Why Do We Objectify Women?


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If you pay any attention to today's media, you will notice that women are often the subject of sexual objectification.  It is a common occurrence for advertisements in magazines and commercials on television to use the female body to sell numerous products.  This happens because these advertisers know who their audience is: men.  I've always thought it was simple human nature for men to objectify women due to their elevated (and relatively uncontrollable) sex drive.  Actually, not even just straight men--gay men, as well.  I figured there was a difference in the male and female psyches, regardless of sexual orientation, and that all men tended to sexually objectify those of their gender of interest.  However, I just might be wrong.

According to research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, "women are more likely to be picked apart by the brain and seen as parts rather than a whole" (Pappas).  In contrast, men are "processed as a whole rather than the sum of their parts" (Pappas).  Sarah Gervais, a psychologist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, decided to test this.  She conducted a study in which a total of 227 undergraduate students were individually shown photographs of men and women.  Each participant "was shown non-sexualized photographs, each of either a young man or woman," followed by a copy of the same image "with slight alterations to the chest or waist" (Pappas).  They were then asked which image they had seen before.  Gervais and her colleagues focused on two kinds of mental processing: global (processing an object as a whole) and local (focusing on individual parts).

The results showed that both male and female participants were picking apart women's bodies.   Participants were better at recognizing "women's individual body parts than they were at men's individual body parts" (Pappas).  Men, on the other hand, were better recognized as a whole.  Both sexes were using local processing, or objectification, on the female images.

Since both genders process the female body in a similar way, Gervais blames the media for this phenomenon.  Considering the magnitude of sexual objectification of women present in television commercials, music videos, magazines advertisements and other mediums, I'm inclined to agree with her.  I think most Americans have gotten used to it, at this point, as a part of our culture.

women-as-objects.jpg


2 Comments

In a way, it really is a shame that our minds have been trained to think like this and pick apart women. I would say it's definitely a double standard and it is pretty degrading to females overall when I'm around my guy friends who look at a girl and rate her on a scale of one to ten or point out specific attributes about her that are "nice." I'm not all that surprised by what this research found because men and women both see everywhere in media how women are objectified. Here is an interesting article I read that explains how objectification can damage a woman's mental health:
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092656601923438

This was a very interesting post, even if the results of the study are unsurprising. I absolutely agree that the perception of women as a collection of parts is culturally conditioned. A number of studies on attraction conducted over the years have concluded that straight women were likely to be more concerned with personality in a partner, whereas straight men were likely to be more concerned with physical appearance. If this is true (and it's definitely been disputed), it reinforces the idea that women are taught to view men as people while men are taught to view women more as objects.
This article makes some interesting points about how men are sexualized vs. how women are sexualized, and talks about the difference between sexual subjects and sexual objects: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/joy-goh-mah/objectification-women-sexy-pictures_b_3403251.html

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