I found this posted over at the Good Blog. Apparently a new study (read the whole thing here if you like) published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has discovered what could potentially be a positive to the generally negative sexual objectification of people. It appears that the researchers claim is that objectified people “may have more moral status, not less,” and this moral status “may lead others to protect this person from additional pain.”
It is a curious finding – especially when considering the logic for how they arrived at it. In the study, researchers asked participants to assess a selection of men and women in various states of undress to determine how clothing affects their view of a subject’s mental capabilities. They asked the subjects to administer electrical shocks to both clothed and shirtless people. The idea is to observe whether the participants have an easier or more difficult time administering shock to people based on the bodies that they see.
The researchers found that making judgements based on the body shifted the focus from the brain to the experience. The participants focused more on the ability of the person to experience rather than to think. As the researchers put it, when we objectify people, we believe they are “more capable of pain, pleasure, desire, sensation, and emotion but lacking in agency.” The researchers believe that this perception of objectified people is what creates empathy. It is through this empathy that we may be led to protect these objectified people from further pain.
When reviewing the findings, Amanda Hess, who originally posted this at the Good Blog makes a good point at the end of her post. She says, “the research speaks less to the upside of sexual objectification and more to the versatility of its downsides. Seeing people as bodies instead of minds can manifest itself as either hostile or paternal sexism—women are either too dim to think for themselves, or too sensitive to take care of themselves. Both serve to increase a man’s power over them.” This research has essentially become another way to legitimize the sexual objectification of women as some sort of empowerment. It is as if we are suppose to care more about a sexually objectified woman because we think more about her capacity to experience when we think only of her body. Sounds a little off, doesn’t it?
It is only one study, but if this is true, it fits the purposes of media perfectly. Advertisrs are looking to sell a concept, an experience and a lifestyle. They do not want consumers to think about their choices, they want consumers to buy impulsively. Treating the models that sell the products objectively causes an emotional or experienced reaction, not a logical one. That is the space consumers need to be in to buy. The same goes for music, television and video games.
This study is really a complex and scientific way of explaining how “sex sells” without actually saying “sex sells.” Because the idea that “sex sells” is offensive. Women do not like to be thought of as sex objects. If we can come up with ways to hide “sex sells” or explain away the objectification of women inside scientific research that turns it into a positive, then it makes it that much easier for media to do its job. Media literates know better.