Media invades all aspects of society. People are constantly bombarded with images through stimulation such as bus advertisements, television shows, music videos and movies. And with access to laptops, tablets and smart phones, this bombardment is accessible at all times of the day.
Some of these images could be potentially detrimental to how adolescents and teenagers view themselves, their relationships with others or their sexual practices, said Stacey Hust, associate professor in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.
Hust is working alongside Kathleen Rodgers, associate professor of human development, and Thomas Power, professor and chair of the WSU Department of Human Development. They recently initiated a study about the effects of exposure to music videos in which women are objectified and decpicted in violent or sexually stereotyped ways.
Hust said the study had two parts. The first part consisted of focus groups with adolescent girls and young women wherein they viewed music videos and were asked what they thought. The other part was similar to the first, but instead of having an open discussion about the videos, participants were given a survey to evaluate their opinions.
Hust said they found developmental differences between middle school-aged participants and high school-aged participants. Middle school participants just saw the videos as being about women.
“In fact, only one participant mentioned how they’re really about boys getting into girls’ pants,” she said. “So they didn’t really have any idea that they were about sex or that they were promoting sexual activity.”
The high school participants were more likely to identify that the videos were about sex, Hust said.
“There was this really interesting component in one of the groups in which the high school women kept saying it’s not about having sex, it’s about having as much sex with as many people as you can,” she said.
The team also saw developmental differences when asked if they recognized the objectification of the women in the music videos.
The middle school participants saw the objectification but didn’t associate it with being negative. Many of them talked about wanting to dress and look like women in the videos.
Hust said acresses and models' looks are changed with certain undergarments, lighting or camera angels, and hours of hair and makeup preparation. Some adolescants don't realize that most actors don't look that way in real life.
The high school participants saw the objectification, she said, but had a hard time reconciling what they saw in the videos with how they were being treated in their own lives.
“Essentially when women perceive this heterosexual scripting that’s in the media ... these (perceptions) can affect, influence or inform how they think men and women should behave toward one another,” Hust said.
Basically, if a woman saw a man mistreating another woman, this might influence her thoughts about whether all men should treat all women poorly, she said.
Hust said there was also a connection between women in the music videos having power but wielding it through their sexuality, such as getting out of a speeding ticket. Hust wants to help young people understand that sexual power might not be the most effective.
The next step in minimizing the focus on sexism in media is to educate and arm adolescents with the ability to critically evaluate the media, Hust said. By recognizing the objectification and oversexualization in these music videos, young people could realize that the media is not reality.
Hust said this also falls to the parents, who don’t always realize what their children are watching or listening to. She suggested that parents simply be more aware of what is going on and using this exposure as an avenue to talk to them.
“It’s about giving teenagers an awareness of what they see and the tools to make sense of and understand the thing they see,” she said.
This study was the initial step in a program of research conducted by Hust and Rodgers. Hust said this was one of the first studies to ask young people what messages they recognize in music videos, also testing whether those messages are associated with certain behaviors and behavior intentions.
“We need to be more aware of what’s in music videos and we need to be aware of how adolescents and young adults are making sense of that music content,” Hust said.