Tag Archives: Women

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.

~

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.

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.

It’s More Than Just Body Image, It’s How We Relate to the World

A couple of weeks ago, someone passed along an excellent video of a woman describing her experience with the pressures of body image. It’s an important video and I hope you take the time to watch it (whether you’re a female or a male). As I’ve talked about before, it’s important to understand just how the media is unintentionally reinforcing certain beliefs about the way we think, act, and feel, as a society.

There is one particular piece that’s not explicitly stated in the video that I wanted to highlight: the way of being in the world. Lily Myers talks about this sense that men were taught to “grow out” and women were taught to “grow in.” In a sense, it was okay for men to take up space and not okay for women to take up space. This is important and we should consider this in more contexts than body image. For instance, we often hear about how men are more likely to get promoted quicker or have better salaries. There are myriad reasons for this, but what if wrinkle to those debates are because women are taught to, from a very young age, that taking up space is ‘not okay.’

Of course, I’m not saying that women are actively being taught that their existence isn’t warranted, (though that’s the case in some parts of the world). It’s the subtleties that Myers speaks about in her video. This idea that she is watching her mother and understanding that ‘this is how I should behave, too.’

When I watch a video like this and hear the powerful message, I can’t help but hope that many people will see it. That many people will take this opinion in and consider that this is actually how someone else feels in the world. That this experience could be shared by many. If after watching this video, you’re wondering just how Lily Myers and our society came to be this way, I’d encourage you to check out Miss Representation, which came out a couple of years ago and, in February of 2014, The Mask You Live In

Here’s the text from the poem:

Across from me at the kitchen table, my mother smiles over red wine that she drinks out of a measuring glass.
She says she doesn’t deprive herself,
but I’ve learned to find nuance in every movement of her fork.
In every crinkle in her brow as she offers me the uneaten pieces on her plate.
I’ve realized she only eats dinner when I suggest it.
I wonder what she does when I’m not there to do so.

Maybe this is why my house feels bigger each time I return; it’s proportional.
As she shrinks the space around her seems increasingly vast.
She wanes while my father waxes. His stomach has grown round with wine, late nights, oysters, poetry. A new girlfriend who was overweight as a teenager, but my dad reports that now she’s “crazy about fruit.”

It was the same with his parents;
as my grandmother became frail and angular her husband swelled to red round cheeks, rotund stomach
and I wonder if my lineage is one of women shrinking
making space for the entrance of men into their lives
not knowing how to fill it back up once they leave.

I have been taught accommodation.
My brother never thinks before he speaks.
I have been taught to filter.
“How can anyone have a relationship to food?” He asks, laughing, as I eat the black bean soup I chose for its lack of carbs.
I want to tell say: we come from difference, Jonas,
you have been taught to grow out
I have been taught to grow in
you learned from our father how to emit, how to produce, to roll each thought off your tongue with confidence, you used to lose your voice every other week from shouting so much
I learned to absorb
I took lessons from our mother in creating space around myself
I learned to read the knots in her forehead while the guys went out for oysters
and I never meant to replicate her, but
spend enough time sitting across from someone and you pick up their habits

that’s why women in my family have been shrinking for decades.
We all learned it from each other, the way each generation taught the next how to knit
weaving silence in between the threads
which I can still feel as I walk through this ever-growing house,
skin itching,
picking up all the habits my mother has unwittingly dropped like bits of crumpled paper from her pocket on her countless trips from bedroom to kitchen to bedroom again,
Nights I hear her creep down to eat plain yogurt in the dark, a fugitive stealing calories to which she does not feel entitled.
Deciding how many bites is too many
How much space she deserves to occupy.

Watching the struggle I either mimic or hate her,
And I don’t want to do either anymore
but the burden of this house has followed me across the country
I asked five questions in genetics class today and all of them started with the word “sorry”.
I don’t know the requirements for the sociology major because I spent the entire meeting deciding whether or not I could have another piece of pizza
a circular obsession I never wanted but

inheritance is accidental
still staring at me with wine-stained lips from across the kitchen table.

 

Women in Movies: Why Can’t Men Be The Weak Characters?

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to see a lovely coming of age story in The Way, Way BackI rather enjoyed it and so did my movie companion. In fact, I even thought Steve Carrell was convincing as a ‘villain.’ The one thing that did bother me about the movie, though, was the weakness of Toni Collette‘s character.

I won’t spoil the plot because I think you can imagine what I’m talking about from the title of this post and my reference to a weak character. Why does the female always have to be the weak character? Why aren’t there more movies where the male character is weak or the female character is strong?

I realize that some folks may think that I’m quibbling over something small, but this subtle norm is pervasive in the culture and it perpetuates itself by people considering it something small. By not kicking up dust about this issue, the issue is allowed to continue on with the perception that it’s not worth discussing. Well — it is worth discussing.

Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about a Kickstarter campaign that is the Yang to the issue we’re talking about. Have you heard of Miss Representation? It’s a powerful documentary from 2011 that dissects the portrayal of women in the media. The Yin. The Yang version is due to come out in February. It’s called: The Mask You Live In. The Kickstarter campaign closed yesterday and they finished with more than 2400 backers and more than $100,000 pledged (125% of their goal).

If you don’t think the portrayal of gender in the media is important, then you simply must see Miss Representation and, when it comes out in February, The Mask You Live In. If you do think that the portrayal of gender in the media is important, then tell your friends! NOW!