How objectification silences women - the male glance as a psychological muzzle

From Ed Yong's blog:  Not Exactly Rocket Science - science for everyone.

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 common part of modern society that most of us rarely stop to think of its consequences, much less investigate it with a scientific lens.

Tamar Saguy is different. Leading a team of Israeli and US psychologists, she has shown that women become more silent if they think that men are focusing on their bodies. They showed that women who were asked to introduce themselves to an anonymous male partner spent far less time talking about themselves if they believed that their bodies were being checked out. Men had no such problem. Nor, for that matter, did women if they thought they were being inspected by another woman.

Saguy's study is one of the first to provide evidence of the social harms of sexual objectification - the act of treating people as "de-personalised objects of desire instead of as individuals with complex personalities". It targets women more often than men. It's apparent in magazine covers showing a woman in a sexually enticing pose, in inappropriate comments about a colleague's appearance, and in unsolicited looks at body parts. These looks were what Saguy focused on

Saguy found that women talked about themselves for less time than men, but only if they thought they were being visually inspected by a man, and particularly if they thought their bodies were being checked out. They used the full two minutes if they were describing themselves to another woman (no matter where the camera was pointing) or if they were speaking to a man who could hear but not see them. But if their partner was a man watching their bodies, they spoke for just under one-and-a-half minutes.

Men had no such qualms. They used the full two minutes regardless of whether they were being watched or listened to, and no matter the gender of their partner. The fact that men didn't react in the same way is important. For a start, it shows that it's a man's gaze and not just any downward glance that affects a woman's behaviour. It also puts paid to the false equivalence arguments that are often put forward when discussing gender issues (i.e. "women look at male bodies too"). 

For the rest, with graphics and graphs.

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Replies to This Discussion

To play devil's advocate for a minute:

1) If the women choose to be silent in some situations and not others, is this really the men's fault?
2) Did the women report as to WHY they talked less? Were they less comfortable?
3) Could this has evolutionary reasons? Basically, if you already have a male sexually interested in you, then why keep trying to win them over? Not that the women were consciously doing that at all, but could it be part of brain wiring? I think an interesting test would be with lesbians on both sides. If a woman knew a lesbian was checking her out, how would she feel? How about a man checking out a lesbian?

Just playing the advocate here, again. I don't claim any of these things as my opinions, just interesting ideas I'm throwing out there.
1) It's not really a matter of 'choice' if it's due to socialisation. And the study isn't placing blame on the male volunteers, it says that women are conditioned to behave as objects when they are objectified. It is this conditioned objectification that is the problem.
2) The conditions of the study involved audio only, face-view and audio, and body-view and audio. Yes, 61% of the women were least comfortable with the body-view conditions.
3) The participants were asked to rate their different traits, and these traits were gender-stereotyped. If the women had been wanting to appear more feminine they would have rated themselves higher on feminine-stereotyped behaviour when in body-view. They didn't. As the authors say in their concluding discussion, 'The impact of objectification on talking time occurred independently of gender self-stereotyping, which suggests that attempts to behave femininely did not account for this effect. '

The full paper can be read here. It provides more detail on the study.
So one group reacts differently to the same action. What exactly does that mean? Either they're saying that there's something especially oppressive about the male gaze, or that it's OK for women to look at men and not vice versa.

I could see how women would become quieter if they are afraid of being sexually assaulted, which men don't have to worry about as much. But I don't think the women in this study had that fear.

Many of the magazines that feature women's bodies are women's magazines. Women also were willing to be in objectifying photos. I've always thought the reason why women are featured in women's as well as men's magazines is just b/c they are nicer to look at (even heterosexual women have said this).

People will always check each other out. I have never seen it as a significant issue. Some people can be threatening with it but it's also possible to just look at someone and notice that they are attractive without having any plans of intimidation, sexual assault, etc. Usually I've felt good about being checked out, unless it comes off as threatening, or the person is being really obvious about only looking at certain spots. Still, the message is either 1) I'm attractive, 2) I'm attractive, but this person is a loser, or 3) this person is dangerous. Basically, whatever is in someone's line of vision can be looked at. And whatever they think about is within the confines of their own mind. I also have become more talkative when I know I'm being looked at.

What is objectification? Looking at someone, and fantasizing about them? If so then I've objectified both sexes. It doesn't necessarily mean that you are discounting their entire personality. If someone's personality was horrible, I wouldn't find them attractive.

I don't see the male gaze as a muzzle. This kind of thinking is the reason for burqas. If there is any information about societies in which men don't check out women, then I'd like to know about that, but otherwise, it seems unrealistic to expect people not to look at each other.
I have a feeling that if I touched and brushed against women the way they do to me here in Italy I'd probably be ok, in the states I'd be pepper-sprayed.
Personally speaking, the first thing that comes to mind is that if I think a stranger, particularly male, is just checking me out physically, that to me indicates his primary focus. At best, someone I wouldn't be interested in (my mind first, then my boobs, 'K?). At worst, someone potentially dangerous.

Just a gut feeling on the whys.
umm.. Glance isn't the same as a stare. I think having a camera pointed at somebody for 2 minutes would be closer to stare than glance.

I skimmed through the link dropped by EvilWombatQueen. It mentioned that the subjects having a camera pointed at themselves were allowed to see themselves through a monitor. I wonder what would have happened if the subjects didn't have the ability to see themselves during their 2 minute talk?

It seems likely that in societies where women are expected to care and give more attention to what they wear/how they look that being able to see themselves would start a bout of self consciousness.

I'd like to see the results of this experiment with subjects other than undergrads with a mean age of ~19. I wonder if different occupations and age groups would have any effect on the expected outcome?
Qualifying my previous answer a bit ...

Some glancing/staring/checking out I don't mind. Being far more Plain-Jane than Hollywood Perfect, I'll take the compliment. If it's in a complimentary sort of way. But when introductions come, he'd damn well better be showing an interest in my brain and persona, not feeding me creepy lines.




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