"Scientifically" proving objectification?
by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux
The Daily Princetonian contacted me last night and asked me to comment on the new Princeton study which was the subject of today's article "Men view half-naked women as objects, study finds." Jordan Bubin has already discussed the article in his post today, but I just want to add my voice to the chorus saying, alternately, "thanks for that, Captain Obvious!" and "this is a scientific study?" The summary of the study (conducted by Princeton psychology professor Susan Fiske, Mina Cikara GS and Stanford psychology professor Jennifer Eberhardt) which was sent to me last night was even vaguer than the Prince article, which revealed that this study was conducted on just 21 Princeton undergraduates who identified as heterosexual.
I am not a psychologist. But I think I was taught in second grade that when conducting a scientific experiment, you need a representative sample of the population. And the last time I checked, even the randomest sample of Princeton males is not going to come close to representing the world's male population. And really, if we already know that these men are sexist (and I'd like to take this sexism questionnaire that they gave the subjects - how, exactly, does one test for sexism?), why are we even bothering to test to see which parts of their brain light up? I am very suspicious of any study which seeks to make broad generalizations about either of the genders - it's exactly on these grounds that I oppose the near-constant references to women and oxytocin in the discussions of the hook-up culture that have stormed campus in the past week. It doesn't just give people a free pass to make the same generalizations about women (and I found it hilarious that the researchers admitted that the same was probably true for women's objectification of men - they just didn't bother to test for it), but dangerously encourages our propensity to differentiate between the sexes, rather than within them. Objectification of women is a problem, yes, but we don't need science to tell us that. And really, if we establish that this is an inescapable "scientific" phenomenon (which I don't think it is), then we allow people to start making the arguments that "men can't help it" when they "happen" to objectify women, or that they have a "natural" propensity to rape or sexually abuse them.
I watched a short film called "The Pornography of the Everyday Life" for my gender and politics class today, and the images that it showed - mainstream advertising which depicted women as bound, half-dead, sexual objects - were incredibly disturbing. There is absolutely no denying that the researchers had good intentions, because objectification of women is a serious problem, and it's incredibly pervasive. But this study trivializes the problem, and could be seriously damaging to real efforts to stop objectification. Last night, I told the Prince that I didn't have enough information about the study to say anything concrete. But now - unless there is more information that they somehow left out - I think it's silly, and ultimately hurts the cause.