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by Jennie S. Bev

Powerful influences in today’s digital era alter people’s perceptions and eventually alter the condition of the society.

Throughout history, mainstream culture has slanted toward the most influential, which in this case is the producer of the content through various media such as Internet sites, television and print publications. Those who control the production and distribution with their top-bottom decision-making capacity are the de facto power holders.

And they are likely to be heterosexual men.

This worldview is considered universal, and the dominant position of these men has been internalized in such a manner that the world thinks and sees based on their ideals. This further explains why the world is filled with “the Lolita effect,” and many females suffer from so-called “Lolita syndrome.”

“The Lolita effect” is a term coined by M. Gigi Durham, professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Iowa, who wrote The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do about It.

It refers to the distorted and delusional set of myths about female sexual identity that circulates in world culture. According to Durham, it is not an affirmation or celebration of female sexuality in all its diverse and blossoming forms. Rather, it is restrictive, hidebound and market-driven.

Women of all ages are aware of society’s expectations for how they should behave and look. Female identity comes in many forms, nonetheless.

Beauty and popularity are two of the most sought-after attributes in modern society. While it is natural to want to look and to feel good, such pressure to adhere to such identification may breed false consciousness or even internal oppression. That occurs when members of the oppressed group consider the oppressive ideals to be the “normal” state of existence. Thus, they tend to perpetuate the misconceptions.

Media have portrayed specific criteria that a woman must meet to be considered “beautiful.” Urban females are more compelled to adhere to what the media have portrayed simply to survive.

The popular myth of the Lolita effect is probably female empowerment. While it is true that beauty and health are empowering, the pressure to adhere to certain standards of beauty and sexiness isn’t, as it would alter intergender relationships and, eventually, sexual behaviors.

The Lolita effect has resulted in social casualties ranging from the pressure for premarital sex in Indonesia, extreme diet regimens in the U.S., sexually transmitted diseases in India and child trafficking in Thailand.

According to the United Nations, such human trafficking is worth about $7 billion annually, with 900,000 people, mostly women, trafficked across international borders every year. In some Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, sex trafficking contributes for as much as 14 percent of the gross domestic product. In Eastern European countries such as the Czech Republic, the volume is $100 million annually.

The worldwide beauty industry has generated profits of $160 billion annually.

Today’s media is an example of “patriarchization” of soft power in action. It might not be possible to escape from information from around the world 24/7, but we can be aware of the messages and how they are likely to shape our perception and our culture.

And since we have been living under the ideological works of men, which by tradition have excluded women’s contributions for centuries, the world has been constructed around men’s perspectives instead of those of both sexes.

It is the 21st century, and we have come a long way. It would be favorable for both sexes to be sentient of how balanced the world could be when cooperative efforts do away with tug-of-power foreplay.

Let’s not take a better future away from our daughters and granddaughters. We can start with de-Lolita-izing the media, at least in our own mind frame. []

Tracy Press, May 29, 2009

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