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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 player."
    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 Halloween.
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 virginity.
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 women.
    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.

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