Women Negatively Affected by Objectifying Gaze

In this study, researchers wanted to evaluate the effect of the objectifying gaze on performance in math, interaction motivation and feelings of the participants regarding their body. It was observed that the objectifying gaze reduced math performance, especially in women. Most of the women felt ashamed and dissatisfied with their body appearance. “Women in objectifying gaze condition were more interested in spending time with their partner than women in control condition, whereas the interaction motivation of men did not vary by condition,” per the researchers.

An objectifying gaze involves looking at an individual’s body with sexual intent. This is one of the common problems that women face in their workplaces. One of the daily diary data from U.S. college students has revealed that, on an average, every woman faces one to two episodes of sexual objectification every week. In the present study, the researchers wanted to know the consequences of such sexual objectification. States the authors, “The goal of our study is to examine the effect of the objectifying gaze on undergraduate women’s and men’s math performance, interaction motivation (i.e. motivation to interact with the person in future), and body image outcomes, including body surveillance, body shame, and body dissatisfaction.”

* The study involved 150 undergraduate students, among which 67 were women and 83 were men. The students’ ages varied between 20 and 22 years. The participants were told that the research was looking at how people work in teams, as researchers felt revealing the objective of the study would affect the results of the study.
* Each participant was allotted a partner of the opposite sex, who was a trained confederate. They were trained to look at the participant with an objectifying gaze.
* The pair was sent into a room. Then the trained confederate asked 5 questions and looked at the chest of the participant, while asking the questions and also passed a written comment regarding their looks. In half of the participants, they just looked at the eyes and did not pass any written comments regarding their looks.
* Later, all the participants were asked to solve 12 mathematics problems. They were also given a questionnaire in which they were asked to answer questions regarding their body image. Additionally, the participants were asked whether they would like to meet their partners again.

* Participants who were exposed to objectifying gaze had poor math performance, as compared to the control group. This was more so with women (solved 5.44 problems), as compared to men (solved 6.53 problems)
* Women reported more body surveillance and body dissatisfaction compared to men. Both these were less in control group, as compared to the study group.
* One interesting fact that was brought out in this study was that women who were exposed to objectifying gaze wanted to interact with objectifying partner again.

Next steps/Shortcomings
In this study, all the participants had less power compared to a trained confederate. Further studies are necessary to assess whether women in higher power also experience the negative effects of objectifying gaze. In the present study, the trained confederate was of the opposite sex. It would be interesting to know the effects of the objectifying gaze by an individual of the same sex.

Although, in this era of equality where women are involved in many of the traditionally male occupations, they are frequently subjected to the problem of objectifying gaze. This could be an important reason for underperformance in the workplace. Moreover, the objectified women may want to interact with the objectifier in future, which would create a vicious cycle. According to the authors, “Over time, however, subtle forms of sexual objectification may provide a foundation for more hostile forms of sexual objectification, including harassment or assault and may have cumulative negative effects on women.”  This study is the first step in identifying the adverse effects of the objectifying gaze. It provides clues for introducing interventions at workplaces to avoid the objectifying gaze.

For More Information:
When What You See Is What You Get: The Consequences of the Objectifying Gaze for Women and Men
Psychology of Women Quarterly, January 2011
By Sarah J Gervais; Theresa K Vescio; University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, New England and the Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.
Tags from the story