The sexualization of girls in our culture is kind of like a hydra: you get rid of one awful image, product, or advertisement, and six new ones appear in its place. Sometimes it can feel like nothing you do makes a difference—media makers have so much money and power, and maybe you just have an hour between finishing your homework and going to bed. Maybe you don’t even have that much time! But here’s the secret: not every fight against sexualization has to come from weeks of planning . Sometimes, it’s the littlest things that make a difference. Here are eleven small things that you can do to make a BIG difference in the sexualization of girls:
- Write a petition. We can’t stress this enough—petitions work! This past Halloween, SPARK director Dana Edell started a petition to get HalloweenStore.com to pull a terrible, offensive Anna Rexia costume from its website and its shelves. The action was an immediate success, and HalloweenStore responded by pulling the item and promising to never sell it again. Talk about a victory! What’s especially cool about Change.org, where the petition was hosted, is that if you can get the contact information of the CEO of the company you’re petitioning, they’ll receive an email every single time someone signs the petition. In other words, you’re not just shouting into the void: the people at the top hear every word you say. Read more about our Anna Rexia petition here, then head over to Change.org to start an action of your own.
- SPARKit! We’ve partnered with a whole bunch of amazing organizations to develop SPARKits, activist toolkits designed to help you make change in your own community. And not only are SPARKits designed to help you challenge media, they encourage you to make your own. From making videos to taking photos to remixing advertisements, creating your own media takes some of the power away from giant conglomerates and puts it into the hands that matter: YOUR hands.
- Change the way you think about sex. For real! The way we think about sex says an awful lot about the way we think about ourselves, and in a culture that constantly and consistently turns women and girls into sexual objects, having a proactive view of sex can be a game-changer. This piece at Scarleteen explains the problems with our current cultural “baseball metaphor” (you know, how that kid in your math class was talking about getting to “second base”) . It instead suggests a different metaphor—pizza! Read the whole thing; we really think it’ll change your life. [Note to parents: this piece talks frankly about sex, sexuality, and sexual experiences, so read it first before sharing it with your young teens!]
- Watch critically. Don’t be a passive receptacle of media messaging—think and talk about what you see! Not sure what this means? SPARKteam member Stephanie Cole breaks it down for you in her great guide to Becoming Media Aware. Still need more? Check out this great video from our partners at About-Face that showcases the kinds of questions you can ask yourself when starting to think about advertising. Then talk about it!
- Shop critically. Being an engaged consumer is one of the most important ways you can make a difference. Marketers, retailers, and advertisers need to know that their constant objectification and sexualization of girls a. isn’t OK and b. is bad for business. Check out our guide to Critical Shopping 101, written by SPARKteam members Bailey and Kaye, and find out how to critically read advertisements, send feedback to companies who are doing things you don’t like, and find retailers who aren’t harming women and girls—and even some who are actively empowering them!
- Don’t hate, appreciate. Girl-hate is a powerful trope that stops girls and women from bonding and building strong, meaningful relationships. If you’ve ever heard yourself saying “I’m not friends with girls because they’re too [catty, mean, gossipy, fashion-obsessed, or any other negative word],” check yourself! “Girls” as a group are not anything, and thinking like that just contributes to harmful stereotypes. Read this amazing piece at Rookie Mag about why girl hate sucks, and give this exercise a try: give two compliments every day, one to yourself, and one to another girl. We swear, amazing things will happen!
- Support businesses that empower girls. Indie children’s retailer Pigtail Pals is pushing back against the sexualized messages on girls’ clothing by making their own, empowering merchandise, while LivLuna sells organic, ethically sourced, sweatshop-free clothing and body care items and uses their profits to support women and girls. Go out of your way to find sweatshop free clothing—more than 85% of sweatshop workers, in the US as well as overseas, are young women age 15-25.
- Tell the media to Represent YOU. Our partners at Miss Representation are running an amazing project, asking girls across the world to make videos explaining what the media can do to better represent them. For every thousand videos submitted, Miss Rep will hand-deliver them to a major media executive! Check out the SPARKteam’s videos here, then go make and submit your own!
- Start a SPARK chapter at your school. Fighting the sexualization and objectification of women on an international scale requires an international movement! Help lead it by bringing SPARK to your high school or college campus, and get your community involved in empower girls and fighting sexualization. Find out how, what, and why here.
- Empower yourself. We love About-Face so much that we thought their list of Ten Things To Do to Empower Yourself deserved its own spot on this list! Check it out and start making small changes in your life that will positively affect you and the girls around you.
- Donate to SPARK! Donating means you’ll be helping us grow the amazing community of policymakers, researchers, organizers, and most importantly, young women that we’ve built so far! It’ll help us build national campaigns, put together activist kits, and spread the pushback against sexualization to an ever-widening audience.
This list isn’t exhaustive by any means! There are literally hundreds of things you can do every day to fight sexualization. Tell us in the comments what you do every day to support girls!