Ghosts in the sexy air our kids breathe

I recently wrote a Scripps Howard News Service column that I thought was a bit of a stretch, in terms of the religion beat. Still, I had heard my share of emotional discussions about the issue that I knew there was some strange kind of fire underneath the smoke. The issue? Here's a goodly chunk of that that column, which did stir up some lively emails:

It’s a question that can cause tension and tears in a circle of home-school moms in a Bible Belt church fellowship hall.

It’s a question that can have the same jarring impact in a circle of feminist mothers in a Manhattan coffee shop.

Here it is: Will you buy your daughter a Barbie doll? Other questions follow in the wake of this one, linked to clothes, self esteem, cellphones, makeup, reality TV shows and the entire commercialized princess culture.

The Barbie question is not uniquely religious, which is one reason why it can be so symbolic for mothers and daughters in liberal as well as conservative circles.

Yet questions about religion, morality, health, culture, education, sexuality and, of course, “family values,” loom in the background, noted Naomi Schaefer Riley, a former Wall Street Journal editor who is best known for her writing on faith, education and the lives of modern young people. Many parents simply worry about the powerful forces that keep pushing their daughters -- as experts put it -- to “grow older, younger.”

Like I said, the key to this issue is that it transcends the old divide between secular folks and religious folks. It's linked to the whole culture wars era, somehow, yet the front lines are all out of whack. You have a fair share of suburban megachurch moms who have no problem dressing their daughters up like former Southern Baptist Britney Spears and you have feminist mothers who dress their daughters in LL Bean-esque homeschool attire.

I thought of that Barbie column that when reading part one of a Deseret News feature that ran under the headline, "The end of innocence: The cost of sexualizing kids."

This may sound strange, here at GetReligion, but one of the strongest points of this feature is that it seriously downplays the religion side of this subject, leaning instead on source after source after source from mainstream academia and other research organizations. It's hard to count them all.

The story starts in the tarted-up atmosphere of the typical American shopping mall -- in Salt Lake City, the big city in the middle of Mormon territory. You walk along with the young families and their young children, seeing what there is to see. Then the story moves you into the land of pre-teen and teen television.

The voices of authority are not amused:

From an early age, children are inundated with sexual images every single day. Experts say they will pay a heavy price.

Children and teens are becoming "sexualized" and researchers and psychologists say it hits girls particularly hard, shaping their view of themselves and their potential, as well as how others view them. The effect on young girls and adolescents is most profound, the American Psychological Association (APA) says, because "their sense of self is still being formed."

Sexuality is not the same as sexualization. Sexuality evolves in children as they develop a healthy curiosity and growing understanding of their bodies. Sexualization occurs when someone's sense of their own value is based solely on sex appeal or that individual is held to narrow standards of attractiveness, says the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, which issued reports in 2007 and 2010. It happens when a person is "sexually objectified" -- made into a "thing" for others' sexual use. Ads, movies and TV shows do that sometimes by showing women as body parts, not whole people. It also refers to someone who has had sexuality imposed on them, like little girls depicted as older and more worldly.

Sexualization, experts say, devalues accomplishment, intelligence and character. Pope John Paul II once said "the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of a person, but that it shows far too little." ...

Sexualization has been going on for decades, largely unnoticed, the elevator music of American life.

Once again, is this story describing:

(a) a subject of great concern to religious traditionalists

(b) a subject of great concern to feminists and/or secular academics

(c) both?

Much of the material is numbing and the Deseret News team even elected to open the story with an interesting disclaimer:

Editor's note: Because this is a story that deals with a sensitive subject, we have gone to great lengths to not include offensive material. Conversely, to fully show the breadth of the issue, the story includes mature subject matter.

Note that, in a way, the editors are almost apologizing for having to leave some of the most gripping material out of a family news, yet also apologizing for the sleaziness of what they still put in. This is that kind of hot-button issue.

Yes, the Bratz dolls show up. Ditto for Miley Cyrus. Ditto for former Contemporary Christian Music artist Katy Perry. There are the Vogue covers with young girls posing as grown women. Parents out there, try not to flinch at this killer statistic: The story notes that the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reports that the number of females 18 and younger who have had breast enlargements has risen nearly 500 percent over the past decade.

The story goes on and on. What about the impact of music videos in this post-feminist age? Can you say, "Oh my God"?

Professor Jennfier Stevens Aubrey of the University of Missouri notes that:

... while many artists like Lady Gaga, Brittney Spears and Katy Perry feel like they are empowering women by their easy use of their own bodies, "they leave a negative taste culturally" that presents women as sexual objects.

Take 13-year-old Jenna Rose's music video "O.M.G." It starts with nine tweens in outfits so short they look like spandex underwear doing dance moves one might learn in a pole dancing class, without the pole. The lyrics are sexually suggestive. The video has had more than 2.3 million views on YouTube since March. With the advent of the Internet and YouTube, teens and tweens can access any music video they want, any time they want. Stevens found that by age 15, youths spend more time listening to music than they spend watching TV or with any other medium. For 13 percent of 11- to 14-year-olds, music videos are the preferred TV genre.

Looking for positive, realistic images? LOL. Grow up, people.

So what's my point? Read this story (and the sequel) and weigh in on this basic two-part question: Is there enough religion in this story? Or, on the other side, is there too much, since this is not a religion story at all?

I think the ghosts in this story are scary as, well, hades.

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