual numbers gets people to be aware in a way they weren’t before.

  • JJ

    I have stopped watching Family Guy for the same reasons, but I do not think you can take FG as a representative for TV in general.

    If you only have 14 cases in your sample where there is exploitative scenes where underage girls are references or shown and one of them is Family Guy, you are scewing your results quite drastically.

  • JJ

    Because the article is not about what you think the article is about. The study is not looking at how bad girls and women are treated and sexualized, but if a scene references or shows sexual exploitative actions without any context whatsoever. One of their 14 problematic scenes they identify is from “Grimm” and described this way:

    ”A little girl wearing a red hooded jacket goes missing while on her way to her grandfather’s house. Nick and his coworkers are being briefed by Renard regarding the disappearance.

    Renard: “We don’t know what we got here: relative, ransom, or pedophile, but the clock is ticking.””

  • Anonymous

    But, and I’ve only said it once, the article is about how underage women are sexualized in network television so posting a picture of a legal grown woman displaying her sexuality willingly pretty much renders the entire posting of the picture contradictory and perfunctory, wouldn’t you agree?

    It’d be like if I wrote an op-ed about the horrors of child pornography and posted a picture of a barely clothed Kate Upton on the header. How does that illustrate my point at all, is what the conscious reader will inevitably ask. Hence my point.

  • JJ

    Yes, but when they say that a teenager is more likely to be referenced in an exploitative scene than an adult woman they talk about a rise from 20.45% to 23.33% (=14 out 60 cases). With such a low sample size you cannot get to this conclusion.

    AND they are not talking in the study about TV showing sexualized images of underage girls, but if a scene references Sexual Violence, Pornography, Prostitution, Stripping, Sexual Harassment or Sex Trafficking in regards to underage girls, which means for a example that it also includes scenes where police officers or doctors talk about child abuse.

    I think the DISCUSSION is an important one to have, you just did the cause a disfavor when choosing this particular study as proof.

  • Anonymous

    I agree it’s a problem and it should be discussed, but not with the Parents Television council of all people. Why not reference FOX news as back up while we’re at it and throw all credibility out the window. Not that The Mary Sue has no crediblity, I love this site.

    And no, you’re wrong. Penny realized she has no hobbies or interests, because she’s already garnered fulfillment by her large group of friends and her love for her boyfriend. Seriously, cherry picking the show devalues the article even further.

    And Penny has been constantly explored as a flawed individual with intellect, wit, bravery, courage, and has constantly been ballsier and bolder than the entire male foursome on the show time and time again. Even the acting character element which was once a running gag was shown as something complex as we later see Penny in a Shakespeare play where she’s revealed to be quite an incredible performer.

    Does TBBT objectify women? Of course, but it has also presented many and various views of empowered and strong women, many of of whom give the guys a run for their money mentally and intellectually. Do your research, please.

  • Lapin

    Teenage girl here. I would say that YES, teenage girls are oversexualized on TV, and it’s probably a factor that affects the behaviors of my peers. It’s kind of a complex issue, to me. I think a lot of shows (Glee, Pretty Little Liars) portray teenage sex as a normal thing, because, in my experience, it IS a pretty normal thing. But is it a normal thing IRL because it’s portrayed as such in the media, in a sort of self-fulfilling cycle?

    I don’t think teenagers should be shamed or looked down on for having sex, but I do think they should be better informed about it. A LOT of girls I know were pressured into having sex before they were ready, and a lot don’t know when to say “no” or that it’s NOT okay when their boyfriend oversteps a boundary. This is where the oversexualization of girls on TV comes in- when (often unwanted) sexual advances on teenage girls are presented as okay, that makes it easier for real-world sexual advances to be seen as okay. Girls in the media are shown to be passive and sexualised for the male gaze, so girls in real life are in turn taught that it’s normal to be passive and to rely too much on male approval through sexual means.

    So, basically… society’s view of women in general is screwed up. Women in TV are too often seen as objects for male titillation, and it’s just sad that the sexualization of teenage girls kind of teaches girls early on not to fight back against that.

  • Aeryl

    I know the study sucks, it’s got bad examples. Every person in this thread could come up with several of their own, that are better examples.

    That the study’s crap doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

  • JJ

    Totally agree.

  • morbidycorvidy

    I’m really glad that I was educated by my mother (who had quite a few shitty dating experiences) well enough NOT to fall into that trap in my first relationship… I can’t imagine how many young women there are out there who haven’t ever had sex of their own free will and have been “date” raped just because they were afraid to say no or didn’t think that they could.

    It’s absolutely disgusting that television STILL shows this behavior almost exclusively in a “humorous” way.

  • Anonymous

    I apologize if I was derailing the conversation. I swear, that’s not my intention. I guess the image the article is using doesn’t really matter.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t say that The Big Bang Theory doesn’t objectify women. I was saying that it didn’t objectify teenagers (or, at least, not through Kaley Cuoco. I stopped watching after season 3)

    Then again, it’s just an article image, so whatever.

  • Anonymous

    That’s actually what I was thinking. Why not use an image from that show instead? It’s a perfect example.

  • Anonymous

    So come up with a valid study not created by a “council” that thrives on creating hysteria and promotes censorship. I’m glad you conceded your point somewhat. Over sexualizing under age girls is an issue, but not one that should be minded by someone like the Television Council.

  • Nat

    What episode was this? Sorry I gave up on Castle five episodes in because I couldn’t stand the police department but daddy!Malcolm Reynolds always gives me emotions

  • Kalynn Osburn

    That’s true enough. And I think that in the course of growing up we do often make mistakes and repeat them. Human sexuality is a complicated issue and it isn’t easily reigned in no matter what the circumstances. Parents try to do their best but it doesn’t always work. Teenagers don’t have strong decision making capabilities and it works against them. The culture we perpetuate doesn’t help. It does get into your mind and warp your perception. I know I still carry body issues because of this. But at the same time I do believe having a loving and involved parent helps. When I came out as a lesbian, my mom already knew and told me she loved my girlfriend and thought we were perfect together. 10 years later we are still together, and her support has meant I’ve never doubted or regretted coming out or being me.

    I know it doesn’t solve all the problems. A lot of them are thing we have to figure out and decide for ourselves no matter what our age. But having a supportive, considerate family goes a long way.

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    Studies show that scientists like excessive grants that they can “spend” on obvious studies that will obviously lead to one particular conclusion, so that they can pocket the money. I assume. And, also, I think the first draft of this conclusion went more like, “Uhhhduuuuuuuuuh.”

  • Kalynn Osburn

    I get what you are saying, but it isn’t just about telling teenagers “not to pay attention.” It’s about helping to establish that filter at an early age. Discussing with them the difference between fantasy and reality, media and real life. Yes no matter what you do they will be bombarded with these images of what they “should” be. But the point isn’t to try and dictate what they see. Rather to put it into context so that they can realize what they are seeing and draw better conclusions.

  • Anonymous

    Actually the scene doesn’t make sense for that reason. In the episode the JOKE is that Penny is going to show up in hyper sexualized outfit to help Leonard get ahead with his job. And this JOKE is to set up the larger JOKE that Sheldon doesn’t get what Penny is doing. Penny isn’t BEING sexualized. She’s completely in on the plan. A plan which I might point out they abandon. This picture is taken completely out of context. This is like taking a picture of any female character in a bathing suit and saying she’s being sexualized.

  • Nat

    Why is it a western problem? Last I checked there was a lot of Anime out there that had the disturbing sexualization and (what felt like) implied encouragement that it was perfectly fine to lust after school age girls. I always remember hearing about Sailor Moon and being vaguely confused by Sailor Moon’s and Tuxedo MAsk (or whatever his name is) implied relationship and thinking ‘Isn’t hse supposed to be 13???’

  • SteveB

    By no means an apologist here, but I’m curious to know what the study found about men. Were the men in these shows likely to be protrayed expressly as sexual exploiters? Were they ever also exploited? Were men who failed at sexual “conquest” treated as less masculine? Was this failure humorized as well? “150
    episodes (63%) contained sexual content in scenes that were associated with females and 33% of the episodes contained sexual content that rose to the level of sexual exploitation.” I suspect that last statement has an implied “of females” appended to it. I’m just saying, we have figures and percentages for half the population. I’d be interested to see how it compares across the whole population. I’d hazard a hypothesis that making fun of men (and boys) who fail to “score” is just as prevalent. And equally dangerous.

  • Aaron kooienga

    Oh okay if I can be allowed to be a little snarky “well
    duh” this type of thing has gone on for years and maybe it’s shocking that
    it’s happening in western media but I look at this and go “oh well this
    type of thing has been going on in Anime for years I’m not that shocked”.

    It’s disheartening yes but for me it’s a road I’ve been down
    before far too many times with the “Lolicon boom” that happened in Anime in the
    80s and what not. Not to derail the conversation but this is what happens when
    a culture starts to or has headed down a road of lowest common denominator entrainment

  • Anonymous

    I think the key is not that teenaged girls are presented as sexual, but that it’s done in an exploitative way.

    Take the example of Skins (UK): it portrayed teenagers being sexually active, but it didn’t present them as sexual objects. Sex was part of the texture of their lives, which was pretty realistic for the age bracket: it featured in the drama and issues of the show. Adolescent female sexuality wasn’t the butt of creepy jokes, or there for a male gaze.

    Ironically, when MTV attempted an American version, one of the things that ended it (as well as being a bit rubbish) was an accusation of paedophilia because one of the teenaged (male actors) had his bum out on-screen. I find it ironic that a show which actually tried to treat the sexual lives of teenagers with some respect had this response from censorious viewers who apparently have no problem with the rape culture promoted on shows like those mentioned here.

    What’s described in the article is the worst of both worlds: it sexualises teenaged girls which pruriently denying them ownership of their sexuality. The message ends up being it’s fine to have teenaged girls appeal to the adult male gaze, but to allow them their own sexuality? That’s unacceptable.

  • AnnaB

    Those two characters came about after wide-spread criticism about how women were generally portrayed on the show. Before the complaints, we only had Penny and another woman who occasionally shows up and is a genius, but is not a positive force–her role was to primarily put down the guys when they were being idiots. As funny as that role can be, it basically bitchifies smart women. That’s alright if there’s a healthy mix of intelligent women on the show, but when the sole representation of a smart woman is one that is there to act like a stereotypical pain in the ass, then that’s terrible. I like the Big Bang theory but resented it for a bit for assuming that the women watching it would have no problem with how the women in the cast were portrayed.

  • jd


  • Aeryl

    There aren’t many, the ones there are get ignored or summarized terribly in the media, so you take what you get.

    Are YOU going to fund these studies?

  • Aeryl

    No, the picture is actually completely irrelevant to the topic at hand, and continuing to focus on it after several explanations is derailing and detracting from the purpose of the discussion.

    The purpose of the discussion is to talk about sexualization of children, do you have anything constructive about that to add to the conversation?

  • Sophie

    Bullies don’t go away if you ignore them, and pretending they aren’t there or telling people that the bully is wrong doesn’t stop the harm they do. Bullies have to be confronted, and stood up to. This type of media poisons our culture, and I think it needs to be fought directly.

  • Lapin

    I agree with this. There’s a difference between characters being sexual and characters being sexualized.

    I think teenagers need to be well-informed enough about sex to make their own decisions about it. Which, unfortunately, a lot aren’t. So sex is treated as some taboo topic for teens IRL, and they get their information about it from rape-y TV shows and movies. Shows that portray sex in a positive way can be good, then.

  • Aundrea Singer

    Not to mention that the women with PhDs are portrayed as less attractive and less fashionable than Penny. The most recent magazine advertisement I saw for the show had Penny in the absolute foreground dressed in a ‘superhero outfit’ with a mini-skirt and so much midriff displayed she was practically in a bikini, the male characters all in similar gear (only covered from neck to toes, of course), and the two other female characters in regular but drab street clothes and so far in the back it was difficult to make out their features.

    I don’t even watch this show and the sexualizing and prejudice is painfully obvious.

  • Anonymous

    Mrow! Also, I commented once on the image choice. Once. So am I now responsible for everyone else’s comments on it? And did you notice you’re on a comments section on the internet? No one is here for efficiency and productivity…including you.

  • David Liao

    Yes, but the study itself is from a group that is more or less an enemy of women’s issues or properly covering them on TV. They’re a politically biased group that sent hundreds of thousands of complaints to the FCC calling for censorship of TV shows for the past 20 years.

    The study is also not scientific since it cherry picks things like Law & Order: SVU. I don’t think anyone would characterize that show as hypersexualized exploitation of women.

    It then goes after easy targets like Family Guy, which is inappropriate but it’s not a show that has much influence on girls or young women. If a male teenager is getting his ideas of women from the show, are we going to condemn Seth McFarlane as a corrupting smutmonger?

    It’s legitimate to say that TV uses sex but we’ve blamed Facebook culture and lack of sex education just as much which are far more culpable suspects.

  • Anonymous

    Tone policing is called derailing, and it is the opposite of helpful to any cause. That is what you just did.

  • Anonymous

    While it may be a stretch to call the character a rapist, his character definitely falls into rape culture. The character wanting a kiss is not taking no for an answer and we’re supposed to find that harmless. It’s not.

  • Anonymous

    Definitely not limited to just Western. I only mention it from a personal experience. But yes, you are absolutely right.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you. I have been upset about how young women and girls are portrayed and treated on television since I was a teenager, but the Parents Television Council are just as much the enemy here. The ONLY shows they list as appropriate for children/families are, and I quote directly from their site are shows “promoting responsible themes and traditional values.” That means they consider any attempt at a balanced or positive portrayal of homosexuality, abortions, none monogamous relationships, and sex before marriage just as damaging to children as the things listed in this report. If you specifically set out to make a show which positively depicted a teenage girl learning about and embracing her sexuality on her own terms, they would be just as upset, unless the lesson of the show was “be a good Christian and keep your legs together until you get married.” These people are intolerant assholes who make me an intolerant asshole in my anger, since they refuse to consider context, artistic merit, or maybe fucking TALKING to their kids about this kind of stuff when they encounter it.

    Its nice to have stats to back up your argument, but when you use questionable statistics from a biased and alarmist organization that seeks to keep blinders on children to ALL adult issues it doesn’t help.

    I will disagree with your statement about Family Guy, though. LOTS of young children and teenagers watch that show, and there is no reason to assume it doesn’t influence both genders equally. And even if they realize it is all dumb jokes, if they are not old enough to contextualize it they may think that those kinds of dumb and purposely offensive jokes are acceptable in the real world. Much of Family Guy’s humor is an attempt to be offensive or appear “edgy”, but young people don’t have the context to understand “this is supposed to be funny because its obviously wrong or inaccurate” (especially since their jokes have gotten lazier over the years and have gone from skewering stereotypes/sacred sheep/pop culture to just “throw some rape in there and some people will get pissed off so the other people will think its in-your-face and funny”)

  • Anonymous

    Meg willingly had sex with Fallon in that joke. The fact that it was being shown live on television was the violation, and it was supposed to be exploitative and horrible because that was how she would be treated as a famous young women in Hollywood. Obviously it would be a crime in real life to record and project the sexual encounter without her permission or knowledge, but it still can’t turn consensual sex into rape. The show still hadn’t gotten to the point of “rape as a punchline”, and that episode actually has some decent satire of how attractive young women are treated and exploited.

    Now the “joke” where Quagmire chases Marge from the SImpsons out of the corner advertisement and tackles and rapes her, then afterwards she says how good it was is something to complain about. There is no idea behind the joke except that Family Guy is so edgy that it will rape a character from another show, and then kill a baby (you hear him shoot the rest of the family including Maggie after Homer walks in on them). That symbolizes the current era of lazy Family Guy and its attempts to shock.

  • Anonymous

    Huh, the few times I have been unfortunate enough to see Big Bang Theory at my mom’s house, I thought Sara Gilbert’s character was awesome. The male characters are idiots and assholes (despite being “geniuses”), and my biggest problem with the show is that it seems to be about “laughing at” instead of “laughing with”. Ha, aren’t nerds funny and backwards and socially retarded? Hilarious! I felt like the reason Sara Gilbert’s character didn’t work was because there is no way someone that intelligent and confident would be around these losers, and having her point out how much they sucked just lampshades how lazy and caricatured the writing on that show is.

    I could NOT understand the popularity of this show, until I started encountering people who watched it, all of whom (that I have met, mind you) are middle-aged adults with no geeky interests. And the only reason it gets brought it up is because it will come up that I love comic books, leading to the inevitable “Oh do you watch TBBT? Its hilarious!” Maybe for you, because you think my interests make me childish and stunted, but I don’t enjoy watching stereotypical geeks that have existed in pop-culture for decades to get mocked. Most comic shops don’t flip out when “A GIRL?!” walks in these days.

    Now if the show was about mocking the small but vocal cluster of geek boys/men who have adapted alpha-male bravado, misogyny and constant anger and hate towards “outsiders”, that would be an interesting show. But that would require insight and perspective instead of lazy stereotyping (which is basically CBS’ brand for comedy at this point).

  • Anonymous

    And she did the same on Charmed! Its been damn near a decade that I have been wondering why America seems to be so attracted to this bland looking girl badly playing boring characters.

  • lala

    The point Aeryl was making is that the entire thing is part of a culture that does not respect consent and bodily autonomy. Whether it’s a kiss or sex, the idea is that someone wants something sexual from a woman and it is okay to demand it without that woman’s consent. This is what we call rape culture.

    Fighting to stop this idea does not create a world in which nobody knows what to do. It’s very simple to know what to do. Just don’t do anything to anybody’s body without their consent.

    It also does not “castrate” men for women to have bodily autonomy. I don’t understand why some people think men and women can’t have rights at the same time. We can live in a world where women don’t have to do anything sexual without giving consent, and this will not “castrate” anybody.

    Obviously plenty of men are fighting against rape culture and they will tell you the exact same thing I am telling you now. For all you or I know, the commenter you replied to was a man.

  • AnnaB

    My experience has been the opposite. All of the people I know who watch BBT are nerds and geeks. The guys just basically think it’s hilarious. The girls are iffy about it, precisely because of how women were portrayed. The comic book store scenes are the worst. Like I said, I feel like the show has its good moments. If I discount the portrayal of women, particularly from the seasons without the additional women characters, I can appreciate the scenes when the guys gather ’round the couch. I personally don’t think it makes fun of nerds totally, because there’s always something funny about every culture and subculture. Most annoying to me is how they get the ladies all wrong. Totally wrong.

  • Anonymous

    So you take what you can get by censorship advocates who relish in fear mongering and hysteria? Man, that’s sad.

  • Anonymous

    And you’re meandering from my question from Ms. Pantozzi in an effort to detract from a valid point I just made simply because you can’t admit that I am right or at least have presented a thought you can agree with. And it’s underage women, not children. Please don’t generalize for the sake of melodrama.

  • Anonymous

    You agree that since there are so little studies we should just take whatever half baked sensationalized nonsense that is churned out by a questionable organization existing solely for political support and censorship?

  • Anonymous

    “No, the picture is actually completely irrelevant to the topic at hand”

    So we agree! Good. I feel like the picture was put there to belittle Kaley Cuoco for being genuinely attractive. Feels kind of catty to me. I’m not really a fan of that kind of tactic.

  • JJ

    No, I agree the study sucks and uses bad examples, while of course there is objectification of teenage girls. Did you even check which post I was replying to?

    And I think I have made it quite clear in other posts that I think Jill did some really horrible journalism here by bringing up an unscientific and manipulating story that only strengthens the position of the misogynists.

  • I Pulled It to Miley’s Vadge

    Christ, it took a study to find out teenage girls are sexualized on TV? Teenage girls have been sexualized on everything for about the last 50 years.

    In other news, an important study determined that water is indeed wet.

    Mind. Boggled.

  • Nat

    Understandable. I mean growing up you become a little desensitized to some of these problems — In a lot of teen-based shows, the teenagers are all over the age of 18 (or even 21) for very valid reasons such as child labor laws and content that might be addressed in source material (There are teen-based books that do deal with sex and issues such as that that you would have a hard time with if your actors were underage. Which is a bit of a mental gymnastics in terms of things but that’s neither here nor there).

    And for me I always understood that what teens are doing on TV doesn’t mean that’s what’s being done in real life or SHOULD be done in real life and that basically started with ‘how are they wearing that? School dress code would never allow that’. Obviously there aren’t teens out there who would pick that up.

    But I will say, again full disclosure that maybe it is desensitization, I find a lot of Anime to be really questionable in terms of sexualizing youth. Best example I have is Shigure in Fruits Basket always singing about high school girls and sure you have constant yelling of ‘you pervert!’ but that’s treated humorously. You’re supposed to laugh about it.

    I think it’s important to bring up because while yes, in the US we have a problem with the sexualization of teenage girls, it’s not just a problem in the US. There’s a difference between acknowledging youth have sex — they do! I remember my freshman year of high school and the two girls who bracketed my locker talking about their planned virginity loss homecoming weekend. We were 13/14 years old.

    I’m not a fan of the parents television council and I find the data in here skewed but it by no means means that they don’t have a point. I’d be interested in seeing more studies done.

  • Anonymous

    I think he the above poster was being sarcastic lol

  • Aeryl

    Yes, doing something beyond what you initially got consent for(in other words, getting consent to sex, and then broadcasting it without that consent) is rape.

    Again, just because it can and does make points in regards to the sexualization of women, doesn’t give it a free pass to fuck up. As a matter of fact, it makes it worse, IMO, because the fact that you make good points shows that YOU KNOW BETTER.