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1999 issue home page
Stereotypes that just won't go away
By Arielle Angel
Krop High School
A high school student who has already slept with
10 people enters a new school. What people will say about this person's
sexual experiences depends on one factor: gender.
If this person is a male, he will be admired by his fellow males, and
perhaps even desired by females. Guys will respect him and girls will be
impressed by his experience. He is generally referred to as "the
However, if this person is a girl she will most
likely be subjected to ridicule and disrespect by her peers. Males will
try to use her, hoping that they can get her into bed, and females will
despise her out of disgust, or in some cases, jealousy. She is generally
referred to as "the slut."
"It's a huge double standard. If you're a guy
and you sleep with everyone you're automatically cool. If you're a girl
and you sleep with everyone you're automatically a slut," said
Bianca Penaloza, a senior at Coral Gables High in South Miami.
This player vs. slut philosophy is familiar to most students, and
although no one girl deserves to be treated cheaply, the media
repeatedly emits messages that this dangerous double standard is correct
and should not be challenged.
"What the media is trying to tell us is that if girls are 'bad' or
sexually promiscuous it's OK to punish them," said Kim
Walsh-Childers, a professor of journalism at the University of Florida
who studies the portrayal of women in the media. "They're saying,
'we have no sympathy for you.' "
Although the media want women to be pure, they also want them to be
sexy. Advertisements, television shows and movies often only feature
overly thin, impossibly beautiful women to promote their product or
program. In a 1986 study by Silverstein, Peterson, Perdue and Kelly, 69
percent of female television characters are thin and only 5 percent are
overweight. These contradictory images leave some teenage girls confused
about which path is the norm, and how each girl should behave.
Men translate only one message from the media: you are not cool if you
don't have sex.
"I cannot think of one male hero or main character who is not
sexually active," Walsh-Childers said. "Except if the
character is a nerd. They want you to think that the only boys not
having sex are the nerds who cannot get anyone to sleep with them."
Therefore, it is no wonder that men are praised for
their sexual achievements. "Everybody has a fantasy about having
all the girls, so other guys look up to guys who sleep around,"
said Bill Ferrara, senior at Gulf Breeze High .
Women still cannot win. With two pictures of how a woman should behave
-- seductive or chaste - teenage girls are set up to feel shameful no
matter which image they choose to mimic.
For example, Bill, the same teenager that just related that guys look up
to the "player" figure in school, said, "Every guy wants
a girl who's pure."
Kim Davis, a junior at Gulf Breeze High, said, "In school, people
look down on girls who are considered trashy. But girls also get ragged
on for being too much of a prude. Guys will say, 'Oh, why can't you just
loosen up and have a little fun.'"
The 1996 slasher film parody, Scream, is a prime example of the
attitudes towards women that people deem "slutty." Tatum, the
provocative and sexually promiscuous best-friend character, is one of
the first to be murdered by a pair of psychotic teenage killers.
As Randy, another Scream character points out, to survive a typical
slasher movie a girl should never have sex. Only the virgin survives.
This theme is also carried out through other horror movies like
Meanwhile, the supposed Scream "good girl" survivor and
virgin, Sidney, is a model of beauty and sexiness. Her dress is at times
revealing and she fits the American beauty standard. She keeps her
boyfriend in sexual frustration while never actually giving up her
Ironically, the same purity that women are expected to posses is also
what potentially makes them unattractive and boring.
James Bond films also illustrate the difference
between sexually active men and sexually active women. The plot of many
Bond films center around the fact that he sleeps with six or seven
different women throughout the film. "He is rewarded for this
behavior, not punished," Walsh-Childers said.
The media also sends other double standards into the
minds of women. When one pictures the physical appearance of the
so-called perfect woman, there are not a great deal of physical
characteristics to choose from, Walsh-Childers said. The media only
sends women one type of woman to aspire to look like. They send the
supermodel image; tall, thin, with flawless skin and hair.
Men, on the other hand, can look any number of ways
and still fit into the male beauty standard because the media does not
send audiences only one type of man, Walsh-Childers said. "There is
a broader range of what is accepted to be a sex symbol as a male. You
can be older, heavier, or bald."
Many young women believe older men such as Robert
Redford, Sean Connery, and Richard Gere are viable sex symbols. It is
not as common for men to find sexual appeal in older women.
Music videos are a very common place where women are
objectified while men are heroes. In music videos by male artists, they
depict a story which is commonly a male fantasy. In the video, the
singer always gets the girl. Moreover, the women are not presented as
much more than sexual objects. They are always willing and interested in
sex, and that is the only function they serve. They never reject the
male, "no matter how unattractive they are, no matter how much of a
jerk they are," said Walsh-Childers.
Television has an enormous influence on men and women
perceptions in society. In soap operas, the seductive women are often
also the villains. The audience is drawn to be attracted to her, but at
the same time, hate her for her enticing qualities. Other studies show
that there are more employed male personas on television than there are
The thoughts and ideas transmitted through
television, movies, music videos and advertisements are designed to be
easily soaked up by the minds of Americans everywhere, especially teens.
Walsh-Childers said these double standards -- which have been blamed for
damaging female self-esteem and self-image -- did not originate in the
media, but the media reinforces them.
"Women are no longer going to have any
self-esteem, which could lead to things like drugs and suicide. Girls
may end up having sex for all the wrong reasons," said junior
Krista Cole of Bloomingdale High School in Valrico.