Researchers Attempt To Understand The Sexualization Of Girls With Virgin/Whore Paper Dolls

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sexualization of girlsThis just in but wholesomely sweet Midwestern girls may become a thing of the past — at least depending on how girls as young as six eventually grow up. Although the sexualization of girls seems to be garnering more and more research all the time — as well it should — a study in the journal Sex Roles is reportedly the first to determine how very young girls are self-sexualizing. But how did researchers attempt to understand such a phenomenon? With some skankilicious paper dolls.

Livescience reports that psychologists at Knox College recruited 60 Midwestern girls (aged six to nine) from two public schools and a dance studio. Girls were presented with two paper dolls à la virgin/whore dichotomy. You know, the tired “good” girl versus the “bad” girl trope:

…[one doll was] dressed in tight and revealing “sexy” clothes and the other wearing a trendy but covered-up, loose outfit. Using a different set of dolls for each question, the researchers then asked each girl to choose the doll that: looked like herself, looked how she wanted to look, was the popular girl in school, she wanted to play with.

Most alarming, girls “across the board” chose the town harlot. Sixty-eight percent of girls said that they wanted to look like her while 72% told researchers that she was definitely more popular girl compared to her mousey, covered-up counterpart. While psychologists were able to parse out some worthwhile connections between media influence, the mother’s behavior, and the presence of religion in the home to account for self-sexualization, the presentation is concerning on all its own. Asking little girls to study such problematic and limited depictions of women — that are frankly as old as time itself — doesn’t exactly make for a healthy view of oneself as a girl either, as you either fall into one of two distinct camps based entirely on what you look like. And such a restricted avenue towards understanding sexuality and sexualization doesn’t further anyone’s daughter –  or her safety and well-being.

That isn’t to say that the paper dolls were offered to the subjects with these explicit virgin/whore narratives. My point is that they don’t need to be. Such presentations of women and girls permeate just about every cultural conversation we often have about their behavior, from girls’ virginity to their sexual activity to the sexuality of others. They know the script early, as “fallen girls” are identified young and made for lunch room fodder.

Let’s not introduce those scripts even earlier, especially when trying to pick a part the new treacherous parenting frontier of sexualization.

(photo: Lori Sparkia/ Shutterstock)