Ponnada: Women objectifying women


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I’ve always heard women say that they feel as though men only or mostly look at their breasts and their butts. I took this to be an indisputable truth of our society.

For as long as I can remember, the conversation around men’s objectification of women’s bodies has been going on and on. And I never thought to seek some sort of scientific proof because, I mean, feminists don’t do that stuff — right? We just make up random theories all the time and proclaim them to be true.

But finally, some proof has emerged.

A new study conducted at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (right here in the Midwest) that was recently published in the journal Sex Roles found that men actually do look at women’s bodies more than their faces.

Am I surprised? No, not really.

What’s really interesting about this survey, though, is that women often view other women as objects, too.

The main researcher, Sarah Gervais, and her colleagues used an eye-tracking system to examine how 29 college women and 36 college men reacted to digitally manipulated photographs of female models with different body shapes: curvaceous, much less curvaceous, and in-between.

The researchers found that participants focused more on women’s chests and waists and less on their faces when they were asked to objectify the women by evaluating their appearance instead of their personality. Both men and women fixed their gaze even more on the models with “Coca-Cola bottle bodies” (larger breasts, narrower waists, and bigger hips) — which are idealized in our culture.

On the other hand, women with smaller breasts who don’t necessarily fit right in with our culture’s ideals of beauty prompted shorter looks.

People often say that if you’re a (straight) guy, you’re either an ass man or a boob man. Or you’re stuck somewhere in between. We now know that this theory extends to women, as well.

But what do the findings really mean?

It seems as though women are internalizing the multitude of sexualized images that are continually thrown at them via mass media, along with other forms of objectifying female bodies that are pervasive in our society, and self-objectifying themselves. Not only that, but they are using this “male gaze” to evaluate and objectify other women, too.

These objectifying gazes have very real negative consequences for the women who are being objectified.

Prior research has shown that when women are objectified, they are perceived to be less friendly, not as intelligent or competent, or less moral — which is often causes much of the violence and other discrimination against women. 

Aside from causing misogynistic perceptions of women, the “male gaze” also directly affects a woman’s skills.

A previous study published in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly aptly titled “When What You See Is What You Get: The Consequences of the Objectifying Gaze for Women and Men,” found that when a woman is “checked out” by a member of the opposite sex, it causes decreased math performance for the woman.

As if having one half of the population looking at women “that way” weren’t enough, we now have the other half succumbing to female-objectification practices as well. The findings of this study are definitely red flags in terms of where our society stands in this culture war that we’re fighting and where we seem to be going.

If we, as women, can’t keep from objectifying ourselves — how can we expect anyone else (i.e., men) to show some respect?

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