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Employee Use of Technology in the Workplace: Corporate Liability for Sexual Harassment Claims

Sex Sells: Sexualization of Young Girls a Potential Problem in the Workplace

Objectification of Women in Advertisements  

The portrayal of young girls as sexual objects can create an image in the mind of some men that women are looking for sex and will do whatever it takes to get what and where they want to be -- and that belief can translate into workplace conflict, discrimination, and even sexual harassment. The 2008 Report of the American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls Bratz concluded that the proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandising, and media is harming girls' self-image and healthy development. This report explores the cognitive and emotional consequences, consequences for mental and physical health, and impact on development of a healthy sexual self-image. The Bratz Dolls are a good example of a sexualized image.

I'll go one step farther and say these sexualized images at a young age can have negative implications for workplace behavior because some men may look at women as targets for sexual conduct, downplay or ignore their skill set, and not take their career aspirations seriously.

As the APA study points out, there are many examples of the sexualization of girls and girlhood in U.S. culture. Toy manufacturers produce dolls wearing black leather miniskirts, feather boas, and thigh-high boots and market them to 8- to 12- year-old girls. Clothing stores sell thongs sized for 7– to 10-year-old girls, some printed with slogans such as “eye candy” or “wink wink;” other thongs sized for women and late adolescent girls are imprinted with characters from Dr. Seuss and the Muppets.

I recently saw an advertisement in French Vogue  Abc_child_vogue_model_nt_110803_wg1 where Thylane Loubry Blondeau, a 10-year-old model with a sultry stare beyond her years, had the fashion industry drooling. Wearing makeup and haute couture, Blondeau looks a far cry from a typical 10-year-old. Her expressions are oddly adult -- a product, perhaps, of living half her young life in the fashion world (she reportedly hit the runway for Jean-Paul Gauthier at age 5). The problem is some of Blondeau's grown-up beauty is giving other young girls unhealthy ideas about how they should look and unreasonable expectations if they just pose in a provocative way. They learn such behavior is acceptable and may come to believe it is the norm.

French Vogue provocatively poked at this principle, running photos of Blondeau and two other tweens playing designer dress-up captioned with, "Quel maquillage à quel âge?" -- What makeup at what age? But this shot of Blondeau wearing a red dress and stilettos lying on a tiger skin rug had some critics crying foul.  

"We don't want kids to grow up too fast," said Shari Miles-Cohen, senior director of women's programs for the American Psychological Association. "We want them to be able to develop physically, emotionally, psychologically and socially at appropriate rates for their age."

We have become a culture that values youth, beauty, sexiness, money, and ostentatiousness above all else. Everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame and a chance to star in a reality television program. We've lost our moral compass and now live in an anything goes society. The traditional American values of a strong work ethic and personal responsibility have given way to taking the easy way out and an entitlement society. These changes in our very soul as Americans have created an environment where provocative behavior is considered cool and introspection off-putting. It's not a pretty picture and does not bode well for an economic recovery anytime soon despite stimulus spending because money can't buy you ethics which is the foundation of a sustainable future.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on September 12, 2011