Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Women of Wednesday--H.R. 4925

Have you heard of H.R. 4925, known as the Healthy Media for Youth Act? Probably not, it never got out of committee last year, and when the 111th Congress ended, so did the resolution.

This is taken directly from the text in section 2 of H.R. 4925 (I've added links to most of the referenced reports/organizations):
Congress finds the following:

(1) Media has become an integral part of youths' lives. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation Study, Generation M 2 Media in Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds (2010), most 8- to 18-year-olds spend about 10 hours a day using just recreational media.

(2) Girls feel pressure from the mainstream media to have an ideal body type, and only 34 percent of girls report being very satisfied with their bodies, according to the Girl Scout Research Institute's, The New Normal? What Girls Say About Healthy Living (2006).

(3) Sixty percent of teenage girls compare their bodies to fashion models and almost 90 percent of girls say the fashion industry places a lot of pressure on teenage girls to be thin, according to the Girl Scout Research Institute survey, Girls and Body Image (2010).

(4) This same research finds that body dissatisfaction leads to unhealthy eating and dieting habits. More than half of girls (55 percent) admit they diet to lose weight, 42 percent of girls know someone their age who forced themselves to throw up after eating, 37 percent know someone who has been diagnosed with an eating disorder, and 31 percent admit to starving themselves or refusing to eat as a strategy to lose weight.

(5) Even young girls, 3rd through 5th grade, worry about their appearance (54 percent), and specifically their weight (37 percent) according to the Girls Inc. survey, The Supergirl Dilemma: Girls Grapple with the Mounting Pressure of Expectations (2006).

(6) The American Psychological Association's Report on the Sexualization of Girls (2007) found that three of the most common mental health problems among girls, eating disorders, depression or depressed mood, and low self-esteem, are linked to sexualization of girls and women in media.

(7) According to the same report, frequent exposure to sexualized media images of girls can have negative consequences on their sexual health and avoidance of sexual risk including the dangerous, new phenomena known as sexting, which means sending an explicit message or photo over a cell phone.

(8) The group AK Teens found that 30 percent of girls ages 9 to 15 have sent a sext. The Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found that 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 19 have texted partially or completely nude pictures of themselves or someone they knew.

(9) Competition over narrow beauty standards and attention from boys also damages girls' friendships, according to the American Psychological Association report. Damaging girls' friendships can have serious health consequences since their relationships are crucial to their social and emotional health, according to The New Normal? What Girls Say About Healthy Living (2006).

(10) Sexualized messages and images of girls and women also negatively impact boys. These negative effects include boys' developing unrealistic and unhealthy expectations of girls' and women's physical appearance, and may impair their ability to develop healthy relationships with girls and women, according to the American Psychological Association's report.

(11) Girls and women of color are disproportionately absent from mainstream media. The Girl Scout Research Institute survey, Girls and Body Image (2010), found that only 32 percent of African-American girls think the fashion industry does a good job of representing people of all races and ethnicities.

(12) Women and girls continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles in the media. Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media reports that less than one in three speaking characters in children's movies are female. One study found that only 10 percent of Sports Illustrated photographs were of women during a 3-year period, according to the American Psychological Association's Report on the Sexualization of Girls (2007). Fifty-seven percent of music videos feature a woman portrayed exclusively as a decorative, sexual object.

(13) The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media found that the majority of female characters in children's movies are praised for their appearance or physical beauty rather than their personality, intelligence, or other talents, and are often short-sighted and narrowly fixated on romantic relationships that lack substantial connections or courtships. Girls and boys watching children's programming may vicariously learn that beauty is an essential part of being female and critical for gaining attention and acceptance.

(14) Girls' aspirations are limited as they begin to associate power, acceptance, and success with physical appearance rather than academic or extracurricular achievements, according to the American Psychological Association.

(15) Violence against women continues to be prevalent throughout media. The Parents Television Council reports that between 2004 and 2009, violence against women and teenage girls has increased on television programming at a rate of 120 percent compared to the 2 percent increase of overall violence in television content.

(16) The Parents Television Council warns that by depicting violence against women with increasing frequency on television, or as a trivial, even humorous matter, theses images may be contributing to an atmosphere in which young people view aggression and violence against women as normative, even acceptable.

(17) Due to the alarming side effects of youths' exposure to negative messages about girls and women in media, Congress supports efforts to ensure youth improve their media literacy skills and consume positive messages about girls and women in the media that promotes healthy and diverse body images, develops positive and active female role models, and portrays equal and healthy relationships between female and male characters.

Pretty disturbing isn't it? Do I need to explain why we, as writers for children, need to be aware of these findings, too? I didn't think so.

H.R. 4925 was introduced by Representative Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. Baldwin's website tells us, "The voters in Wisconsin's Second Congressional District made history in 1998 when they elected Tammy Baldwin to Congress. The first woman from Wisconsin and the first openly gay non-incumbent elected to Congress..." I'd guess that Tammy is a fighter, and that's exactly what is needed to get a resolution like H.R. 4925 passed.

I hope the resolution will be introduced again in this new Congress. When Baldwin introduced it in March of 2010 she said, "Children are consuming more media than ever, but unfortunately, the images they see often reinforce gender stereotypes, emphasize unrealistic body images or show women in passive roles. The need for more positive images of girls in the media is clear."

Crystal clear!



Mur said...

Two comments, Diane, since blog spot wouldn't accept a post yesterday.

1) The Valentine post was cute and fun! You always find the neatest things on-line.

2) Thanks for posting today's very important message. As the grandmother of a 14 year old who's life is controlled by text messages, I am aware that such legislation is very important.

Andrea Murphy said...

Important post, Diane. Thanks for bringing this into the discussion.