Parenting

TV exploits young girls for laughs

More than a third of broadcast TV programs in 2011 and 2012 contained content which sexually exploited their female characters, according to a new report by the Parents Television Council. The report is the council's third in a series about media sexualization of young girls.

The latest study reveals "the frequency with which sexual humor is used to communicate beliefs and perpetuate offensive narrowly defined female stereotypes among underage girls," according to a PTC summary. Surprisingly, girls were more likely to be targeted than adult female characters. Comedies were the worst offenders; consider the episode of Family Guy that showed a teenage girl with a voiceover that said, "This girl is perfect if you want to buy a sex slave, but don't want to spend sex slave money."

Teenage female characters are sexual fodder for broadcast network TV series - An examination of 238 sitcoms and dramas airing during four weeks in 2011 and 2012 found a third of the episodes included content that "rose to the level of sexual exploitation" of females, according to the Parents Television Council report released Tuesday.

The PTC said its study relied on a United Nations' definition of sexual exploitation as involving abuse of a position of vulnerability, power, or trust for sexual purposes including profiting financially, socially or politically. Although the report doesn't include an independent assessment of the social effect of such media images, council President Tim Winter contended that it's a certainty saying that “An industry that attracts billions of ad dollars meant to influence buying habits must acknowledge that it has an impact on viewers, especially youngsters”. Winter asks, "At what point in time is it OK to laugh at sexual trafficking or rape?" he said.

The report found that the likelihood that a scene would include exploitation, increased when a teen girl was involved, as did the odds that a show would try for a laugh: Girls were more likely to be the target of sexually exploitive jokes than adult women, 43 percent as compared to 33 percent.

The instances cited by the report varied widely, from an adolescent boy and girl playing strip poker in an episode of "Glee" to jokes spun off the topics of sexual violence, harassment and trafficking, according to the group's researchers.

Rev. Delman Coates, a PTC board member said "Young people are having difficulty managing the distinction between appropriate and inappropriate sexual conduct," and TV's confusing messages are one reason. TV executives typically are reluctant to talk about sensitive issues such as violence or sexuality and, when pressed, downplay the link between on-screen fare and real-life behavior. They've also questioned aspects of PTC's methodology. The new study, for instance, includes scenes from "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," a drama that focuses on those trying to stop sexual predators. Winter said it's important to distinguish between the treatment the topic receives in that show compared to a comedy, but added that "there still need to be heightened scrutiny" of the effect on viewers.

Last year, the nonpartisan group launched its 4 Every Girl initiative aimed at combating such depictions and replacing them with what it calls "healthy, respectful images.” They also continue to call for the Federal Communications Commission to enforce its "safe harbor" rule barring indecency or profanity from airing during the hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.


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