Every Day, Ordinary Women are Reduced to Sexual Body Parts by Men… and By Women.

Illustration for article titled Every Day, Ordinary Women are Reduced to Sexual Body Parts by Men… and By Women.

Around here, we often point out the media images participating in the objectification of women on a daily basis. This is not new. But new research — to be published online next week in the European Journal of Social Psychology — shows that women are more likely to be picked apart by the brain and seen as parts rather than a whole. Men, on the other hand, are processed as a whole rather than the sum of their parts.


Stephanie Pappas of Live Science writes about the study, conducted by Sarah Gervais, a psychologist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, who says: "Everyday, ordinary women are being reduced to their sexual body parts. This isn't just something that supermodels or porn stars have to deal with."

Gervais's study involved identical experiments with a total of 227 undergraduate participants.

Each person was shown non-sexualized photographs, each of either a young man or young woman, 48 in total. After seeing each original full-body image, the participants saw two side-by-side photographs. One was the original image, while the other was the original with a slight alteration to the chest or waist (chosen because these are sexualized body parts). Participants had to pick which image they'd seen before.
In some cases, the second set of photos zoomed in on the chest or waist only, asking participants to pick the body part they'd seen previously versus the one that had been altered.

What Gervais found was something you probably know already, but still disheartening to read:

The results showed a clear schism between the images of men and women. When viewing female images, participants were better at recognizing individual parts than they were matching whole-body photographs to the originals. The opposite was true for male images: People were better at recognizing a guy as a whole than they were his individual parts.

Basically, a woman walking around is tits, legs, ass, and not sister, mother, kindness, funny, smart.

And the truly sad part? "It's both men and women doing this to women," Gervais says. "So don't blame the men here."

Illustration for article titled Every Day, Ordinary Women are Reduced to Sexual Body Parts by Men… and By Women.

Sociological Images recently published a (highly-recommended) four part explanation of sexual objectification, with the warning:

The damage caused by widespread female objectification in popular culture is not just theoretical. We now have over ten years of research showing that living in an objectifying society is highly toxic for girls and women.


One horrible example of women seeing other women as body parts that comes to mind is the dark world of thinspo blogs and tumblrs, where women of all ages post "inspirational" images of taut torsos, thin thighs, slender hips and spindly arms. Ribs. Spines. Usually there are no heads in the photographs… It's all about the parts.

But you don't have to go that deep to find what Tina Fey once called girl-on-girl crime. You probably don't have to think that hard to remember the last time you heard a woman talk about another woman's hips or lips or eyes or thighs, separating the body from the person. You may have done it yourself. But it's not your fault:

There could be evolutionary reasons that men and women process female bodies differently, Gervais said, but because both genders do it, "the media is probably a prime suspect."


The problem, of course, is that when you see someone as an object you can end up treating them as an object: A thing without feelings, that can be pushed around.

Brain Sees Men as Whole, Women as Parts [Live Science]


I remember once seeing a girl and a guy sitting on a wall near my university, and overhearing them as they commented on all the women who walked by in terms of body parts. The girl was quite transparently crushing on the guy, and seemed to be getting more and more extreme in her objectification of the other women in order to get his approval. It was really pretty nauseating.

The weird thing is, this is not the only time I've seen this dynamic. I think it's part of the general drive to be "the cool girl," you know, the one who's not all uptight like other women. Of course, you can't show off how cool you are by critiquing men's bodies, that would be going too far, and besides, the guy you're with would have to start thinking about other men as objects and ew, gross! (Besides, men are the arbiters of what's cool and what's not, and if you want to impress them you have to go by their rules).

Much easier to stick to dissecting women's bodies; after all, they're neutral ground and fair game to all.