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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Self-Objectification
  4. Sexism
  5. Hyperfemininity
  6. Summary of Hypotheses
  7. METHOD
  8. RESULTS
  9. DISCUSSION
  10. REFERENCES

No known research has examined women's acceptance of self-sexualizing behaviors, which includes the use of catwalks at dance clubs, taking pole dance classes, and wearing clothing with sexually suggestive statements. Structural equation modeling assessed the links between choosing sexually objectifying media, internalized appearance ideals, and self-objectification to self-sexualizing behaviors and general acceptance of sexualizing behavior among 207 female university students. Media choice predicted one's own behavioral intentions and the acceptance of others' sexualizing behavior. Neither internalized appearance ideals nor self-objectification mediated these relations. Hyperfemininity and sexism were tested as individual difference variables predicting these variables. Hyperfemininity added to the prediction of self-sexualizing behaviors and general acceptance of sexualizing behavior, whereas sexism did not. Our results indicate that sociocultural ideals of women's sexual attractiveness predict women's intentions regarding, and acceptance of, sexualizing behavior. Self-sexualizing behavior may have negative consequences, including the lack of subjective experience of one's sexuality.

Public sexual expressiveness by young women is not new; however, some particular behaviors seem to be part of a trend in which both soft-core and hard-core pornography are becoming more visible in popular culture. For example, makers of the Girls Gone Wild (2004–2007) pornographic video series contribute to the sexual objectification of women by recruiting participants directly from public venues, including college campuses. This trend also includes catwalks at dance clubs, pole dance classes, and clothing branded with sexually suggestive statements. These behaviors are a form of self-sexualizing behavior. Sexualization, as defined by the American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls (2007), includes sexual objectification, valuing people primarily for their sex appeal, and setting sexiness as a standard of physical attractiveness. In addition to self-sexualizing behaviors, some women display a casual attitude toward the sexualization of women in general and to pornography in popular culture. The question is: why are many women participating in, or even accepting, this “pornified” culture? To the best of our knowledge, no research has examined the factors related to women's intentions regarding their own and acceptance of other women's sexualizing behavior. The purpose of our research is to assess the relations among choosing sexually objectifying media, internalization of sociocultural ideals about appearance, self-objectification, and women's intentions regarding, and acceptance of, sexualizing behavior.

The causes and consequences of the mainstreaming of pornography have been proposed in feminist critiques and commentary (Gill, 2003; Merskin, 2003; Whelehan, 2000). For example, Merskin (2003) compares what is labeled as pornography and what is found in mainstream fashion magazines, including common themes of submissiveness, objectification, and violence. She documents the ubiquitous sexually objectifying images and draws parallels between the risks of linking success with a sexual image and the dangers witnessed in attributing success to maintaining thinness. These risks may involve women focusing on how they look and feel to others as sexual objects in neglect of their own subjective experience of their sexuality.

The sexual representation of women in the media has been described as shifting from a passive position to an active, participating role (Berger, 2001). Gill (2003) argues that sexual objectification is now more insidious because it is disguised as sexual subjectivity and may be interpreted as empowering. In a patriarchal society that subordinates women, physical attractiveness has certainly been used by women as a means for attaining indirect social power (Rudd & Lennon, 1999); however, this use of physical attractiveness should not be confused with empowerment. Women may receive more attention from, and have more influence over, men who perceive them as sexually desirable, but it may come at the cost of being objectified and treated as a subordinate. Some women may feel empowered from embracing sexualization, but the behavior must be examined within the context of a society with gender imbalances in status and power. In fact, Whelehan (2000) claims that increasingly sexualized representations of women in popular culture are a regression to greater sexism. As such, women's threat to men's power may be reduced through sexual objectification.

The bombardment of sexualized images of women in society may lead some women to focus on how they look and feel to others as sexual objects in neglect of their own subjective experience of their sexuality, that is, they self-objectify. Furthermore, some women may come to see self-sexualizing behavior as a legitimate way to gain male attention, an attitude that relates to ideas about women's place in society, termed sexism, and their role in heterosexual relationships based on hyperfemininity. Hence, the constructs of self-objectification, sexism, and hyperfemininity will now be discussed in greater detail.

Self-Objectification

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Self-Objectification
  4. Sexism
  5. Hyperfemininity
  6. Summary of Hypotheses
  7. METHOD
  8. RESULTS
  9. DISCUSSION
  10. REFERENCES

Sexual objectification occurs when a person is treated as an object or a body. This process mutes subjective experience so that the body is thought to exist primarily for the pleasure or use of others (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). In Westernized societies, there is a preoccupation with the physical appearance of women. This preoccupation is conveyed through interpersonal encounters when women are gazed upon by men and through visual media such as advertisements or when the male gaze is implied through the presentation of women's bodies and body parts. This objectifying emphasis on women can be found in the visual media of pornography, movies, music videos, television shows, and advertisements (Aubrey, 2006; Hofschire, 2004). For example, reality television showing cosmetic surgery makeovers is associated with women's awareness of media pressure regarding appearance ideals and stronger beliefs about their ability to control their appearance (Mazzeo, Trace, Mitchell, & Walker Gow, 2007).

Objectification theory argues that the bombardment of sexual images of women's bodies can lead to internalization of the audience's viewpoint. That is, by taking the observer's perspective, women learn how to monitor and evaluate themselves based on sociocultural standards of physical appearance. For example, in a 2-year panel study of undergraduate students, Aubrey (2006) found that exposure to sexually objectifying television programs during the first year of the study predicted higher levels of trait self-objectification a year later for both men and women. Internalization of sociocultural attitudes about appearance did not account for this relationship (see also Hofschire, 2004). Morry and Staska (2001) also found that exposure to beauty magazines was correlated with young women's self-objectification; this relationship was mediated by the internalization of sociocultural appearance ideals. Viewing sexually objectifying media is also linked to greater body dissatisfaction and disordered eating patterns (Hawkins, Richards, Granley, & Stein, 2004; Stice & Shaw, 1994; Tiggemann & Pickering, 1996) and the relationship between magazine exposure and eating disorder symptoms is mediated by internalization of sociocultural attitudes about appearance (Stice, Schupak-Neuberg, Shaw, & Stein, 1994). Therefore, media exposure is associated with young women's attitudes and behaviors related to their bodies.

Although women have historically had attention directed at their appearance, with the mainstreaming of pornography, there seems to be pressure to be sexually alluring in addition to being thin and beautiful. This focus on sexiness has been perpetuated by the media in several forms, such as the buzzword “hot,” as used in reality shows and phrases such as “Hot or Not,” originally coined by a Web site through which people can rate each other's physical appearance. Analyses of magazine advertisements demonstrated an increase in sexual content from 1983 through 2003 (Reichert & Carpenter, 2004). Reality television plays a part by providing a venue through which women can participate in the exploitation of their own sexuality (Stern, 2005). Stern's study of women's interpretation of the representations of female sexuality on reality television revealed that women were aware of the exploitative and unrealistic nature of the shows, but they also viewed it as a “relatively ‘real’ vehicle” for representing young women's lives in terms of how they are treated and how they behave. Their ambivalence was evidenced by the fact that participants were critical of female cast members yet would consider being a cast member themselves. Thus, similar to the thin ideal, the sexualization of women in the media may promote an additional standard for women's physical appearances and behaviors.

Sexually objectifying media may be linked to attitudes about women in general. Greater exposure to mainstream media among young women has been connected to greater acceptance of sexually objectifying notions of women (Ward, 2002; Zurbriggen & Morgan, 2006). For example, among undergraduate women, greater exposure to reality dating television programs was associated with greater adversarial sexual beliefs, the endorsement of a sexual double standard, and the belief that appearance was important for dating (Zurbriggen & Morgan, 2006). Gurung and Chrouser (2007) found that women objectify other women when targets were shown in provocatively dressed outfits, but not in nonprovocative attire. Therefore, exposure to sexualized media not only affects women's views of themselves, but also may be linked to attitudes toward other women.

In sum, exposure to sexually objectifying media has been linked to young women's attitudes and behaviors about their own bodies and their objectifying notions about other women. Thus, we hypothesized that choosing more media containing sexualized images of women would be positively associated with the internalization of societally endorsed standards of sexual expressiveness. We also hypothesized that media choice may positively correlate with self-objectification and, subsequently, participation in self-sexualizing behavior and a casual attitude toward other women's participation in self-sexualizing behavior. In both of these hypotheses, media choice is a predictor of the other variables. However, individual difference variables may impact the types of media an individual chooses to view. Two such variables are sexist attitudes and hyperfemininity.

Sexism

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Self-Objectification
  4. Sexism
  5. Hyperfemininity
  6. Summary of Hypotheses
  7. METHOD
  8. RESULTS
  9. DISCUSSION
  10. REFERENCES

Sexism is unique in that it presents a power imbalance between two groups, men and women, who often have intimate relationships with each other. Because of these relationships, sexism can take on an ambivalent form made up of two interrelated components: benevolent and hostile sexism (Glick & Fiske, 1996). Glick and Fiske (2001) concluded that both forms of sexism contribute to and legitimize gender inequality. If sexist attitudes promote gender inequality, why would some women endorse such views and how might these attitudes be related to sexualized behavior?

Benevolent sexism is the view that women are to be revered and protected. Although appearing to be complimentary toward women, the implied message that women are weak suggests a position subordinate to men (Glick & Fiske, 1996, 1997). Expectations state theory proposes that some women act in accordance with their expected role so as not to threaten the status of men and risk being rejected by them (Ridgeway & Diekema, 1992; see also Jackman, 1994). Thus, women who hold stronger sexist beliefs endorse traditional gendered behaviors. For example, women higher in benevolent sexism used more beauty products when preparing for a romantic heterosexual date and expressed more positive feelings toward parts of their appearance that could be altered with cosmetics (Franzoi, 2001). Positioning women as pure and virtuous, benevolent sexism's acceptance of gendered behaviors may not extend to the more raunchy sexualizing behaviors akin to pornography. In fact, seeing women as pure and virtuous would be in opposition to self-sexualizing behavior and, therefore, individuals high in benevolent sexism should be less likely to view sexualizing media and should have negative attitudes toward sexualizing behaviors, both their own and that of other women.

Hostile sexism, the more overt component, involves negative attitudes toward women and a belief that women try to control men. Women high in hostile sexism may be more apt to accept degradation of women, such as accepting dumb blonde jokes (Greenwood & Isbell, 2002). As an individual difference variable, hostile sexism may also influence women's consumption of sexualizing media, images that subordinate and/or degrade women. Therefore, hostile sexism and benevolent sexism were proposed as individual difference variables that would be correlated with media choice, internalization of appearance ideals such as sociocultural attitudes about appearance, self-objectification, and women's intentions regarding and acceptance of self-sexualizing behaviors such as taking pole dance classes or wearing clothing with sexually suggestive statements. More specifically, we predicted that hostile sexism would be positively related to media choice and women's endorsement of self-sexualizing behavior, both their own and others, whereas benevolent sexism was expected to have a negative relationship with media choice and attitudes toward sexualizing behavior.

Hyperfemininity

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Self-Objectification
  4. Sexism
  5. Hyperfemininity
  6. Summary of Hypotheses
  7. METHOD
  8. RESULTS
  9. DISCUSSION
  10. REFERENCES

The notion of hyperfemininity, introduced by Murnen and Byrne (1991), has possible links to both ambivalent sexism and Objectification theory. Hyperfemininity has been defined as exaggerated adherence to a feminine gender role as it relates to heterosexual relationships (Murnen & Byrne, 1991). Specifically, hyperfeminine women view themselves as objects that can use their physical attributes and sexuality both to attract men and to maintain relationships with them. Women high in hyperfemininity place great value on having a relationship with a man. Hyperfemininity is correlated with traditional views of women that extend beyond heterosexual relationships to women's limited and subordinate positions in society (Murnen & Byrne, 1991).

Women who display hyperfeminine attitudes may garner more influence over men and be more physically attractive to them. For example, Matschiner and Murnen (1999) found that men expressed greater agreement with a woman displaying hyperfeminine characteristics than a woman displaying less hyperfemininity. Men also rated the hyperfeminine woman as more physically and sexually attractive. Because hyperfemininity includes the belief that women can use their sexuality to gain and maintain a relationship with a man, some women may view it as a means of attracting and influencing men. Thus, we propose that hyperfemininity is an individual difference variable that will predict women's media choice, internalized appearance ideals such as sociocultural attitudes about appearance, self-objectification, and self-sexualizing behaviors.

Summary of Hypotheses

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Self-Objectification
  4. Sexism
  5. Hyperfemininity
  6. Summary of Hypotheses
  7. METHOD
  8. RESULTS
  9. DISCUSSION
  10. REFERENCES

To the best of our knowledge, no research has examined the relations among choosing sexually objectifying media, internalized appearance ideals, self-objectification, and women's intentions regarding, and acceptance of, sexualizing behavior. We propose that choosing sexually objectifying media would be positively correlated with intentions regarding one's own sexualizing behavior and that these relationships would be mediated by both internalized appearance ideals and self-objectification (Hypothesis 1a; see Figure 1). We also propose that media choice will be positively correlated with the general acceptance of sexualizing behavior of other women, once again mediated by internalized appearance ideals and self-objectification (Hypothesis 1b; see Figure 2). We also examine whether two individual difference variables, sexism and hyperfemininity, will correlate with these variables. Therefore, our second set of hypotheses is that hostile sexism will have a positive relationship, and benevolent sexism a negative relationship, with media choice and intentions regarding (Hypothesis 2a), and acceptance of (Hypothesis 2b), sexualizing behavior. Finally, Hypothesis 3 predicts that hyperfemininity will have a positive relationship with media choice and intentions regarding (Hypothesis 3a), and acceptance of (Hypothesis 3b), sexualizing behavior. It should be noted that Hypotheses 1a and 1b treat media choice as the predictor variable. However Hypotheses 2a, 2b, 3a, and 3b all involve individual difference variables that may impact media choice. Therefore, in these hypotheses media choice is treated as an outcome variable.

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Figure 1. Direct effects with standardized parameter estimates—intentions of sexualizing behavior. χ2= 52.59, df = 32, comparative fit index = 0.98, root mean square error of approximation = 0.06, R2 (sexualizing behaviors) = .12. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

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Figure 2. Direct effects with standardized parameter estimates—acceptance of sexualizing behavior. χ2= 61.94, df = 32, comparative fit index = 0.97, root mean square error of approximation = 0.07, R2 (sexualizing acceptance) = .08. *p < .05. **p < .01.

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METHOD

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Self-Objectification
  4. Sexism
  5. Hyperfemininity
  6. Summary of Hypotheses
  7. METHOD
  8. RESULTS
  9. DISCUSSION
  10. REFERENCES

Participants

Participants were 207 female undergraduate students enrolled in an introductory psychology course at the University of Manitoba. Because late adolescence and early adulthood is a key period for sexual development (Arnett, 2000), with sexual socialization being relevant to this period, we limited our sample to students between the ages of 18 and 24. The mean age of the participants was 18.95 years (SD= 1.33 years). Eighty-six percent (n= 178) of participants self-identified as Caucasian, 7% (n= 15) as Asian, 3% (n= 7) as East Indian, and 2% (n= 4) as Aboriginal. Three people did not indicate their ethnicity. Because we were focusing on heterosexual behaviors that have been observed in Western society, we limited participation to individuals who identified themselves as heterosexual.

Design and Procedure

Individuals participated in a classroom setting in groups of 30 to 40 individuals. They were told that the study examines “women's perceptions of themselves as well as their behaviors and attitudes.” The questionnaire package included scales measuring media choice, internalized appearance ideals, self-objectification, sexism, hyperfeminity, and two versions of the sexualizing behavior scale (SBS): one for sexualizing behaviors and one for sexualizing acceptance. The order of these scales was randomized across participants, with the stipulation that the two sections of the SBS were separated within each package. Responses were anonymous. Cronbach alphas for the following scales are listed in Table 1.

Table 1.  Descriptive Data and Zero-Order Correlations for All Variables
VariableMedia choiceSelf-objectificationInternalized appearance idealsBenevolent sexismHostile sexismHyper-femininitySexualizing behaviorsSexualizing acceptance
  1. Notes. Media choice was based on receiving one point for each magazine or television show containing sexualized images of women. Self-objectification involved subtracting the total physical competence rank from the total physical appearance rank. Internalized Appearance Ideals, Sexualizing Behaviors, and Sexualizing Acceptance scores are means based on a 1 to 5 Likert scale, whereas Benevolent and Hostile Sexism are means based on a 0 to 6 Likert scale. Hyperfemininity is a sum based on the selection of hyperfeminine responses over nonhyperfeminine responses. Cronbach's alphas for our sample are listed on the diagonal.

  2. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

Media choice-.28***.18**.21**.10.20**.31***.23***
Self-objectification -.32***.33***.05.26***.20**.14*
Internalized appearance ideals  .97.11−.03.10.24***.15*
Benevolent sexism   .75.17*.36***.10−.09
Hostile sexism    .76.28***.04−.04
Hyperfemininity     .62.44***.24***
Sexualizing behaviors      .78.62***
Sexualizing acceptance       .89
Median6.00−4.003.102.302.506.002.002.70
Mean7.20−4.633.102.322.526.702.092.76
Standard deviation4.0715.060.860.740.713.200.670.88
Range0–19−36–281–4.90.5–4.60.7–4.10–221.0–3.91.0–5.0
Skewness.41−.07−.14.08−.051.20.50.32

Materials

Media choice The Media Choice Scale was developed for this study to measure participants' choice of sexually objectifying images in the media. Based on the procedure used by Morry and Staska (2001), participants were asked to indicate which magazines and television programs they viewed during the past month by checking items from a list. Magazines were selected based on their availability on store shelves; television programs were selected based on prime-time airing. A few programming genres aired outside prime-time hours also were included. Eight additional women not in the original study who were familiar with all of the magazines and television shows were asked to classify each item as being high or low in sexually objectifying content. Only those items that all eight women agreed on as being high in sexually objectifying content were used in the media choice measure. Individuals received one point for having viewed each of the following magazines: Cosmopolitan, FHM, Glamour, Maxim, People, Seventeen, Star, and US Weekly. These magazines were interspersed among 23 other filler magazines (e.g., Canadian Living, Fitness, House and Home). They also received one point for having viewed each of the following television programs and genres: America's Next Top Model, Beauty and the Geek, CSI Miami, Deal or no Deal, Entertainment Tonight, Fear Factor, Laguna Beach, Las Vegas, Nip/Tuck, Survivor, The Bachelor, The Girls Next Door, The O.C., The Simple Life, soap operas, music videos, and pornographic films. These television programs were interspersed among 16 other filler shows (e.g., ER, Gilmore Girls, Ugly Betty) and 2 other filler genres (e.g., daytime talk shows, sporting events). Media choice was calculated by summing the number of media viewed to a maximum of 25.

Internalized appearance ideals The Sociocultural Attitudes Toward Appearance Questionnaire-3 (SATAQ-3; Thompson, van den Berg, Roehrig, Guarda, & Heinberg, 2004) is a 30-item measure using a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (completely disagree) to 5 (completely agree). Higher scores indicate greater awareness and internalization of media messages about physical appearance. Examples of this questionnaire include “I wish I looked like the models in music videos” or “I try to look like sports athletes.” This scale was used to measure an individual's susceptibility to sociocultural messages.

Self-objectification The Self-Objectification Questionnaire (Noll & Fredrickson, 1998) measured an individual's focus on how her body looks versus what her body can do. The questionnaire consisted of a list of 12 body attributes, 6 pertaining to the physical appearance of the body (physical attractiveness, coloring, weight, sex appeal, measurements, and muscle tone) and 6 pertaining to physical competence (muscular strength, physical coordination, stamina, health, physical fitness, and physical energy level). Participants were asked to rank the attributes in order of importance to physical self-concept, with 0 having the least impact and 11 having the most impact. A score was calculated by subtracting the sum of the competence rankings from the sum of the appearance rankings. Higher positive scores suggest greater emphasis on physical appearance and therefore greater self-objectification. The self-objectification score was missing for 16 participants who completed it incorrectly.

Sexism The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (Glick & Fiske, 1996) measured sexism. Responses were given on a 6-point Likert scale ranging from 0 (disagree strongly) to 5 (agree strongly). The Hostile Sexism subscale, composed of 11 items, measured hateful feelings toward women and support of male dominance. An example of an item from this subscale is “Women seek to gain power by getting control over men.” The Benevolent Sexism subscale, also composed of 11 items, measured protection of women, heterosexual intimacy, and gender differentiation. An example item from this subscale is “Many women have a quality of purity that few men possess.” Average scores were calculated for the Hostile and Benevolent Sexism subscales, with higher scores indicating greater sexism.

Hyperfemininity The Hyperfemininity Scale (Murnen & Byrne, 1991) assessed attitudes toward women's roles in heterosexual relationships. Hyperfemininity stresses placing high value on one's physical attractiveness and on having a relationship with a man. It also includes the belief that one's sexuality can be used to control a relationship with a man and that it is acceptable to be financially dependent on a man. The scale included 26 pairs of forced-choice items. Examples of paired items include “I usually pay for my expenses on a date” versus “I expect the men I date to take care of my expenses”; “I would agree to have sex with a man if I thought I could get him to do what I want” versus “I never use sex as a way to manipulate a man”; and “Women who are good at sports probably turn men off” versus “Men like women who are good at sports because of their competence.” A point was given for each hyperfeminine choice, the sum of which indicated each participant's level of hyperfemininity. Although our coefficient alpha (.62) is lower than the .76 to low .80s reported by Murnen and Byrne, other studies have reported low alphas for this scale (e.g., Kreiger & Dumka, 2006).

Sexualizing behavior The Sexualizing Behavior Scale was developed for this study and was used to assess both one's own likelihood of participating in sexualizing behavior (Sexualizing Behavior) and acceptance of the behavior for women in general (Sexualizing Acceptance). The scale included 10 items relevant to sexualizing behavior and 10 filler items describing adventurous activities that are not sexualizing.1 Participants completed the scale twice (in random order), once indicating their own sexualizing behaviors and once indicating their general acceptance of the behavior relative to women in general. Participants responded to both versions on a 1 (not very likely or not at all appropriate) to 5 (very likely or completely appropriate) Likert scale. Mean scores were calculated for both sexualizing behaviors and sexualizing acceptance.

RESULTS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Self-Objectification
  4. Sexism
  5. Hyperfemininity
  6. Summary of Hypotheses
  7. METHOD
  8. RESULTS
  9. DISCUSSION
  10. REFERENCES

Table 1 lists descriptive data and zero-order correlations for all variables. Positive significant correlations were found among media choice, self-objectification, internalized appearance ideals, sexualizing behaviors, and general acceptance of sexualizing behaviors. As predicted, benevolent sexism, hostile sexism, and hyperfemininity were positively related. Benevolent sexism was also positively related to media choice and self-objectification. As expected, hyperfemininity was also positively related to media choice and self-objectification. Contrary to predictions, hostile sexism was not related to media choice, self-objectification, internalized appearance ideals, sexualizing behaviors, or general acceptance of sexualizing behaviors.

Preliminary Analyses

Before testing our hypotheses, we conducted confirmatory factor analyses (CFA) for each relevant variable. We first created item parcels by examining original items and calculating means of one to eight similarly worded items for each scale. These parcels were then used as observed variables in a CFA for each scale, using Amos 7.0 structural equation modeling (SEM; Arbuckle & Wothke, 1999) and maximum likelihood estimation.

Because Chi-square is influenced by the sample size and the number of observed variables, a ratio of Chi-square to degrees of freedom is a better measure of fit (Kline, 1998). Good fit is indicated by a Chi-square to degrees of freedom (χ2/df) of less than 5.00 (Bollen, 1989), comparative fit index (CFI) of at least 0.90, and a root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) of less than 0.10 (Kline, 1998), although these cutoffs need to be considered as guidelines and not absolute cutoffs (Marsh, Hau, & Wen, 2004). Goodness-of-fit indexes for the CFAs are presented in Table 2 and indicate an adequate fit for internalized appearance ideals, sexualizing behaviors, benevolent sexism, and hyperfemininity and, based on their larger RMSEA values, a marginal fit for sexualizing acceptance and hostile sexism. We were unable to conduct CFAs for media choice, which is a frequency, and self-objectification, which was calculated based on the difference in ranks.

Table 2.  Model Fit in Confirmatory Factor Analyses for Each Variable
Variableχ2dfCFIRMSEA
  1. CFI = comparative fit index; RMSEA = root mean square error of approximation.

Internalized appearance ideals 3.042.99.05
Sexualizing acceptance 8.032.98.12
Sexualizing behaviors 1.262.99.00
Benevolent sexism 3.802.98.07
Hostile sexism20.876.94.11
Hyperfemininity19.019.90.07

Testing the Proposed Model2

We began by testing whether choosing sexually objectifying media would predict behavioral intentions regarding sexualizing behavior and if this relationship would be mediated by both internalized appearance ideals and self-objectification (Hypothesis 1a). The model, with standardized parameter estimates, is shown in Figure 1. Standardized direct and indirect effects are presented in Table 3. This model fit the data well, χ2= 52.59, df = 32, CFI = 0.98, RMSEA = 0.06. In addition, the squared multiple correlation, R2, for the model was .12. Consistent with previous research, media choice was related to internalized appearance ideals, and both media choice and internalized appearance ideals were related to self-objectification. In terms of our hypothesis, media choice had a direct effect on one's own intentions of sexualizing behavior. However, contrary to our predictions, neither internalized appearance ideals nor self-objectification mediated the media choice–sexualizing behaviors relation.

Table 3.  Standardized Direct and Indirect Effects Among Variables—Intentions of Sexualizing Behavior and Acceptance of Sexualizing Behavior
ModelExogenous variableEndogenous variableStandardized direct effectStandardized indirect effect
IntentionsMedia choiceInternalized appearance ideals.15
 Self-objectification.27.02
 Intentions.29.04
Internalized appearance idealsSelf-objectification.15
 Intentions.03.02
Self-objectificationIntentions.12
AcceptanceMedia choiceInternalized appearance ideals.15
 Self-objectification.27.02
 Acceptance.23.03
Internalized appearance idealsSelf-objectification.15
 Acceptance.00.01
Self-objectificationAcceptance.09

We next tested whether our model extended to sexualizing acceptance (Hypothesis 1b). Figure 2 indicates the model with standardized parameter estimates. Standardized direct and indirect effects are presented in Table 3. Once again, the model fit the data well, χ2= 61.94, df = 32, CFI = 0.97, RMSEA = 0.07, R2 (sexualizing acceptance) = .08. In terms of our hypothesis, media choice had a direct effect on acceptance of others' sexualizing behavior, but neither internalized appearance ideals nor self-objectification mediated this relation.

Adding benevolent and hostile sexism Our second set of hypotheses was that hostile sexism would have a positive relationship, and benevolent sexism a negative relationship, with media choice, internalized appearance ideals, self-objectification, and intentions regarding sexualizing behavior (Hypothesis 2a). We first included all possible direct and indirect effects from the two measures of sexism (Figure 3). This model fit the data well, χ2= 252.79, df = 141, CFI = 0.92, RMSEA = 0.06, R2 (sexualizing behaviors) = .13. The standardized direct effects of both variables were positively, albeit nonsignificantly, associated with media choice. In contrast, only benevolent sexism was positively, but again, nonsignificantly correlated with internalized appearance ideals and self-objectification. We then tested whether the two measures of sexism only predicted sexualizing behaviors without the intervening variables by removing the direct paths to media choice, internalized appearance ideals, and self-objectification. This model also fit the data well, χ2= 270.13, df = 147, CFI = 0.91, RMSEA = 0.06, R2 (sexualizing behaviors) = .13. However, the increment in Δχ2= 17.41 and Δdf = 6 was significant, p < .01, when these paths were removed, indicating that this model did not fit as well as the previous model containing the direct and indirect paths. Compared to the model without the sexism measures (Figure 1), adding benevolent and hostile sexism as predictors only allowed the prediction of 1% more variance in sexualizing behaviors.

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Figure 3. Hostile and benevolent sexism: direct effects with standardized parameter estimates—intentions of sexualizing behavior. χ2= 252.79, df = 141, comparative fit index = 0.92, root mean square error of approximation = 0.06, R2 (sexualizing behaviors) = .13. ap < .09. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

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We then tested whether benevolent or hostile sexism added to the prediction of sexualizing acceptance of other women's behavior (Hypothesis 2b; Figure 4). The model with all possible direct and indirect effects from the two prejudice variables fit the data well, χ2= 259.96, df = 141, CFI = 0.92, RMSEA = 0.06, R2 (sexualizing acceptance) = .12. This time, benevolent and hostile sexism were positively associated with media choice and negatively associated with sexualizing behaviors, however, these effects were not significant. Once again, benevolent sexism was positively, but again, nonsignificantly correlated with internalized appearance ideals and self-objectification. We then tested whether the two prejudice variables predicted only sexualizing acceptance, without the intervening variables, by removing paths to media choice, internalized appearance ideals, and self-objectification. This model also fit the data well, χ2= 277.17, df = 147, CFI = 0.91, RMSEA = 0.07, R2 (sexualizing acceptance) = .14. However, the increment in Δχ2= 17.21 and Δdf = 6 was significant, p < .01, when these paths were removed indicating that this model did not fit the data as well as the full model. Compared to the original model without the sexism measures (Figure 2), adding benevolent and hostile sexism allowed the prediction of 4% more variance in the sexualizing acceptance of others' behavior.

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Figure 4. Hostile and benevolent sexism: direct effects with standardized parameter estimates—acceptance of sexualizing behavior. χ2= 259.96, df = 141, comparative fit index = 0.92, root mean square error of approximation = 0.06, R2 (sexualizing acceptance) = .12. ap < .09. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

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Adding hyperfemininity We next tested whether hyperfemininity would have a positive relationship with media choice, internalized appearance ideals, self-objectification, and intentions regarding sexualizing behavior (Hypothesis 3a). Once again, we included all possible direct and indirect effects (Figure 5). This model fit the data well, χ2= 152.39, df = 97, CFI = 0.95, RMSEA = 0.05, R2= .57. Consistent with the simple correlations, hyperfemininity was positively related to media choice, self-objectification, and sexualizing behaviors but not to internalized appearance ideals. We then tested whether hyperfemininity directly predicted sexualizing behaviors, without the intervening variables, by removing paths to media choice, internalized appearance ideals, and self-objectification. This reduced model also fit the data well, χ2= 164.94, df = 100, CFI = 0.94, RMSEA = 0.06, R2= .55. However, the increment in Δχ2= 12.55 and Δdf = 3 was significant, p < .01, when these paths were removed, indicating that this model did not fit the data as well as the model that included hyperfemininity. Including hyperfemininity allowed the prediction of 43% more variance in one's own intentions compared to the original model that did not include hyperfemininity (Figure 1).

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Figure 5. Hyperfemininty: direct effects with standardized parameter estimates—intentions of sexualizing behavior. χ2= 152.39, df = 97, comparative fit index = 0.95, root mean square error of approximation = 0.05, R2 (sexualizing behaviors) = .57. ap < .09. *p < .05.

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Finally, we tested the effects of hyperfemininity on the prediction of sexualizing acceptance of others' behavior in the overall model (Hypothesis 3b; Figure 6). The model with all possible direct and indirect effects from hyperfemininity fit the data well, χ2= 159.11, df = 97, CFI = 0.95, RMSEA = 0.06, R2= .19. Hyperfemininity was positively related to media choice, self-objectification, and sexualizing acceptance but not to internalized appearance ideals. We then tested whether hyperfemininity only predicted sexualizing acceptance, without the intervening variables, by removing paths to media choice, internalized appearance ideals, and self-objectification. This model also fit the data well, χ2= 172.21, df = 100, CFI = 0.94, RMSEA = 0.06, R2 (sexualizing acceptance) = .17, but once again the increment in Δχ2= 13.10 and Δdf = 3 was significant, p < .01, when these paths were removed, indicating that this model did not fit the data as well as the model including hyperfemininity. Compared to the original model (Figure 1), adding hyperfemininity allowed the prediction of 9% more variance in the sexualizing acceptance of others' behavior.

image

Figure 6. Hyperfemininity: direct effects with standardized parameter estimates—acceptance of sexualizing behavior. χ2= 159.11, df = 97, comparative fit index = 0.95, root mean square error of approximation = 0.06, R2 (sexualizing acceptance) = .19. ap < .09. **p < .01.

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DISCUSSION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Self-Objectification
  4. Sexism
  5. Hyperfemininity
  6. Summary of Hypotheses
  7. METHOD
  8. RESULTS
  9. DISCUSSION
  10. REFERENCES

We found that choosing sexually objectifying media was positively correlated with sexualizing behaviors. Women who viewed more magazines and television programs portraying highly sexually objectifying content were more likely to indicate that they would participate in a variety of sexualizing behaviors, such as taking a strip aerobics class or taking part in a wet T-shirt contest. We also found that women who score higher on hyperfemininity are more likely to indicate a greater likelihood of participation in these self-sexualizing behaviors. Our results regarding the acceptance of other women's participation in self-sexualizing behavior also indicate links to choosing sexually objectifying media and hyperfemininity. Neither benevolent sexism nor hostile sexism were important for the prediction of women's self-sexualizing behaviors or their acceptance of others' sexualizing behaviors. Finally, although media choice predicted internalized appearance ideals and self-objectification, neither of these variables mediated the relation between media choice and women's intentions regarding, and acceptance of, self-sexualizing behaviors.

Media Choice, Internalized Appearance Ideals, and Self-Objectification

Our results are similar to those of previous researchers who examined links among media exposure to thin models, internalized appearance ideals, and self-objectification. Women's tendency to self-objectify is correlated with exposure to various forms of objectifying media (Aubrey, 2006; Hofschire, 2004; Morry & Staska, 2001). Researchers have also linked negative psychological states, such as shame, anxiety, low concentration, and low internal body awareness, and behaviors, such as disordered eating patterns, to self-objectification (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997; Noll & Fredrickson, 1998). We extended this research by looking for similar correlations among choosing sexually objectifying media, internalized appearance ideals, self-objectification, and intentions regarding and acceptance of a type of sexualized behavior that appears to be part of a “pornified” sociocultural landscape.

Objectification theory suggests that proliferate objectification of the female body in society can lead women to view their own body as an object to be used by others. The abundance of sexualized images of women in society may suggest to women that their value lies in how physically attractive or sexy they are. Our study provides support for extending objectification theory by indicating that choosing sexually objectifying media is correlated with internalized appearance ideals, self-objectification, and intentions regarding sexualizing behavior. However, internalized appearance ideals and self-objectification did not mediate the media-sexualizing behavior relation. Researchers examining a specific type of media exposure, reality dating program viewing, have also found a positive correlation between amount of exposure and sexual beliefs, likewise demonstrating the potential social influence of the media on attitudes toward sexuality (Zurbriggen & Morgan, 2006).

Women's interpretation of media messages may result in ambivalence toward sexual expressiveness and differing standards of behavior for the self and for other women. For example, in regard to reality television, women are aware of the exploitative and unrealistic nature of the show while at the same time seeing it as a “relatively ‘real’ vehicle” for representing young women's lives in terms of how they are treated and how they behave (Stern, 2005). In our research, media choice had a weaker relationship with acceptance of other women's participation in sexualizing behavior than with intentions of one's own sexualizing behavior, possibly suggesting a double standard for behavior. Through media choice, women internalize societal ideals about appearance and self-objectify. Together, media choice, internalized societal ideals, and self-objectification seem to suggest that one's own behavior should follow media portrayals even though, as others have found, individuals perceive these portrayals as biased and unrealistic for women in general. Supporting this assertion, we found that women's choice in media was related more to their own behavior than to their acceptance of other women's behavior.

Sexism and Hyperfemininity

Sexism does not appear to be related to attitudes toward sexualizing behavior. Franzoi (2001) found a positive correlation between benevolent sexism and attitudes toward sexual attractiveness, an element of female body-esteem that can be altered with the use of cosmetics. Benevolent sexism involves beliefs that women should be revered and protected. In contrast, the sexualizing behaviors examined in this study may depart too much from ideas of women's virtue and are rejected. Indeed, although benevolent sexism did not add to the prediction of sexualizing behaviors or general attitudes, higher benevolent sexism was negatively related, albeit nonsignificantly, to sexualizing behaviors in our models. In addition, hostile sexism was unrelated to sexualizing behaviors, both one's own and that of other women. Although women high in hostile sexism believe women try to control men (Glick & Fiske, 1996) and accept the degradation of women through jokes (e.g., Greenwood & Isbell, 2002), this did not extend to the sexualizing behaviors we examined. It may be that the sexualizing behaviors in our study are not necessarily seen as degrading to women or as an attempt to control men. Rather, individuals may believe that, because these behaviors are freely chosen, they are not degrading. Future research is needed to determine whether hostile sexism is related to sexualizing behaviors when these behaviors are perceived as either degrading or an attempt at control.

Our results suggest that it is hyperfemininity and not sexism that is an important predictor of intentions and acceptance of sexualized behavior. These results may be a reflection of mixed messages in society, as women have been gaining ground in the workplace, yet continue to be objectified in the media. Hyperfemininity includes the belief that a woman can use her sexuality to control and maintain a relationship with a man (Murnen & Byrne, 1991). For example, researchers have shown that men are more influenced by a female speaker described as hyperfeminine (Matschiner & Murnen, 1999). Hence, as increasingly pornographic images become part of popular culture, hyperfeminine women might be open to using sexualizing behavior as a relationship tool. We found that women higher in hyperfemininity are more accepting of sexualizing behavior for both the self and for other women.

Hyperfemininity also has similarities to self-objectification, with hyperfeminine women viewing themselves as objects (Murnen & Byrne, 1991). Interestingly, hyperfemininity, but not self-objectification, added to the variance accounted for by media choice when predicting sexualizing behaviors. It may well be that hyperfeminine women view more sexually objectifying media to determine the behaviors acceptable to men. This suggestion is consistent with both our simple correlations and the beta weights from our SEM analyses. It is also consistent with Matschiner and Murnen's (1999) finding that men agree more with hyperfeminine women than nonhyperfeminine women. These men also found hyperfeminine women to be more physically and sexually attractive, albeit less competent. By embracing sexualizing behaviors, hyperfeminine women may be attempting to attract and influence men.

Limitations

Although we examined media choice as a predictor of internalized appearance ideals, self-objectification, and attitudes toward sexualizing behavior, causal statements cannot be made. Our research was correlational and, therefore, it is possible that the causal direction goes in the reverse direction. That is, women's attitudes toward sexualizing behavior may influence their choices in media. Future research should test the causal direction by manipulating exposure to sexually objectifying media. Similarly, a causal conclusion cannot be made regarding hyperfemininity and acceptance of sexualizing behavior. It seems unlikely that intentions and acceptance of sexualizing behavior would influence hyperfemininity; however, this relationship needs to be tested. Alternatively, a third variable, such as women's attitudes toward female sexuality, may influence both hyperfemininity and intentions and acceptance of sexualizing behavior.

Although we tested our hypotheses within the age group experiencing exposure to environments high in sexualizing behavior, notably dance bars and spring break party vacations, sexualizing behavior is not limited to university students. Therefore, to apply our research to young adults in general, replication is needed with a non-university sample.

Finally, our media choice scale did not ask participants to indicate the amount of time they spent viewing magazines or television programs, only whether they had or had not viewed them in the past 30 days. It should also be acknowledged that we did not ask about every possible magazine or television show that participants could view; rather, we selected a subset as noted in the Method section. Second, sexual objectification of women is not limited to magazines and television programs. Movies, video games, and billboards are a few other media through which women's bodies are highly sexualized and objectified, and these were not included in our scale. Despite these flaws, our media choice scale gave a behaviorally anchored indication of the types of media images young women are viewing, and this choice did predict relationships with internalized appearance ideals, self-objectification, intentions regarding sexualizing behavior, and acceptance of sexualizing behavior.

Implications

Our results suggest that sociocultural ideals of women's sexual attractiveness are related to women's choices to participate in sexualizing behavior. The media is a powerful tool for setting sociocultural norms. The thin ideal for women in North American society has been transmitted through the media and has been shown to be related to many negative psychological consequences. As such, it is important to keep an eye on the shifting cultural landscape, including the mainstreaming of pornography, and to be aware of the norms that are being projected regarding women's sexuality. Our results suggest that, although women have been making gains in equality with men, some women may view the use of sexuality, including sexualizing behavior, as a legitimate way to control a relationship with a man. Sexualizing behavior may be misconstrued as empowering when in reality the focus of the behavior is not women's sexual subjectivities but rather their subordination through societal objectification. In a society in which sexual objectification of women is prevalent, it may be difficult for women to define their sexuality in a way that focuses on their own feelings as opposed to the presumed standards of an external audience. It is important to monitor the social influences that may negatively impact women's experiences of their sexuality. Future research should continue to focus on women's sexuality and sexual expressiveness from women's standpoint, encouraging empowerment and sexual well-being.

The implications of this research also extend to the sexualization of children by the media, most notably young girls, who have been a recent target for popular culture. Clothing items such as thongs are now available for girls as young as 7 years of age. Role models for children can project a premature focus on sex, including young pop stars who dress as sex objects, and sexy adult pop stars or models who dress as young girls. Dolls dressed in sexy clothing are also marketed to young girls. The report of the American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls (2007) warns of the dangers of this popular cultural trend to young girls' physical health, mental health, and sexual well-being and development. Our research suggests that this sexualization of young girls can have a number of consequences. Media choice, in this case pop stars and dolls, is likely to be positively correlated with the internalization of societal ideals for sexiness and thinness, self-objectification, and self-sexualizing behaviors. The impact of this sexualization of young girls needs to be examined over time to determine if this early exposure impacts beliefs and behaviors as these girls age.

In conclusion, our study indicates that choosing more sexually objectifying representations of women in the media is associated with women's greater likelihood of participation in, and greater acceptance of other women's, sexualizing behavior. In addition, strict adherence to a feminine gender role as it applies to heterosexual relationships is associated with intentions regarding, and acceptance of, sexualizing behavior. It is important to recognize the connections between the positioning of women in society, including the associated messages sent to women about their sexuality, and women's beliefs and behaviors as they relate to their sexual subjectivities and well-being.

NOTES
  • 1

    For Sexualizing Behavior, participants indicated how likely they were to participate in each of 20 activities. For Sexualizing Acceptance, participants indicated how appropriate they felt each activity was for women in general (for items 9, 13, and 17 “your” was replaced with “their” and for item 11 “by yourself” was replaced with “alone”). Scores were calculated by averaging items 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 13, 14, 17, and 18. The 20 activities, in order, were: (1) taking a pole-dancing or strip aerobics class, (2) attending a female nude dance bar with male friends or boyfriend, (3) bungee jumping off of a bridge, (4) going on a caving excursion with friends, (5) taking part in a wet T-shirt contest, (6) going on a spring break party vacation, (7) sky diving, (8) going on a heli-ski vacation, (9) purchasing a female nude calendar for your boyfriend, (10) wearing a T-shirt labeled “porn star,” (11) going on a backpacking trip overseas by yourself (12) going on a whitewater rafting excursion, (13) flashing your breasts for the Girls Gone Wild videos, (14) dancing provocatively at a dance club with female friends, (15) going on a gambling getaway trip to Las Vegas, (16) taking scuba diving lessons, (17) having breast augmentation surgery for the purpose of increasing your breast size, (18) wearing an item of clothing or having an accessory displaying the Playboy bunny symbol, (19) mountain climbing in an area known for its dangerous terrain, and (20) taking part in motor sport activities such as quading or motocross.

  • 2

    We were not able to test all variables simultaneously in our model due to the limitations of our sample size. Kline (1998) indicates that a ratio of 10:1 of participants to parameters is required to run a path analysis. In the models in Figures 1 and 2, our ratio is 21:1. However, when we add in hostile and benevolent sexism, our ratio is now reduced to 10:1, the minimum allowable in SEM. If we were to add hyperfemininity to the model, the ratio becomes 7:1 and the effects would not be significant and would likely not be stable (Kline, 1998).

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  2. Abstract
  3. Self-Objectification
  4. Sexism
  5. Hyperfemininity
  6. Summary of Hypotheses
  7. METHOD
  8. RESULTS
  9. DISCUSSION
  10. REFERENCES
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