Study finds marked rise in intensely sexualized images of women, not men

Aug 10, 2011
UB sociologists Erin Hatton and Mary Nell Trautner are the authors of "Equal Opportunity Objectification?" which examines 43 years of Rolling Stone magazine covers. Credit: University at Buffalo

A study by University at Buffalo sociologists has found that the portrayal of women in the popular media over the last several decades has become increasingly sexualized, even "pornified." The same is not true of the portrayal of men.

These findings may be cause for concern, the researchers say, because previous research has found sexualized of women to have far-reaching negative consequences for both men and women.

Erin Hatton, PhD, and Mary Nell Trautner, PhD, assistant professors in the UB Department of Sociology, are the authors of "Equal Opportunity Objectification? The Sexualization of Men and Women on the Cover of Rolling Stone," which examines the covers of Rolling Stone magazine from 1967 to 2009 to measure changes in the sexualization of men and women in popular media over time.

The study will be published in the September issue of the journal & Culture and is available at http://www.springerlink.com/content/k722255851qh46u8.

"We chose Rolling Stone," explains Hatton, "because it is a well-established, pop-culture media outlet. It is not explicitly about sex or relationships; foremost it is about music. But it also covers politics, film, television and current events, and so offers a useful window into how women and men are portrayed generally in popular culture."

After analyzing more than 1,000 images of men and women on Rolling Stone covers over the course of 43 years, the authors came to several conclusions. First, representations of both women and men have indeed become more sexualized over time; and, second, women continue to be more frequently sexualized than men. Their most striking finding, however, was the change in how intensely sexualized images of women -- but not men -- have become.

In order to measure the intensity of sexualized representations men and women, the authors developed a "scale of sexualization." An image was given "points" for being sexualized if, for example, the subject's lips were parted or his/her tongue was showing, the subject was only partially clad or naked, or the text describing the subject used explicitly sexual language.

Based on this scale, the authors identified three categories of images: a) those that were, for the most part, not sexualized (i.e., scoring 0-4 points on the scale), b) those that were sexualized (5-10 points), and c) those that were so intensely sexualized that the authors labeled them "hypersexualized" (11-23 points).

In the 1960s they found that 11 percent of men and 44 percent of women on the covers of Rolling Stone were sexualized. In the 2000s, 17 percent of men were sexualized (an increase of 55 percent from the 1960s), and 83 percent of women were sexualized (an increase of 89 percent). Among those images that were sexualized, 2 percent of men and 61 percent of women were hypersexualized. "In the 2000s," Hatton says, "there were 10 times more hypersexualized images of women than men, and 11 times more non-sexualized images of men than of women."

"What we conclude from this is that popular media outlets such as Rolling Stone are not depicting women as sexy musicians or actors; they are depicting women musicians and actors as ready and available for sex. This is problematic," Hatton says, "because it indicates a decisive narrowing of media representations of women.

"We don't necessarily think it's problematic for women to be portrayed as 'sexy.' But we do think it is problematic when nearly all images of women depict them not simply as 'sexy women' but as passive objects for someone else's sexual pleasure."

These findings are important, the authors say, because a plethora of research has found such images to have a range of :

"Sexualized portrayals of women have been found to legitimize or exacerbate violence against women and girls, as well as sexual harassment and anti-women attitudes among men and boys," Hatton says. "Such images also have been shown to increase rates of body dissatisfaction and/or eating disorders among men, women and girls; and they have even been shown to decrease sexual satisfaction among both men and women."

"For these reasons," says Hatton, "we find the frequency of sexualized images of in popular media, combined with the extreme intensity of their sexualization, to be cause for concern."

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Techno1
4.4 / 5 (7) Aug 10, 2011
This gets a big "duh".

Almost everything in advertising has become noticeably more and more sexualized just within my memory.

There is a hyper-sexualized overtone in nearly every television ad or billboard ad, and many googe search ads are also hyper sexualized, even when the product has nothing to do with sex.
Pyle
4 / 5 (7) Aug 10, 2011
duh is an understatement. This study is like watching a forest fire and showing that the temperature reading of one particular tree was hotter than before the fire.

The media in the US is depraved and misogynistic. And you know what? People lap it up. Sex sells. The only way to fix it is to change consumer behavior. Look at Tipper Gore's "Explicit Lyrics" campaign. All that did was increase record sales when you have the label.

I don't offer any solutions. I wouldn't know where to start. All I know is that the world is still not as safe a place for a girl as it is for a boy (not that it is very safe for either).
fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (2) Aug 10, 2011
So many problems with this study i cant even begin, but if i was forced to make a list, "duh" would definitely be in the top 10.
emsquared
not rated yet Aug 10, 2011
To sexualized ads and adults in those ads, I say "meh".

It's how that is allowed to interact with kids of course that's of concern. And then it is up to a decent parent to make sure their kid either doesn't consume that product or contextualizes it so the kid knows it's a reprehensible sales mechanism, not some ideal. You can't prevent kids from being exposed to due to TV and the internet, but again you probably shouldn't want to because the reality of society is it is sexual, so long as the parent properly contextualizes the situation and has otherwise informed their kid well, there shouldn't be too much to fear. Trying to hide it like it doesn't exist would be a problem.

Sexualizing kids is of course another matter that society has a problem with as well.

Other than that, there's more problems with a Puritanical, sexually repressive society than an openly sexual one, IMO (and I think civil rights data would support that).
Pyle
5 / 5 (2) Aug 10, 2011
Other than that, there's more problems with a Puritanical, sexually repressive society than an openly sexual one, IMO (and I think civil rights data would support that).
I hope my comments above didn't suggest I favor a Puritanical, sexually repressive society. I am all in favor of sexual freedom. People should be free to express themselves as they see fit and participate in the activities they chose, so long as they aren't harming others.

Where I have a problem is with places like Hooters. "Come eat crappy fried food and stare at barely legal women in tight shirts." The line between creating an image for a product that entices people to buy it and objectifying the women selling it isn't clear. Society seems to reinforce valuing women for how they look rather than as human beings. The result is a cycle of low self esteem and violence against women. I think the answer lies in education and illuminating the impact our media has on people's attitudes and behavior.
emsquared
5 / 5 (1) Aug 10, 2011
People should be free to express themselves as they see fit and participate in the activities they chose, so long as they aren't harming others.
...
The result is a cycle of low self esteem and violence against women.

I agree with you in theory, however I don't know that you can have a "sexually liberated" culture without that exploitative element (or is it empowerment?). Those barely legal women are adults and they chose to take that job for pay, I think you'd have a hard time demonstrating anyone is being harmed there, this goes for advertisements or our cult of celebrity in general.

The cycle of low self esteem and violence against women I would say is arguably less today than say 60 years ago and certainly less than the 1900s. It just looks different.

Of course there's room for improvement, but again that comes in at the parenting or perhaps teaching level, if someone leaves it up to TV to teach their kids what to value, of course things are gonna be FUBAR.
Pyle
not rated yet Aug 10, 2011
I don't know that you can have a "sexually liberated" culture without that exploitative element
I guess paying for sex, either explicitly or figuratively doesn't equal sexually liberated for me. I absolutely think we can do it without the exploitation. Many of those adult women are less than excited about the degradation they endure to pay their bills.

The cycle ... is arguably less today than say 60 years ago
Just because something is better now doesn't mean that we are where we should be.

but again that comes in at the parenting or perhaps teaching level
Parenting and education are definitely part of the solution, but addressing the issue in individual households isn't going to solve the problem. This is a societal issue that needs to be illuminated and discussed at many levels. Companies that exploit women should be called on it and consumers should punish those companies rather than patronizing them. But that is just my opinion
bottomlesssoul
5 / 5 (3) Aug 10, 2011
I have to admit I like this trend and look forward to see how far it can be pushed.
_nigmatic10
not rated yet Aug 11, 2011
@bottomlesssoul-

Scratch and sniffs.
Negative
not rated yet Aug 11, 2011
well, it may be linked to the evolution of our species, survival of the fittest, what do I know?...
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Aug 11, 2011
I don't offer any solutions. I wouldn't know where to start. All I know is that the world is still not as safe a place for a girl as it is for a boy (not that it is very safe for either).
Well, since the western world is now a womans world, they must be firmly bound to it. Looking like the women in these ads costs a lot of money. Women need to work hard to buy the clothes, cars, homes, makeup, personal trainers, stylists etc to keep up.

Liberating women to choose the best donor for each and every child they wish to bear (or think they may want to bear or pretend to want to bear) throws women into heated competition with one another.

They MUST look as young and as hot as they can or they may lose their current mate, or fail to attract the one and only Prince Charming they were promised as little girls. A prince who they can never find as each man is far from perfect and women are trained to discern flaws.

Liberation is a double-edged sword. It means women can never relax.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Aug 11, 2011
People should be free to express themselves as they see fit and participate in the activities they chose, so long as they aren't harming others.
You bet Pyle but as there are always women in today's world looking to trade up, sexual liberation means the women with mates they want to keep always live in fear of other women. Since women who look like those in the ads are all over the workplace and at the gym and in restaurants etc, this all makes western women in general very nervous indeed.

The most substantial Effect of all this, of course, is overworked women, unstable families, and less incentive to reproduce. It RESTRICTS the GROWTH RATE. Western indigenes have achieved zero growth, making room for overflow from 3rd world countries.

Those who escape the turmoil of religionist cultures are resourceful and pragmatic enough to do so, and more amenable to adopting western mores as a result. The west benefits immensely while obsolete cultures are weakened.
OldBlackCrow
not rated yet Aug 11, 2011
I don't take the idea that women are more "exploited" via advertising and such very seriously. Of course, abuse and such are deplorable, but most porn and modeling are a choice most men and women make. Just on personal experience, I personally hate makeup on women. I've told my wife that when we were dating and have repeated it
over the years... yet, she still feels she must wear it when we go out... along with her high heels (which I hate) and her Coach bag. She grew up on a farm in the Philippines with no magazines or TV. So, I think a lot of this is innate to many females.

And seriously, how does one sell anything without exploitation? ... especially in a free market ...

So why aren't men as "exploited " as women? I like the answer from Seinfeld when Elaine said, "women's bodies are a work of art... men's are built more like a Jeep. "
Pyle
not rated yet Aug 11, 2011
I don't take the idea that women are more "exploited" via advertising and such very seriously.
Which is entirely the problem with our society. People don't take seriously the effect such exploitation has on the value we place on women in our society.
most porn and modeling are a choice most men and women make
With respect to porn, I'd argue that for most they make the choice because of the money, not because it is a profession of "choice." I won't say they are desperate, but I'd go so far as to say a large number of prostitutes are, and that their profession is a last resort. Modeling is a bit different, but given the history of eating disorders associated with modeling there is a problem of perception.

So why aren't men as "exploited " as women?
Because of hormones. Men are more susceptible to visual stimulation while women tend to be driven more by other enticements. Again, societal norms play a huge role there.
emsquared
5 / 5 (1) Aug 11, 2011
Which is entirely the problem with our society. People don't take seriously the effect such exploitation has on the value we place on women in our society.

See the problem with this statement is you are assuming media determines societal values. Responsibility lies with the parental figures to teach kids what to value. I grew up in the 80s, exposed to all the rise of sexual advertising and what not that a kid can be and I respect and treat women with veneration because that's how my parents raised me, my dad to respect women, my mom as a woman to be respected. You are making an excuse for bad parents. "It's societies fault not mine." Bull. Shit.

But don't get me wrong, I recognize environment factors in just as much if not more than parenting (depending on time devoted to parenting) but if you're expecting our culture/society-for-sale to change, you're expecting too much. It's people that have to change. Society is nothing more than the aggregate of it's people.
Pyle
not rated yet Aug 11, 2011
Society is nothing more than the aggregate of it's people.
Yup. I agree and commiserate with everything you said. That is why I am talking about it. I don't have a cure all. It is a problem and I am letting people know I think so.

Regarding parenting. Unfortunately the necessity of the two income household has left parenting up to the television in more than half of America. The media is a reflection of and reinforces societal values. Determines? Maybe influences is a better word.
OldBlackCrow
5 / 5 (2) Aug 12, 2011
I think some are ignoring the fact that these same concepts cross culture and historical boundaries. Prostitution used to be part of religion (as in the Assyrian culture) and completely tolerated in history and modern cultures. Like I said above, not all women and men choose freely this profession, but many do. And I'm still curious why it's wrong to choose this profession based on money alone. I know many people who work at jobs they utterly hate and feel they have no other choice but for money... but do we look at them as a society and cry "exploitation"? What I believe is going on is a discrimination of sorts from people who believe getting paid for sex is wrong. Values, mores, and ethics are varied and for some things quite personal or at least cultural/subcultural.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Aug 12, 2011
I don't take the idea that women are more "exploited" via advertising and such very seriously.
Which is entirely the problem with our society. People don't take seriously the effect such exploitation has on the value we place on women in our society.
most porn and modeling are a choice most men and women make
With respect to porn, I'd argue ...blahblah... but I'd go so far as to say a large number of prostitutes are, and that their profession is a last resort. Modeling is a bit different, but given the history of eating disorders associated with modeling there is a problem of perception.
So why aren't men as "exploited " as women?
Because of hormones. Men are more susceptible to visual stimulation while women tend to be driven more by other enticements. Again, societal norms play a huge role there.
You are naive. Both sexes are driven primarily by the biological NEED to reproduce. That's what sex is FOR. Culture can only hope to mollify this.
Vendicar_Decarian
5 / 5 (1) Aug 13, 2011
It is a sign of a sexually immature culture.
Husky
not rated yet Aug 13, 2011
what i have noticed that since the 90's nearly every heterosexual porn movie includes anal sex, as if we are trying to deliberately detach the act of sex from reproductive purposes, this co-incides with the girl-power trend we have watched from the nineties, so its not female-exploitatation, rather females exploiting?
Isaacsname
not rated yet Aug 13, 2011
And hence the rise in body dismorphia among women.

Brace yourself and turn down your speakers.

http://www.youtub...embedded

Reminds me of Venus figurines:

Answer your question Bottomlessoul ?

Personally, I think it's sort of a disturbing trend, butt if I did marry a girl with a booty like that, I'd at least have a place to park my bicycle.
ROBTHEGOB
not rated yet Aug 14, 2011
I think this subject deserves a lot more study, without all the pre-conceived notions of feminist clap-trap. Should happen any day now.
Code_Warrior
3 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2011
Most of the drivel I have read in these comments is nothing more than excuse making designed to make victims out of weak minded fools (WMFs). The advertising exists because it works on them.

If WMFs are easily influenced by a woman flaunting her sex appeal then they deserve whatever grief they get from acting on that influence. If some women feel like they must flaunt their sex appeal to attract a mate, then they are also WMFs simply going after the very same WMFs that are influenced by such things. Those women deserve the men they attract and I couldn't care less how it negatively affects them or their self esteem.

People have to take responsibility for their behavior. I am not influenced by sex appeal except in the privacy of my bedroom when my wife is trying to arouse me. While she may have some grand scheme to influence me through the use of sex, in her case, I don't care and I deserve whatever grief I get from acting on that influence.

People need to grow up.
Skepticus
not rated yet Aug 14, 2011
The trouble began when humans started wearing cloth..!
OldBlackCrow
not rated yet Aug 14, 2011
Code_writer, I think you hit the nail on the head. Too many people forget that this country is founded on individual liberty/responsibility.
PinkElephant
not rated yet Aug 14, 2011
Just the free market at work. Best-selling publications are those most liked by the consumers. Clearly, consumers prefer sex, and lots of it -- especially where it concerns things to do with women. Hm, who woulda thunk that Puritan/Victorian values are completely unnatural in the context of homo sapiens?
kochevnik
1 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2011
Religion began as a sex cult. Rome had numerous sexual displays in honor of sacred sex. However around that time new cults deemed spirit as the sacred substance, in conflict with sex. The spirit was sacred because it was material yet invisible, and blew through the tassels speaking in voices. Spirit, in other words, is just air.

The modern schism in Abraham religions is due to this air/sex conflict throbbing in the unconscious mind.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2011
Hm, who woulda thunk that Puritan/Victorian values are completely unnatural in the context of homo sapiens?


Sexual women are goddesses in sacred sex. Sexual women are harlots, whores and evil as they detract from the spirit [the air]. Men are sent into a destroy-that-which-you-love mission by the very fabric of society, molded by these two conflicting mythos.

Sexual woman in nature, obviously, are completely free of neurosis and conflict. Both the malware of religion and residual myths infect values and behavior. Such willful retardation, a mimetic virus, presents the greatest threat to femininity.
Wulfgar
not rated yet Aug 14, 2011
In the west we are taught that humans are commodities. Everything is for sale and sex appeal is homogenized and processed on an industrial scale for mass appeal. The blond bombshell on the cover of cosmo is not a real person but an airbrushed mannequin that I for one find distasteful and disturbing. I think this idealization of inhuman beauty in addition to the capitalist mass commodification of the female is what's causing the problem here, not the sexualization of women. This happens to men too, but it's less about their bodies and more about their net worth, whether their willing to act like juiced up neandertals in order to get ahead, etc.
OldBlackCrow
not rated yet Aug 15, 2011
I mistakenly referenced code_warrior as code_writer... my apologies.
Pyle
not rated yet Aug 15, 2011
See. This is what I was talking about. It is like the violent imagery in our culture as well. All of this commercialization of sex, violence, etc. has an impact on individuals. Is the answer to censor everything? No. But we need to be aware of the impact our media is having on our society.

Everybody should be thinking and talking about this stuff and acting out on it. If you are OK with it, that's fine, buy the crap they're selling. But at least take the time to consider where we are headed. Remember that the weak minded fools are electing idiots into office that are passing the laws that govern our actions.

I think the answer is to build a responsible society instead of the current live and let decay culture I see all around me.
Code_Warrior
1 / 5 (1) Aug 15, 2011
Remember that the weak minded fools are electing idiots into office that are passing the laws that govern our actions.

I think the answer is to build a responsible society instead of the current live and let decay culture I see all around me.


I don't know if there is anything you can do about it except set an example by not allowing that to influence you.

In the short term, is hard to do the right thing and easy to do the wrong thing. The self correction mechanism is supposed to be the hard lessons learned from the long term grief that comes with doing the wrong thing. However, when society begins diminishing the long term grief associated with doing the wrong thing, then there is less incentive to do the right thing. When doing the wrong thing becomes glamorous or gets subsidized and/or rewarded without fear of the long term grief, well, society declines. You can lead a horse to water....
kochevnik
1 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2011
All of this commercialization of sex, violence, etc. has an impact on individuals. Is the answer to censor everything? No.

In American film history, censorship rules governing sex provoked filmmakers to create the extremely violent "roughies" which were two hours of violence and mayhem inflicted upon women, often bound and gagged. Violence became an acceptable substitute for sex. This pure torture porn fused with sex in the American mindset, preceding a crime wave against women beginning in the 60s which continues today. Whereas prior films glorified women, censorship itself instigated a permanent culture of American violence and misogyny.
Shamus123
not rated yet Aug 17, 2011
The real question here is: who let these women out of the kitchen to get their pictures taken anyway??