Jay Evensen: Warren Jeffs a monster, but popular culture not much better

Published: Thursday, Aug. 11 2011 10:07 a.m. MDT

In this photo released by an official website of the Iranian supreme leader's office, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, delivers his speech in a public gathering in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, April 23, 2011. Iran's supreme leader says he will intervene in government affairs again after reinstating the country's powerful intelligence minister to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's cabinet. The nationally broadcast address by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday is seen as another warning to Ahmadinejad that he cannot defy the wishes of the ruling theocracy. (AP Photo/Office of the Supreme Leader) ** EDITORIAL USE ONLY, NO SALES **

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Warren Jeffs got what was coming to him, no doubt about it.

The head of the FLDS Church treated young girls as sex objects, and he was guilty of abusing them and misusing his position as a religious leader for his own gratification. A jury threw the book at him — life in the slammer. Away with him — people like that shouldn't be allowed to roam free.

But while we vote him off Decency Island, should we also exile the others? I'm talking about the editors of fashion magazines, the producers of television shows and, yes, some parents who are doing their best to sexualize young girls.

The irony is you could watch a news report about Jeffs' conviction one minute, then catch the latest episode of "Toddlers and Tiaras" on TLC the next. That is a reality show about little girls who compete in makeup and grownup beauty queen dresses. One little darling recorded her own song on a recent episode with the words, "Rockin' out the pageant stage shakin' my bootie."

Want more irony? Pick up the latest copy of Vogue Paris, which features sexualized photos of 10-year-old Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau, the daughter of an actress and a French soccer star. A photo shows her pouting her painted lips as she reclines on leopard-print pillows, her feet shod in high heels and her hair elegantly styled.

The editor of the decidedly not prudish web site Feministing.com called this "inappropriate, and creepy." But no one is voting Vogue Paris off the island.

Writing about this in TIME Magazine, Susanna Schrobsdorff wondered why no one seems outraged at how "Target sells pink silk padded bras for tweens or that, come this Halloween, we'll once again be faced with fetish wear for 6-year-olds including some truly icky French maid costumes."

The answer, I'm guessing, has to do with a good bit of desensitization. The island is awash in a tsunami of sexualized images of girls in their teens and younger.

The Parents Television Council recently published a report on television titled, "Sexualized teen girls: Tinsel Town's new target." Among the findings:

"When underage female characters appear on screen, there is: more sexualizing content depicted; fewer negative responses to being sexualized; more sexualizing incidents occurring outside of any form of committed relationships; more female initiation in the sexualized scenes, or mutual agreement between the teen and her partner that the sexualizing incident is acceptable..."

Parents are not without blame, either. Many send mixed signals. A few years ago, the web site momlogic.com published a survey of teens who spent spring break partying away from home. More than half said either they or a friend had sex with someone they met. Perhaps most disturbing was how 56.5 percent of the teens, ranging in age from 13 to 19, said they kept the truth of what happened from their parents, and more than half the parents suspected this but didn't probe for more information.

It isn't as if we're all experimenting in some new unexplored land where the results of our behavior are as yet unknown. The research is clear. The American Psychological Association released a report in 2007 on the "sexualization of girls" that found a host of bad consequences for girls, from depression to low self-esteem, to a reduced ability to think logically or perform well with mathematical equations.

As for boys, these imagines cause them to see girls as something less than equal human beings.

To be sure, there is a big difference between the physical abuse committed by Jeffs and what can only be described as the mental and emotional abuse of a popular culture. But they are differences of degrees along the same sliding scale.

We condemn the Taliban and other groups that restrict women. Should we not also be outraged by popular images that restrict girls' self-image and define them by someone else's idea of what is sexy?

Jeffs got what he deserved. Child abuse must trump the right to religious freedom. It makes no sense, however, to keep planting our picnic baskets along the filthy shores of the bog where he frolicked.

Jay Evensen is a Deseret News editorial writer. Email him at even@desnews.com. For more content, visit his web site, www.jayevensen.com.

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