Last year, Reg Bailey, head of the Mothers' Union, published a report in which parents expressed dismay over the way their kids saw women in terms of sexual objects. "With music videos… I have a battle on my hands with raising my son when it comes to respecting women and not to see them as sexual objects," one parent was quoted as saying in the report. "He seems obsessed with how they look as opposed to their talents or abilities and this causes me concern."
Sexualization in music videos is not an issue foreign to the States. In 2007, the American Psychological Association published a report by its Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, in which researchers looked at the prevalence of women being portrayed as sexual objects in society, including in music lyrics and videos. What they found was unsurprising.
In study after study, findings have indicated that women more often than men are portrayed in a sexual manner (e.g., dressed in revealing clothing, with bodily postures or facial expressions that imply sexual readiness) and are objectified (e.g., used as a decorative object, or as body parts rather than a whole person). In addition, a narrow (and unrealistic) standard of physical beauty is heavily emphasized. These are the models of femininity presented for young girls to study and emulate. [APA.org]
The report went on to explain what kind of effects these messages can have, citing eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression in girls and women, as well as male difficulty to find an “acceptable” partner.
What's important to recognize is that there's a big difference between depicting sexuality and depicting sexualization—sexualization carries the negative connotation that women are portrayed as objects, and that "a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics." The APA report recommended identifying media alternatives to show positive depictions of sexuality, as well as "culturally competent protective factors" that included "helping adolescent girls develop a nonobjectified model of normal, healthy sexual development and expression through school." It would seem that depicting sex in general is not the problem (depicting positive sexuality is a possible solution)—but championing a warped, commercialized version of sexual roles to those who don't know any better is.
Maybe government censorship is a Class A slippery-slope-bad-idea, or maybe there's a teeny-tiny chance that Brits' threat of age ratings will bring renewed discourse on the subject to the music industry.
"I think David Cameron has a point in raising the issue - but it's about what we do with it once it's been raised," Universal Music UK chairman and CEO David Joseph told Music Week earlier this week. "I would welcome a move towards voluntary measures, but I 100% do not welcome a move towards classification boards."