Normally I don’t watch music video clips on TV, but at the gym I have no option. Even at a women’s gym the video clips of scantily dressed, conventionally desirable female bodies flaunt the screen in suggestive movements and poses. What is being promoted is women’s sexuality. It is rare for men to be promoted in the same way. The problem is that this contributes to the way which both men and women see women. As long as the physical appearance and sexual appeal of women are the fundamental ways in which women are presented, there is little hope for women.

Australian Schools do their best to encourage girls to focus on a career, but they have an insurmountable task when it comes to counteracting the media. It is no wonder that it is typically girls who suffer from eating disorders and agonise over their appearance. They are bombarded with stereotypes about “how to look”. This obsession with appearance and being sexually appealing to men, comes at a cost – apart from the obvious anxieties. How can girls focus on being themselves when there is a constant barrage of media telling them how to behave and appear?

This is not to say that Schools and parents never succeed in facilitating Australian Schoolgirls to have careers. Educators enjoy some success. We can all name successful women (other than those in modelling or acting) whose careers have been nurtured by teachers and parents. But when you look at where the power and money are channelled, men clearly dominate and will continue to do so. The promotion of the primary function of women, to be sexually attractive to men is driven by economic interests, and the interests of men, or at least what the media tells men they should be interested in. I see no solution to this.

In Western society , the status of men is reflected in the physical beauty of their female partner – or what we are conditioned to believe is physical beauty. The higher the status of the man, the more beautiful the female partner. All you need do is look at the partners of high status men in the western world for verification. There are few who have ‘normal’ women for partners, regardless of the way the men themselves look.

Schools in Australia and the rest of the western world, have their work cut out for them. Teachers teach what should be taught. Girls have value in their own right – their worth is not all about being “beautiful and sexy”. It is true that men have more testosterone than women – hence they are naturally more aggressive. But this is no excuse for the way in which western society sexualises and devalues young women. It is a pity that our society does not practise what so many people preach.

It’s a bit like the promotion of sugary foods. This is what people are told to eat by the media. Until the health implications were widely publicised, we did as advertising told us to do. It’s not what was in our best interests, nor was it truly what we wanted, but rather it was conditioning. It’s nothing more than media driven behaviour, governed by financial interests. Smoking is another example of social conditioning. If we can tackle smoking and the eating of unhealthy foods, why can’t we deal with the sexual exploitation of young women?

Last Monday I opened a newspaper. The back pages were full of sporting photos and the results of weekend games. There were six large photos of the different men’s matches– not one of a women’s match. I am not a great spectator of sport, but it is here more than anywhere we see the glaring inequality.  In this financially driven society, men are paid large sums of money to play sport, and the best women can hope for, is to be the partner of one of the highly paid sportsmen.

However I do not want to end on a negative note. Amongst the gloom, there is sometimes one voice in the wilderness. Congratulations to Jay Weatherill, Premier of South Australia, for having junior cyclists to present the prizes to the winners of Santos Tour Down Under, instead of scantily clad women. We can only hope that more politicians and leaders will come to understand, and be willing to take a stand on this important issue. Then School staff will be more successful with the message – Girls in their own right!

About the Author

PhD in European Languages and Cultures (specialising in Literary Translation) Department of International Studies Macquarie University