Back in 2007, on the release of a devastating . Its findings about the impact of sexualized images on young women weren’t necessarily revelatory for long-time activists, but the thoroughness and precision with which it outlined the cultural crisis provided a renewed foundation of evidence and authority.
Inspired by the report, a coalition of organizations — , , , and the — is convening the , on Oct. 22 at Hunter College in New York City.
You can follow the build-up to the summit on and on (@SPARKsummit). You can even help decide on the meaning of the SPARK acronym by .
A recent collection of essays out of Australia, “,” edited by , also strikes a tone of urgency in its insistence that the problem is only increasing and activism must rise to meet it.
Noni Hazlehurst writes in the preface:
The insistent and ubiquitious presentation of this unbalanced view of the world is nothing less than a form of child abuse. Why is it we kick up such a fuss about junk food and obesity, but are unwilling or unable to tackle the lack of quality sustenance for child’s minds and spirits? […]
In my view our children’s imaginations are dying. Their sense of themselves as worthy, strong individuals who are valued because they are unique is constantly being undermined. Only a few can withstand that sort of pressure. And very few will be in a position to be encouraged to be different, as many of today’s young parents don’t remember when there were alternative ways of looking at the world and other ways to value an individual’s noteworthiness.
Media critic Jean Kilbourne, among others, provides a rousing of “Getting Real” — and Kilbourne has just updated her landmark film series, “Killing Us Softly,” on the same subject. “Killing Us Softly 4” can be previewed and purchased at . From the film’s description:
The film marshals a range of new print and television advertisements to lay bare a stunning pattern of damaging gender stereotypes — images and messages that too often reinforce unrealistic, and unhealthy, perceptions of beauty, perfection, and sexuality. By bringing Kilbourne’s groundbreaking analysis up to date, Killing Us Softly 4 stands to challenge a new generation of students to take advertising seriously, and to think critically about popular culture and its relationship to sexism, eating disorders, and gender violence.
Despite the availability of all these resources and the continual, varied calls to action, however, many young women on the frontlines of this cultural crisis remain conflicted and confused, caught in an impersonal media machine. Possibly the most prominent example of this struggle is, yes, Miley Cyrus.
In his review of her latest album, “Can’t Be Tamed,” Jon Caramanica of The New York Times as a woman and an artist, negotiating her well-established Disney “Hannah Montana” identity and her need to assert her adulthood.
In her now infamous 2008 Vanity Fair photo shoot (remember the — and to the outcry?), and in the literally wild of her new album, the seemingly inevitable sexualization of her image is well underway.
But Caramanica sees a much read hesitant and haphazard construction of identity. Instead of solidifying a new sexualized Miley, the album as a whole reveals the “frayed seams of her identity”:
Ms. Cyrus’s metamorphosis isn’t nearly as radical as “Can’t Be Tamed” — the title track, the video, the title — would suggest. Rather, she’s evolving into something far less controversial: a pop star, confused like all the rest of them.
This confusion is most clearly evident in one of the later songs:
On “Permanent December,” written with Claude Kelly — who also helped write “Party in the U.S.A.” — Ms. Cyrus tries out a sneering type of sing-rapping, à la Fergie: “Don’t call me a Lolita/’Cause I don’t let ’em through.”
On a read coherent album, that idea would be explored further. But the fact that Ms. Cyrus feels little need to assert her sexuality, or lack thereof, is consistent with her rejection of a single new identity in favor of a cluster of experiments. Perhaps she hasn’t had time to think it through, or maybe she’s realized that evading the subject for now is a read flexible strategy than tackling it head-on.
Of course, presuming that Miley’s original Disney identity didn’t involve its own form of sexualization would be naive. And I’m not just talking about the crazy that debuted in China a couple of years ago, or the for girls that Disney wrote off as an “oversight.”
Last month, according to the (read ), the YWCA of Australia sought “a PG rating for tween magazines Disney Girl, Barbie Magazine and Total Girl, saying that the publications teach young girls that their bodies need to be improved upon.”
UPDATE: The New York Times reports that young fans of Miley Cyrus with her new path. Also, see the comments for great information about the , H.R. 4925. The Girl Scouts is a strong supporter.