New research confirms that sexual objectification of females is closer to the camp of knee-jerk neural responses rather than feminist fabrication. A recent study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology revealed that both male and female brains are more likely to disassemble the bodies of women, processing them in pieces rather than wholes.
Participants of the study were shown non-sexualized images of full-bodied men and women. They were then presented with side-by-side photos of the same image, and a new version of that photo with some small alteration to areas deemed as sexualized (chest, waist, etc., that in some instances were zoomed in upon). The results confirmed that both men and women were more likely to recognize individual parts on women that had been altered versus those on men. Participants were better able to distinguish a man by his full body than when we was reduced to individual parts.
Clearly we’re not born with this automatic response to siphon off female body parts over male ones. This is something our culture teaches us. Try an experiment. Count all the images you see of female body parts vs. male in all media modes in a given day. Which do you see more? Spreads of headless females or disembodied taut torsos are now par for the course in advertising.
Women’s bodies are treated as objects for another’s viewing pleasure and sexual enjoyment. They eliminate our ability to associate that person as a whole being, removing connections that can be made by seeing a face or making eye contact. Women and girls internalize this objectification and equate their inherent worth and ultimate value with their appearance and sexual appeal.
Female objectification has been linked to a myriad of mental health problems such as depression, eating disorders, decreased self-esteem, life-dissatisfaction, sexual dysfunction, and leadership access — to name only a few. Aside from the cognitive causalities, viewing ourselves in pieces, as parts, and objects to control, dehumanizes us and makes it easier for us to accept unacceptable behavior from others. Exposure to these images trains young boys to view girls in reductive ways. It makes both sexes more tolerant of receiving and inflicting abuse and in many instances has created a frighteningly flawed defense for rape.
The worst part about this? Women partake as perpetrators and perpetuators of these crimes. We have been taught to feel as though our bodies and our appearance are our ultimate currency, a public canvas the promotes our most important attributes. Our current cultural climate sexualizes girls at younger and younger ages and devalues women as they grow older. Mainstream media and popular culture commodify women and girls (and men and boys) in order to sell products.
Objectification is alive, well, and thriving. While we can’t change every marketer’s motive or strip salacious images from prominent public display, we can use them as a platform to initiate productive dialogues. While I think it’s important to encourage companies to be socially responsible in their advertising, they are still corporations whose main motive is profit.
We can spread awareness about the limited beauty ideals and dangers of objectification by using problematic pieces of media as opportunities for awareness. This opens doors to schooling our youth on healthy sexuality. If we are not teaching our children about this important facet of being human, then we better believe that popular culture is already well on its way to doing it for us. Gawking at offensive campaigns and depictions responds to the provocateur role these companies seek to play. Opening our eyes and noticing this objectification in our every day lives is the first crucial step in taking back our consumer power and honoring our human rights as full bodied individuals.