Tag Archives: Gender

Women and Words: Women Who Read Objectifying Words More Likely to Seek Cosmetic Surgery

I’ve tried to write about this article on a few occasions and had to stop because I simply felt terrible with the implications of the research. In short, as the headline of this post suggests, when women read words that are objectifying, they’re more likely to seek cosmetic surgery. I’ve written about the importance of words and how they can have an effect on us in the past, but this is one of the first times I’ve written about it with such awful implications. Here’s a bit more from the researchers:

Our results provide the first evidence that intentions to pursue cosmetic surgery stem (in part) from being in a state of self-objectification— a state where women are focused on how their bodies look in the eyes of others as opposed to what their bodies can do. Compared to the non-self-objectifying conditions, women primed to self-objectify reported more body shame and a greater intent to pursue cosmetic surgery.

You might consider this finding to be intuitive, but it’s really important when research like this is published and we can say with more conviction that the words we use can have a catastrophic effect on some people. In particular, impressionable young women. I should clarify that I don’t mean for that to come across as paternalistic. The study focused on women (and didn’t include look at whether this effect holds in men, too).

While the headline from the article is mostly “Bad News Bears,” there’s still a ray of hope to be found [Emphasis Added]:

In addition, we found that body shame was significantly lower among women primed with the non-self-objectifying physicality words compared to the neutral words. This finding suggests that exposure to text that emphasizes body functionality and competence without a focus on observable physical attributes may be protective against selfobjectification and body shame.

As the researchers suggested, this should be subjected to further investigation. Regardless, these findings are very important for all of us who write for consumption in any form, but probably more so for folks who write for consumption by young women. Before I end this post, I wanted to include a few more passages from the article that I think are important, with some commentary [Emphasis Added]:

Our research has a number of implications for practitioners. First, knowledge of this link between self-objectification (stemming from a sexually objectifying environment) and intentions to have cosmetic surgery should be useful to practitioners who work with girls and women. In particular, it is necessary to move beyond the understanding that sexual objectification makes women feel bad per se to identify the potentially harmful actions against themselves that women might take in response to such encounters.

For those who are in any kind of counselling profession or role, this seems very important. Understanding the actions that a client/patient may take as a result of their state can be key to offering the right kind of counsel.

Second, community members who wish to advocate for girls and women—including activists, educators, counselors, and policymakers—must raise awareness of the harms of self-objectification more consistently, including the pressure to undergo risky elective surgery.

Raise awareness. That’s why, despite my difficulty in trying to complete this post, I persevered. Persevere is probably too strong of a word, but I felt it important to write this, so that when you read this, you may consider changing your behaviour and hopefully, educate those around you in the hopes that they may change their behaviour, too.

Third, more emphasis should be placed on expanding the self and identity of girls and women to provide other domains in which they can glean social rewards and secure esteem beyond a sexualized appearance.

Please, please, please, rent/buy Miss Representation and tell your friends about it. It’s one of the most succinct (and recent) documentaries exploring the issues with how women are portrayed in the media.

Fourth, it is necessary to provide girls and women with specific actions that can be taken in the face of sexual objectification that do not require modification of one’s body in order to arm them with a greater sense of control over these largely uncontrolled and uncontrollable situations.

This goes back to that first point about those in the helping professions — it’s so important that one is able to offer a different avenue of action for one who is seeking out something like cosmetic surgery as a result of self-objectification.

Fifth, to the extent that self-objectification might be a risk factor for repeated surgery and low satisfaction with surgical outcomes, engagement with cosmetic surgery professionals to at least think about the implications of these patterns is worthwhile.

Almost as a “last resort” kind of thing, as the researchers suggested, it would be important for folk who work in cosmetic surgery offices to have knowledge of this issue of self-objectification (through the words they’ve read). While it may not be “good for business,” I would hope that for folks who work in this industry, counselling their potential clients on research like this would come first. I should clarify that I don’t mean to imply that anyone working in the cosmetic surgery industry is simply in it for the money, it’s as noble as any other medical field (consider those who work in plastic surgery, which is the umbrella that cosmetic surgery falls under, that seek to help burn victims).

Finally, it is critical that practitioners take up the challenge of changing the system of sexual objectification that perpetuates self-objectification and the concomitant consequences in the first place (Calogero & Tylka, in press). In light of the potential risks of undergoing any surgery and anesthesia, the pursuit of elective cosmetic surgery may represent another harmful micro-level consequence of selfobjectification for women, which will require our attention on many fronts.

ResearchBlogging.orgCalogero, R., Pina, A., & Sutton, R. (2013). Cutting Words: Priming Self-Objectification Increases Women’s Intention to Pursue Cosmetic Surgery Psychology of Women Quarterly, 38 (2), 197-207 DOI: 10.1177/0361684313506881

The Partisan Gap Amongst Female Politicians is Likely to Get Worse

If I’m being honest, when I first read the title of this journal article “A partisan gap in the supply of female potential candidates in the United States,” I didn’t think twice. Pew often publishes surveys/research that seemed to indicate that the gap between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, with regard to women candidates, was very unequal. As a result, I didn’t expect to be surprised when reading the journal article. However, there was one section that I think is especially important [Emphasis Added]:

Previous studies demonstrating single digit gender gaps in US party identification have not been able to explain the much larger gap when it comes to US elected officials. But representatives do not emerge from the public at large: they are disproportionately individuals with high education, high occupational prestige, and clear partisan preferences.

The researchers are implying that the people who run for office aren’t usually representative of the population at large (something we already knew). The important part here, though, is that they used this assumption to extrapolate to future Congress’s [Emphasis Added]:

By estimating the gender composition of this select group by partisanship, we find that the partisan gender gap is much larger among the kinds of citizens who tend to become representatives and that the emergence of this gap was contemporaneous with the historical emergence of a partisan gender gap in the US House.

Meaning, amongst those people who are more likely to seek political office, there is a larger gender gap than there is amongst the general population. Taking this one step further [Emphasis Added]:

Given the current associations between gender, partisanship, and other attributes among the public, the data suggest that future generational replacement may exacerbate the already significant gap in women’s descriptive representation between the parties, potentially reshaping the behavior of each party’s elected officials, the quality of representation available to diverse members of the public, and opinions of the public toward the Republican and Democratic parties.

Translation: if things continue as they are, the gender gap between Democrats and Republicans is likely to get worse — much worse — and it’s already pretty bad.

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Given how things can shift from year-to-year (or session-to-session), it’s hard to too confident in categorically saying that the Democrats will continue to have more women in their ranks than the Republicans. However, the data certainly seem to point to things not getting better.

While my views tend to lean to the liberal side of the spectrum, I’d still like to see more women represented in the Republican party. They are one of the two dominant (only? viable?) parties in the US and if there’s only one party that’s represented by women, that won’t necessarily lead to the best decisions for women or for Americans (and by extension, citizens of the world in general).

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Assuming that Hillary Clinton is able to become the first woman POTUS, I’d be really curious to see the result of a longitudinal study on women in politics. Theoretically, by having a Madam President, there’d be a role model for young women to aspire to. So, I’d want to test the attitudes of young women (pre-teens and teens) every year for the next 20+ years to see if there is an increase in the number of young women who aspire to be Congresswomen, Senators, and maybe even President of the United States! My hypothesis is that there’d be an increase in the desire amongst the people tested, but as the research earlier in this post alluded to, in order for there to be an increase in the number of women in politics, there needs to be an increase in the number of women who are more likely to run for President from that group of people.

ResearchBlogging.orgCrowder-Meyer, M., & Lauderdale, B. (2014). A partisan gap in the supply of female potential candidates in the United States Research & Politics, 1 (1) DOI: 10.1177/2053168014537230

Pitch Perfect 2: A Sociological Perspective?

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to see Pitch Perfect 2. In fact, it was the first movie I’ve been able to see in the theatre since becoming a parent and I have to say, I’m glad that it was one like this. If you’ve been reading the things I’ve written, you know I like to take a look at things in the grander picture. (In fact, I didn’t realize this until I started writing this post, but I wrote something about Pitch Perfect a couple of years ago.) Anyhow, the grander picture.

*SPOILER ALERT*

I should warn you that I plan on talking about elements of the movie that may spoil it for you, if you haven’t seen it, so either stop reading and go watch Pitch Perfect 2 right now (and then finishing reading when the movie ends) or read on with the knowledge that you may have part of the movie spoiled. If you’re reading on past this point, you’ve been warned…

The portion of the movie I’d like to discuss is right near the end. The Bellas are at the a capella World Championships and their nemesis — Das Sound Machine — has just given a great performance. Halfway through the Bellas performance, I’m thinking to myself, there’s no way the writer(s) could have written something that the Bellas could do to top what Das Sound Machine just did and the first half of this performance is proving that. At this point, it’s looking like the Bellas are ‘toast’ as they’ve begun singing an “original” song (is that a no-no in a capella competitions?). And then all the lights go out on stage and the singing stops momentarily. When the lights return, we see more than just the Bellas on-stage, we see Bellas from previous generations! Women that have long since graduated from Barden University have returned to help the current Bellas in their time of need.

Of course, that was enough to convince me that the performance was worthy of being deemed better than their opponents, but the more important part for me was the symbology of these previous generations of women who had come back to help the current generation of women. Forget for a moment that this is ‘simply’ a singing competition — this competition means a lot to these women. They’ve put their heart and soul into this and they really want to win. Their desire is no different from athletes who really want to win the championship in their sport of choice. So, seeing the previous generation of women come back to help the current generation was a very touching moment.

As a “white male,” I feel like don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to talking about the experiences of any minority (women included), but just the image of these mothers (and grandmothers?) who were doing what they could to help out the young folks was heart-warming. It feels like in today’s society, there’s a greater collective awareness of the plight of women. In fact, the first bill that President Obama signed into law was the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Even with this greater collective awareness feminists alike will tell you that we’ve still got a long way to go before there’s parity between the genders. With that in mind, I enjoyed seeing a movie that starred, was produced and directed by, women.

A Lesson in Overcomplicated: Gender-Neutral Washrooms

If you’ve ever been part of an organization, there’s a better chance than not that you’ve been involved in a meeting where at some point, you found yourself thinking, “what the heck are we doing?” Well, hopefully you’ve found yourself saying that, otherwise you might have fallen into the trap of overcomplicating something.

There was a great (and short!) post on Pacific Standard about the “problem” of a sign for a gender-neutral bathroom:

“But what would you put on the door?!” said a facility manager at an airport, his concern echoed by an administrator at a university: “When people are looking for a restroom, they look for the ‘man’ or ‘woman’ icon. It’s what we know to look for that means restroom.”

And the sign that answers this problem:

Wow, right?

This situation is a perfect example of how overthinking something can lead to a terrible and overcomplicated solution. Is this sign really necessary to signify that there’s a toilet behind the door (or around the corner, in the case of many airports)? Absolutely not.

While there are many problems we can talk about, let’s look at the key issue: false dilemma. Presumably, upon trying to to develop a solution to this problem, the people in the meeting thought that something had to be added to the existing sign. That is, the sign is usually a little man or a little woman, so we’ve got to make it resemble that little man or woman or people might be confused. There are clearly more options than creating that weird looking sign. From the post, there’s this sign offered:

That seems like a pretty good alternative to me. It’s universal in that many people know what a toilet looks like. To be sure, the person who came up with the idea of this pictorial representation took his laptop to a coffee shop to ask patrons if they could hazard a guess as to what was being the sign: 100% of participants were able to identify what would be behind a door with this sign on it. The author, obviously in jest, explained that his research was limited to a corner in Philadelphia, but I think it’s safe to say that most people would be able to perform as well as his participants.

So, the next time you’re in a meeting where your team is trying to come up with an idea that uses an existing structure/idea, double-check that it might not be better to approach the problem from a different perspective.

Why Women are Better CEOs, Presidents, and Prime Ministers

New research shows that women are far better at handling stress than men. I suppose that’s not a newsflash as most people already think that’s true, but consider the way in which this study frames it [Emphasis added]:

We consistently found the same general response pattern: while stressed women showed higher self-other distinction than women in the non-stressful control condition, men showed the converse pattern. More specifically, stressed women showed reduced emotional egocentricity bias, enabling them to judge the emotions of the other person in a way that was less influenced by their own emotional state. Moreover, their response times in the cognitive perspective-taking task decreased under stress, documenting that they were able to regulate the mismatch between their own and the “director’s” perspective faster under stress. Finally, stressed women showed a reduction of automatic imitative tendencies in the imitation-inhibition task, indicating that they were able to overcome low-level social signals interfering with their own movement intentions. Note that the latter finding is crucial. It highlights that women did not simply show an increase in other-related responses under stress – as this would have resulted in increased interference from automatic imitation. Instead, they were able to flexibly increase either self- or other-related representations, depending on the task demands which either required overcoming egocentric biases, or overcoming social interference.

As the stereotype goes, women are more “emotional” than men, so it would be much better for an organization or unit if it were managed by a man. However, this research is telling us that, when under stress, it is men who are less able to distinguish their emotional state from the intentions of those around them. It is men who are more adversely affected by stress. For women, it’s the opposite. In fact, women tend to be more prosocial [behaviour intended to benefit others] when they’re stressed. Meaning, instead of retreating inward, women are actually more helpful when they’re stressed.

This research certainly makes one think about the way that many organizations and countries are run today. Most people would agree that being a CEO, President, or Prime Minister certainly comes with oodles of stress. Unfortunately, the number of women who hold these positions is far outweighed by their male counterparts. Of course, there are a number of reasons for that, which we won’t get into in this post, but consider for a moment if the numbers were flipped. That is, what if there were more women CEOs (or high-powered leaders)? Or, what even if it was 50/50! What if the number of high-powered leaders and CEOs was 50% women and 50% men? At that point, would it be easier for folks to see, understand, and digest that women are actually better leaders and better at handling the stress?

Maybe it’s the language we use.

A quick Google search showed mixed results for “women are better CEOs.” In fact, many of the results near the top indicated that women CEOs are more likely to be fired. However, when I keyed in “women are better leaders,” I got plenty of positive results. Posts on Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, and articles talking about academic research in newspapers like The Globe and Mail.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the world during my time in it, it’s that change (usually) happens gradually. Rarely is there a massive cultural shift overnight. So, here’s hoping that research like this contributes to the realization for some that when it comes to managers and leadership, women just might have an edge over men.

ResearchBlogging.orgTomova L, von Dawans B, Heinrichs M, Silani G, & Lamm C (2014). Is stress affecting our ability to tune into others? Evidence for gender differences in the effects of stress on self-other distinction. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 43, 95-104 PMID: 24703175

How Our Culture Failed Women in 2013

I’ve written before about my affinity for the documentary Miss Representation and its “brother” film that’s coming out in a few weeks The Mask You Live In. Well, a few weeks ago, the organization responsible for those movies put out a wonderful — well, in some ways — video detailing the ways in which the media has failed women in 2013. At first, it lists some of the great achievements that women have had this year and then… the video turns a bit sour.

We see a time lapse of a woman being airbrushed on the cover of a magazine, very sexist advertising (magazine and commercial), oversexed music videos, movies, tv shows, and then it turns to how the media cover some news events. There are — seemingly — ignorant men (mostly) patronizing women either in person or talking about women in patronizing ways. However, there are some really powerful moments. There’s a segment from Rachel Maddow where she’s discussing how women can have all of these ticks in the boxes and still get talked to in a negative way. There’s also — and this is my favourite — a video from this past summer when the Texas legislature was trying to ram a bill through that severely limited the rights of women regarding abortion.

I realize that for some, this can be an issue that incites a lot of passion in one direction or the other, but my preference for the video has nothing to do with that issue and everything to do with this woman, this strong and powerful woman, standing up for herself and for women to what is a room and a profession dominated by men. I remember when the now famous Wendy Davis filibuster was first starting to take shape in June and I remember turning on the stream sometime in the evening and having it running in the background. And then as they got closer to the end when things were really getting interesting. I remember trying to understand some of the wonky ways that procedure was being applied and then I remember Leticia Van de Putte…

It was one of the most powerful things I’d ever seen live. And if I recall correctly, I think these words were enough to motivate the gallery (the visitors sitting up above watching) to make noise until the clock ran out and the filibuster worked. Again, I want to make it clear that I’m not arguing in favour or against the merits of the filibuster, but just to draw your attention to that moment when Leticia Van de Putte said those words and the crowd erupted. I wish it weren’t, but it seems an apt metaphor for so much of how the world works today.

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On a slightly happier (?) and stranger point, in an edition of The Economist from late last year, someone pointed out that Angela Merkel, the Chancellor (kind of like a President or Prime Minister) of Germany, appointed a female defence minister. And not only was this defense minster going to be a woman, but also that she is a gynecologist, entered politics at age 42, and has 7 children.

I think it’s great that Germany has appointed a female defence minister, but I wish that it weren’t news that Germany appointed a female defense minister. I look forward to the time in my life where the fact that someone’s been appointed to high political office or has been crowned the CEO of a big corporation and happens to also be a female is not newsworthy.

Note: You’ll notice that I made the title of this post about “our culture” and not “the media” and that’s because I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to pin the failure all on the media. There’s a feedback loop between our culture and the media. Yes, the media could certainly end that feedback loop, but so could the culture. In a way, everyone deserves a bit of the blame.

The Mask You Live In – Gender Stereotypes in the Media

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 10.10.47 PMA couple of years ago, a really important documentary came out: Miss Representation. I mentioned it in my series about the people I follow on Twitter. I was surprised that when I did a search of the website that I hadn’t written about Miss Representation. The documentary brings to light how the media portray women. *Spoiler Alert* They don’t do a good job.

After I saw the film, my first reaction is that it should be required viewing in classrooms across the US (and probably Canada, too, as Canada does consume a great deal of US Media). This movie is really important, especially for teenagers and children. They need to see and understand the perversion of the portrayal of women in the media. As can be seen in the movie, a number of young girls seem quite grateful to learn that some of the beliefs that they’d internalized were a result of the media they consumed. I can only imagine the number of young girls across the US that had similar experiences upon seeing the movie. As a man, I was very moved by the the film and whole-heartedly support the cause of MissRepresentation.org (and hope you will check it out and support it, too!)

All that to say is, there’s going to be a “sequel” to the movie — this time, for the boys. Yes, we do a great disservice to our young women, but we also do a great disservice to our young men, too. The Director/Producer of Miss Representation has launched a Kickstarter to help fund The Mask You Live In. Based on some of the dates listed on the Kickstarter page, it looks like the movie is set to debut in February of 2014. I have already made a note in my calendar and can’t wait to see it!

If you have a few minutes, I strongly recommend heading over to the Kickstarter page to watch the trailer. And, if the project moves you, why not donate some money, too?