Objectification Silences Women

In experiments with more than 200 people, researchers discovered that when a female believes her body is being sized up by a male, she’ll diminish her presence by speaking less. When a male believes a female is eyeing his physique, however, no such effect occurs. The study, published this month in the journal Psychological Science, explains that our culture has so taught women that they’re judged on appearance that they’ve come to evaluate themselves that way, ultimately self-objectifying. On the one hand, nothing in this study will much surprise feminist philosophers. On the other hand, it’s great to finally have social scientists studying the effects of objectification on women. An article on the study is here. The publication is called “Objectification Can Lead Women to Narrow Their Presence in Social Interactions” (from Psychological Science) by Tamar Saguy, Diane M. Quinn, John F. Dovidio, and Felicia Pratto.

16 thoughts on “Objectification Silences Women

  1. Jender describes an article about this research here. The article looks really good to me, and readers who can’t find or access the original article might find the one Jender linked to very informative.

  2. The article says that the study was carried out under the pretext of a “communication exercise that examined social interaction” through, among other things, body language. In other words, even the people who thought they were being observed only from the neck down were told something that would reinforce the impression that their observer was examining them not as an object but, by definition, as another subject. I wonder if the authors considered that when designing the study and drawing inferences from the data. Curious way to go about studying the effects of objectification.

    I’d be interested to see the original article. The press write-ups, of which I’ve read several, convey (if inadvertently) the impression that the authors interpreted the data to fit the favored hypothesis.

  3. It would be interesting to know the results in other cultures, where there might be a set of different values and morals involved. Unfortunately, I guess it is difficult to do this stort of study on a historical culture that no longer exists.

  4. With respect: this post misrepresents the study–see its own title–and falls into the common sociolinguistic identification of chromosomal data (“a female”) with somatically predicated psychosocial class (“women”). The use of “female,” in any other context than close reference to biology, itself begs the questions that you are so good at opening.

  5. I think you’re making a good point, Richard – but I might argue that female-bodied folks (who may not identify as women) may often experience (and internalize) the same social and cultural pressures that would cause them to react in similar ways. I’ve seen male-bodied people who identify as genderqueer employ their masculinity in toxic ways; your identity (constructed or not) doesn’t categorically exclude you from certain experiences or behaviors.

  6. Nemo: Questions of nature/nurture, mind/body, self/society, culture/consciousness–that sort of thing. (BTW, I am using “beg the question” in its original sense, to begin a discussion by assuming the conclusion one wishes to reach.) Because the brain is a notoriously plastic organ, internalizing social and cultural pressures as Jen notes, any observation of neurally mediated behavior categorizing human subjects chromosomally requires a control group from an orthogonal culture, as Chris Lawrence wisely suggests, and seldom gets it. A grant to create a culture in which female humans are, from birth, preferentially validated and rewarded, so that their brains and behaviors can be used as statistically independent variables–there’s funding I’d like to see.

  7. Richard, since you brought me into this, let me respond. I think the point of the study was to provide insight into our culture (i.e. western culture), it’s not suggesting there is any biological basis for this. Undoubtedly different cultures would have different results. My comment wasn’t a criticism, and I wasn’t suggesting a control group (if this is even possible.) I’ve love to see the results in say the Soviet Union in the 30s, or in a matriarchal indigenous society (before the arrival of Europeans.) Unfortunately, in the former case, unless there’s an old study gathering dust somewhere, we’re out of luck, and in the latter case, we’d need a time machine. :)

    I might not have understood exactly what you are arguing, though, I found your wording a bit confusing.

  8. Thanks, Chris. Understood and agreed. Sorry if you feel I involved you inappropriately. You are of course correct that the study was of our culture, and the study itself spoke of women.

  9. Chris – not to get off topic here, but I thought theories of past matriarchal societies had been discredited, no?

  10. Nemo, what about the Iroquois, or the Hopi? I admit I’m not up on the latest research, but wikipedia says they were matriarchal (or matrilineal, which seems to be the term they are using these days.)

  11. I believe there’s a big difference between matriarchy (women dominating political power) and matrilineal systems (inheritance in the female line). You could, in theory, have a patriarchal system with people inheriting property from their mother’s family rather than their father’s.

  12. Wirklich ein guter Kommentar. Ich muss echt feministphilosophers.wordpress.com mal mehr besuchen ;)

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