scilogs Gender is not sex(y)

Sexual Objectification

from Kris Hardies, 26. June 2012, 08:00
Do we need to get infuriated when Liz Hurley is called "hot" by New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key, or by anyone else for that matter? Quite a few people would dismiss such remarks as being completely innocent, but sexual remarks never are. Such remarks reduce people (mostly women but increasingly also men) to their bodies—bodies that exist for the sexual pleasure and use of others.
 
Coleen, famous because she is the wife of football star Wayne Rooney.
 
This has serious consequences because the felt experience of actively being sexualized leads to the internalization of this external perspective. So such remarks contribute to women's self-perception and self-understanding as a "sexual object". No less than 20 percent of all women have a strong tendency to this kind of self-objectification, which elicits many negative effects. A number of different scientific studies have shown that self-objectification has various negative psychological and physical consequences such as increased body shame, body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, and even decreased mathematical performances (to find out more, see the Youtube video below).

 

Furthermore, empirical research lends support for the assertion of philosopher Martha Nussbaum that 'objectifying women leads others to perceive them as less competent and less fully human.' Given that it doesn't take much for the negative consequences of objectification to bump in (merely focusing on a woman's appearance, for example, is already sufficient to induce objectification), such sexual remarks are clearly a much bigger problem than many people (mostly men) are willing to acknowledge.
 
So what can we do about it? First and foremost, we need to make people aware of this problem. Recent research shows for example that encouraging men to take objectified women's perspective (in order to avoid underestimating the negative impact women may be facing) may motivate them to refrain from further objectification. Awareness truly is the first step to change!



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Comments

  1. Anonymous Coward
    01.07.2012 | 06:49

    It seems to me that some of the findings here are rather problematic for what I take to be your goals, because, whether a male is in search of night of fun or a lifelong companion, getting the female to want to interact with him is step 1, and if perving on her (colloquial Aussie for the Objectifying Gaze) will help, he'll do it.

    Making all references to and obvious assessments of 'hotness' strongly unacceptable in professional contexts otoh is something that can be done, and is done with a reasonable degree of success in some disciplines.

  2. Ellie Kesselman The objectifying gaze
    02.07.2012 | 22:12

    There are many issues. Agreed, New Zealand's prime minister should not be describing anyone as "looking hot" when on record. It is irrelevant what he thinks about Liz Hurley's appearance, and such comments don't belong in a professional work context.

    The woman, Coleen, is not familiar to me. Why shouldn't she receive media attention because she is a good wife to a famous person?

    Thank you for posting the video about the objectifying gaze. It was unbiased and honest. I was not surprised that in the narrowest scope of the study, women did not feel diminished or dejected about their appearance due to receipt of "the objectifying gaze". Men don't look at things that are unpleasant. Looking is a sign of appreciation and approval. Also, as the study says, men have been "checking out" female appearance forever. Yet something is amiss lately, as women are pursuing education and careers in math, science and engineering fields LESS rather than more often than 10 - 20 years ago! That is very worrisome.

    Media needs to change. Staff are well trained. Camera and post-production editors should not focus on female elected officials' (nor any female public speakers') body parts, which is unfortunately quite common.

  3. Avery Andrews
    03.07.2012 | 01:42

    A possible exception to the negative STEM trend is Computational Linguistics, which is definitely STEM, with plenty of math and computers, but it seems to me, as a male on the margins of the field, that women are numerous and do fine, though there could be stuff going on that I haven't noticed. Anyway, CL might be worth investigating.

  4. Kris Hardies Objectification
    06.07.2012 | 07:58

    Thanks for all your comments. They are greatly appreciated!

    Just to be clear, there is (obviously) no problem in telling some woman (or man for that matter) that she is beautiful (or "hot" if you want). Rather, the problem is in seeing (and/or treating) people (usually women) as objects (i.e., objectification).

    That's why the (media) attention that is being devoted to Coleen (and many other "WAGs" wives and girlfriends) is troublesome. This woman does not get attention because of who she is (or, for example, because 'she is a good wife to a famous person'), she receives attention because she is "hot". The acronym WAG is somewhat misleading in that respect; unattractive girlfriends and wives are not considered to be worth any attention. So, Coleen is basically being reduced to her body. The crucial thing here is that nobody cares about her as a person! (She is just a body, worth our attention because we derive sexual pleasure from it.)

  5. Kris Hardies Kris Hardies
    06.07.2012 | 08:15

    The observation that less women are being drawn to the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is extremely interesting by the way. Some recent research seems to suggest that this might be due to the fact that we nowadays are living in such affluent societies that people can now be primarily concerned with "self-actualization" (i.e., our societies are postmodern and post-materialistic). Because the STEM fields are still thought of as being masculine, girls in such societies will rather choose other fields of study in their attempt to express themselves (their "true" selves).

    I will certainly devote some of my next blog posts on this topic. I am unfamiliar with the field of Computational Linguistics, but I think it is interesting that you (Avery Andrews) note that women are apparently doing well in this field. This is speculative, but I could image that a possible explanation might be the "framing" of this field of study. Although "objectively" this field of study might be just as math-intensive as, for example, physics. That is, however, rather unimportant. The labeling of fields of studies and occupations as feminine or masculine has, however, no relationship with the "objective" characteristics of such fields and occupations. So the question is, how is this field of study being framed (i.e., what is its subjective definition and how is it being perceived upon). Like I said, I'm unfamiliar with the field, but I could imagine that most people think of CL (and perhaps it's also being advertised as such) as primarily being a about linguistics (hence, rather feminine) rather than that it is primarily a computer thing (hence, rather masculine).