Objectification Silences Women - Or, They Were Asking For It, And They Like It, And...

Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science has a fascinating post summarizing a recent research paper that shows how objectification silences women.

As Saguy [the lead researcher] explains, "When a woman believes that a man is focusing on her body, she narrows her presence... by spending less time talking." There are a few possible reasons for this. Saguy suspects that objectification prompts women to align their behaviour with what's expected of them - silent things devoid of other interesting traits. Treat someone like an object, and they'll behave like one. Alternatively, worries about their appearance might simply distract them from the task at hand.

Or, if you read the incredibly intelligent comments on the post, the REALZ interpretation of the data is...

  • Women were asking for it.
  • And they like it.
  • And it's their fault, because they have poor self-esteem.
  • And men are oppressed, too!
  • And evolushunz means menz haz got to stare at teh boobiez.

Which pretty much sums up every stupid-ass comment you get these days whenever you try to talk sensibly in any manner about sexual harassment, sexual objectification, sexism, sexual discrimination, bias, etc. Generally you also get comments like "this is all anecdote, there is no real data" but it seems that when even a man writes a blog post laying forth exceptionally strong data making the case that objectification is harmful to women, it's not sufficient.

The bleating hordes will still show up and cry "wah wah, no, it is all wrong! My theory, which is mine, about this data, in this paper I have not read, is much better! The next thing I'm going to say is my theory. Ready? My theory by A. Douche. All women exist to be ogled by men, and then to be fucked by men, and then to say how much they loved it. That is my theory, it is mine, and belongs to me and I own it, and what it is too."

Go read Ed's post, then instead of the comments, just watch this:

More like this

For something intangible, a glance can be a powerful thing. It can carry the weight of culture and history, it can cause psychological harm, and it can act as a muzzle. Consider the relatively simple act of a man staring at a woman's body. This is such a common part of modern society that most of…
At some point, terror management theorists are going to attempt to explain everything in the universe with their theory (I suspect we'll see a paper titled "Mortality Salience and the Bose-Einstein Condensate" in the next few years). Since I've already talked about terror management theory work on…
A reader named Paul Murray left this comment on a older blog post of mine: The comments on tit-staring make me wish the women could occupy a man's body for a day. Ignoring tits in your visual field is as easy as it is for a woman to simply ignore a cute baby in the vicinity. I was flabbergasted, to…
I love Ursula K. le Guin's the Earthsea series, and recently finished reading the final novel, The Other Wind. Those who are familiar with the Earthsea books will know that among other topics, le Guin explores traditional gender roles, their change, and men's disparagement of women's power.…

Selection bias.

No, not the study -- the comments. The topic practically screams for self-justification and denial. At least, if it's not a case of headlines: "New Study Reveals Sky is Blue!"

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 12 Jan 2010 #permalink

There's a metric fuckton of mansplaining at Ed's. Your theory *squee hack cough hack* is spot on. A. Douche is at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the comment thread over there.

Zuska, you forgot to add that women are sexist! And they are stereotyping men! Furthermore, recognizing gender-based discrimination teaches women to be victims, so we shouldn't mention it!

Wow, that comments section is an absolute disaster. It is the Platonic Ideal of Proudly and Loudly Missing The Point.

Yong's blog looks good though (except for the comments section).

And I love a Python reference!

I know that when I think a guy is undressing me with his eyes or staring at my boobs, the thing that's always running through my mind is "what can I do to make you go away?" this usually entails giving one word answers to all questions, and yes, getting quiet.

By Scrabcake (not verified) on 12 Jan 2010 #permalink

Thanks for the link, the research is really interesting.

And the comments are astounding. I especially laughed at the dude asking since when was treating someone as a "depersonalised object" the same as not recognising someone as having a "personality". How did he wrap his head around that logic fail I wonder?

for all those comments you would assume mr. yong posted something or other about a communion wafer

Objectification Silences Women

Is this supposed to be a bad thing?

By Tyler DiPietro (not verified) on 12 Jan 2010 #permalink

Tyler: Do us all a favour and try being silenced for a while yourself.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 13 Jan 2010 #permalink

Tyler, please haul your /b/tard ass back to 4chan.

This is a place for grown-up talk.

By Katharine (not verified) on 13 Jan 2010 #permalink

Wow, that's an astonishing number of moronic commenters (not here, of course).

I actually have done an objective study on this, since I hit my full six feet at age 12, and I have actually had a statistically meaningful, large enough sample size of boys and men who are at eye level with my boobs to know that this is true. My formal findings will be published as an enormous comprehensive study entitled "I'm up here, stupid," and I'm certain it will change the landscape of science.


I think that part of the problem over there, and here, is that Ed and Zuska both did a less-than-stellar job of summarizing what the study did and did not show.

If I understand the study correctly---do correct me if I'm wrong---the mansplainers over there are correct, up to a point, that the study was about women's psychology, not men's.

It did not show that men are actually oppressing women with their glances---you need other studies to show that. (I mentioned some over there.) And they are correct, up to a point, that what it demonstrates is sex bias women have against men as opposed to women viewing their bodies while they talk about themselves. Women became more reticent with men than women, without any observable difference in viewing behavior by the men; they do sex profiling and regard identical behaviors as more suspicious when men do them.

(Under the very artificial circumstances of the study, that is; in real life, they may process other cues correctly, and fall back on bias much less often. Biases often come to the fore when little other information is available.)

Pointing those things out is utterly reasonable---for any study, you should be careful to distinguish what it does and doesn't show.

I, for one, am not saying that women are wrong to be biased against men in this way; I sadly acknowledge that if I was a woman, I'd be more suspicious of men than women in exactly the same way. Men are more likely to be horndogs, and are more likely to be violent, and are more typically more physically capable of harming them.

(Even as a man, I've internalized the latter two---I am more wary of men than women, especially angry ones. I engage in sex profiling, too.)

I think more interesting is how many of the women in the comments (or presumed women based on their monikers) are basically APOLOGIZING for their opinion or their own anecdotes. You see them tiptoeing around with justifications like "i'm not saying all men are bad" or something like it. You don't see the men apologizing (or not as much). Only women who are disagreeing with the study seem to feel safe enough not to be apologists for having an opinion or a story to share. Sad.

the study was about women's psychology, not men's.

Yes. Men's psychology is irrelevant in this experiment. This is about social systems; the intent of individual men does not matter. In a system where women are undervalued compared to men, and valued primarily for the availability of their bodies to men, only a small minority of men need consciously to intimidate with their glances in order to perpetuate the system. The rest can just follow along with no intention whatsoever--indeed, they simply needn't think at all about what effect their boob-glances have on anyone.

And as for men who look women in the eye and talk to them without looking down at their boobs, well, this isn't about them.

Any men who feel insulted that they might accidentally get lumped in with overtly lecherous boob-starers should 1) not stare at boobs; and 2) take it up with their fellow men; they are the ones creating and perpetuating the problem.

It did not show that men are actually oppressing women with their glances-

Saying that women are oppressed as a class is totally different from saying that individual men oppress women with their glances. There is a very basic misunderstanding of sociology here.

I see this a lot--the claim that one needs to be able to prove that each individual man intends to be sexist, biased, oppressive (again, that's a misuse of the word) before we can conclude that women are oppressed by the male-dominated system. Totally false. The same goes for racism and other *isms.

The study showed that women "spent far less time talking about themselves if they believed that their bodies were being checked out". That is, they were responding to the men's downward glances--to their behavior. That's not acting on bias; it's women responding to actual behavior within the context of their experience.

The fact that women did not respond the same way to the downward glances of other women does NOT mean that "women are sexist"; it means we have learned from experience when we may be in danger and respond accordingly.

There is a lack of understanding in Yong's comment thread about the very definition of bias, of sexism, of oppression. Yet this lack of knowledge is slung about with pride; most commenters--male and female--feel qualified to hold forth on the topic when they don't even know the basic vocabulary.

That is usually how it goes with feminist issues.

Women became more reticent with men than women, without any observable difference in viewing behavior by the men

I missed this part. Sorry.

I hope it is clear, however, how the intent of individual men to "oppress" is not relevant to whether women as a class are oppressed (I'm not lecturing you, Paul, btw--I just want to be sure my point was clear).

Society promotes sexual objectification of women in many ways; pointing that out is not saying that individual men intend to oppress or to objectify. And neither Yong nor Zuska did that. I think commenters are reacting to claims that were never made.

Sigh... I was so horrified by the first half dozen comments that I stopped reading them. Unfortunately some mansplainers had to come over here. Bring on The Gender Knot (and well done, those of you intelligently taking on the d00ds, I just don't have the energy today but I applaud you and your brains).

Having worked my way about 2/3 through The Gender Knot on my own, I have to say that this one:
"And men are oppressed, too!"
really irks me. Every time I hear it I want to hit them with a board that says "You priveleged SOB, you don't even know what the definition of oppression is"

(FWIW I would still be very interested in reading more analysis of TGK if you have time!)

Annnnnd now we have a guy on Yong's thread comparing women's wariness of men in the street to racial profiling by racists.

The layers of fail are too many for me to take on now-- it's time to cook dinner for everyone over here!