The Big Questions

Life, death and free will.

Sexual Objectification Increases Perceptions of Women as Animals

How do men and women perceive sexually dressed women? Read More

Yeah, pretty much.

Yeah, pretty much.

You forgot one

Sexy women in bikinis inspire men to see them as objects. Brain scans revealed that when men are shown pictures of scantily clad women, the region of the brain associated with tool use lights up. Men were also more likely to associate images of sexualized women with first-person action verbs such as "I push, I grasp, I handle," said lead researcher Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University.

Yes I did!

Yes, I am familar with that study. I cite it in a manuscript we just submitted to PSPB.

Inan earlier post, I also mention her earlier FMRi work showing that when people see others that they percieve as low in warmth and competence, this causes activation in the brain area responsible for viewing objects (like homeless people). Since we find that appearance focus reduces perceived competence and warmth, it all makes total sense.

Both are very cool studies. Thanks for bringing it up! I dont think the ones you mention are published yet, so I had only seen a short bit Dr. Fiske sent me when I requested it. I didn't know about the "I push, I grasp" part.

"And perhaps more seriously,

"And perhaps more seriously, incompetent animals are also much easier to physically, sexually, and psychologically abuse."

This comment could be taken to mean that you hold victims of abuse responsible for bringing the abuse on themselves because of the way they dress. Was that your intention? Please clarify.

Of course not

Wow. Well, I certainly didn't mean to intend that. Explaining a potential cause of something doesn't morally justify it.

I can say a homeless man is homeless because he is an alcoholic. But that doesn't mean I think he should not be given food if he is hungry.

Likewise, I can know that sexual dress can increase negative treatment of women (by men and women) and not think the woman dressed sexy should be abused.

Does that make sense? It is sort of like trying to understand the causes of terrorism. Saying things like poverty etc increase its liklihood doesn't morally justify the act of terrorism.

In my view science is science and morality is something entirely different. Science can study something, but never can take a moral position. If it does, then there are serious problems.

So what about the APA and such doing this? I don't want to get into that too much, but there definately are certain moral positions taken by psychologists collectively that greatly effect what type of data is examined/published etc.

I think this is a shame, but that is just me.

Too much info!

Take care

There is another side to this

Sexy women in bikinis inspire men to see them as objects, as researcher Susan Fiske showed. But there are surely many situations where women instrumentalize men, she makes the point. And it is reasonable that the region of the brain associated with tool use lights up then too.
Every man knows this. Sometimes they use us to get out the trash, sometimes we have to put a nail into the wall. Often we have to play the plumber. It is only when you want to lay the pipe yourself that you get into problems.

You left out several biggies

Men are (occasionally) useful to women for: squashing spiders, reaching things on high shelves, lifting/moving anything heavy, changing tires, earning the money to pay for dates et al.

There was a discussion not long ago at The Spearhead ( as to whether women are capable of viewing men in anything but an instrumental fashion. The general consensus was that it was rare. As one guy put it: men love women, women love kids, kids love hamsters, and hamsters don't love nuthin'.

When we objectify them, it's called "objectification" (Bad). When they do it to us, it's called us "being a (real) man" or "chivalry" (Good).

Anyway, I do think there's at least a non-reciprocal level of expectation.

Re you left out and re the other side

You both make excellent points. I dont know of any experimental research that addresses this.

If objectification is using the other only for instrumental reasons, then females using men should also apply.

Still, I think when it comes too looks, females are under more pressure than males for sure.

Of course not response

Hi Nathan, thank you for your reply. I think the issue I came up against in my original post is exactly what you are talking about - using science for purposes other than what was intended.

For so long women were blamed for their own abuse. The study you write about offers a partial explanation for this, but could also be misused by people looking to continue that long tradition.

I appreciate your information regarding the APA. But I'm not sure the kind of objectivity you seek from science really exists. We all bring the contents of ourselves to the work we do, and I don't think there's a way to escape that (nor should we even try). I also believe the rational mind is usually influenced by what's going on in our deeper selves. At that point, self-knowledge becomes crucial.

So, too much information from me this time!

Thanks again.

re of course not

I get what you are saying. Objectivity doesn't really exist, but science should do its best.

I guess the issue I have is that certain research (on certain moral topics) could not possibly get published if it found certain things that run counter to the moral position. Blocking data because of moral stances is a shame.

Because of this, research on such things as abortion,the effects of homosexual parenting etc is always going to be not as good as it could be.

And for the record, I dont disagree with any of the APAs moral positions. I just hate that they block research in certain cases, even if the results could potentially against my own positions.

Hetersexually biased?

I'm assuming that this study was done with only heterosexual men and women. Am I correct? It be interesting to see how this differed with men and women that identified as other than heterosexual.

Re heterosexual

Yes, this would be very interesting.

There is some research showing that gay men objectify themselves as much as all women (and more than straight males). But none that I know of has looked at how gay men and lesbians might differ in how sexually objectifying another person effects how they feel/think about that person.

My guess would be that women and men across the board (straight or not)would still rate sexualized women as less competent, more animalistic etc. But the difference might be in rating sexualized men. I am not clear on how this would play out, but maybe gay men would rate sexualized men worse, whereas straight men wouldnt be impacted.

It is important to realize though, that men and women rate sexualized women as more animalistic, less competent etc.

Did Degas see his dancers as

Did Degas see his dancers as animals, in the way Sister Wendy Beckett describes?

Does Lisa Yuskavage make cartoony, fertile-looking young women to get a rise out of feminists?

Do feminists hate the sex-sells culture or are they mostly complicit with it these days? I venture that some of the smartest businesswomen take advantage of these confusions.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may quote other posts using [quote] tags.

More information about formatting options

Nathan Heflick completed his Ph.D. in social psychology at The University of South Florida.


Subscribe to The Big Questions

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.