The Big Questions

Life, death and free will.

Objects Don't Object!

Sexual Objectification and Support for Women's RIghts

Equal rights is an admirable goal that few would argue against. Yet, women still face many instances of unequal rights. For starters, they are paid less money on average than men, even for the same jobs. 

Women also are often looked upon sexually by men. This isn't exactly a well kept secret.

But is there a relationship between experiencing the male gaze and how willing women are to support women's rights? A recent series of studies by Rachel Calogero (University of Kent psychologist) tested this very question.

In Study 1, American women completed a "self-objectification" scale that measures the extent to which a woman values her physical appearance relative to her competence. They then completed a measure assessing how much they support the way things currently are for women (the gender status quo), and lastly, were asked how willing they would be to do a variety of things to support women's rights (such as signing a petition, wearing a button, attending a march, etc).

The results showed that the more a woman self-objectified (valued her appearance over her competence), the more likely she was to NOT say she would be willing to do things to promote women's rights. And further, this was entirely due to these women believing more strongly that the way things are for women now are they way they should be.

In Study 2, women thought about a time when a man had gazed at them sexually, or about a control topic. When women had just thought about a time when they were sexually objectified, they were less likely to support women's rights issues, and were more likely to think things for women now are how they should be.

Together, these studies suggest, interestingly, that the cultural emphasis placed on women's appearance, and the frequent sexual gazes they experience from men, make it LESS likely for women to support their own equal rights.

When women are sexually objectified, they become less likely to object to the unequal treatment of women.

This is also interestingly very much in line with feminist theorizing that noted long ago that the sexualization of women by men, and in turn the internalization of those values by women, helps to maintain men's status over women.

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

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