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Sexual objectification: the brain of the man before the woman

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We are well acquainted with the concept of "vase woman". It tends to be an idea linked to the world of marketing and the spectacle society, spheres of public life that reach us especially through the mainstream media.

We all see with relative normality that the role of hostess in a television program is, almost always, occupied by a woman who maintains a rather passive attitude. It is also not uncommon to see how the aesthetic aspect of women is commercially exploited in advertisements, movies or sometimes even in sports.

Sexual objectification and neurons: the man's brain in the face of scantily clad women

Being that the woman's body is so sought after by the cameras, it is worth wondering if, beyond the economic results that the hiring of women vase, the brain Heterosexual men have learned to behave differently from women when they are scantily clad.

Could it be that the reification of women was reflected in the way neuron tissues interact?

What is sexual objectification?

The reification can be summarized as

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the consideration that a person is actually something like an object. When someone objectifies another person, she believes, to a greater or lesser extent and more or less unconsciously, that what she is seeing is a animated body, without taking into account the factors that characterize it as a human being capable of thinking and making decisions in a autonomous. The sexual objectificationSpecifically, it consists of letting the aesthetic and sexual attributes of a person define them completely.

The example of the stewardess mentioned above can be considered a form of objectification: the woman becomes only the part of her body that we perceive it as an object, and it is this "object made with flesh" that represents the whole woman, beyond her condition of being human. The philosopher Judith Butler she said on this subject, from a more abstract point of view:

In the philosophical tradition that begins with Plato and continue with Discards, Husserl and Sartre, the ontological differentiation between soul (consciousness, mind) and body always defends relations of subordination and political and psychic hierarchy.
The mind not only subdues the body, but eventually plays on the fantasy of totally escaping its corporeality. The cultural associations of the mind with masculinity and of the body with femininity are well documented in the field of philosophy and the feminism.

And it is that the objectification of women is not only degrading in moral terms, but also It can have a very material and dramatic expression as it is linked to a desire to dominate all that is feminine.. It must be taken into account, for example, that where there is dehumanization of women there is also a more likely to be sexually assaulted or subjected to degrading treatment, according to some research. Although, by definition, they can reify both men and women, this fact is still alarming.

Everyday sexism

In addition, the objectification occurs not only on the television screen. Anyone can see these same trends reproduced on the street, in bars, in universities and even in homes. It is a very widespread phenomenon and this objectification towards women may also be reflected in neural activation patterns inside the brain.

An experiment conducted by Susan Fiske, Mina Cikara, and members of Priceton University seems to suggest that, in at least some contexts, men's brains perceive scantily-clad women more as objects than beings with feelings and subjectivity of their own. Thus, sexual objectification would have a material embodiment in at least part of the brains belonging to heterosexual men.

Looking for correlations in the brain

In the study, the brains of a series of heterosexual men were scanned with a functional magnetic resonance imaging device (fMRI) while They were shown four types of images: women dressed for the street, women with little clothes, men dressed for the street and men with little clothing.

Thanks to the results of the resonances it was possible to verify how the fact of contemplating images of women with little clothes caused areas of the brain typically related to handling instruments to be activated (such as the premotor cortex), whereas this did not occur if the stimulus was a conventionally dressed woman, a scantily clad man, or a conventionally dressed man. The brain areas that are activated during the attribution of mental states to other living beings were less activated in those men who manifested a greater degree of hostile sexism (misogynistic attitudes).

Furthermore, this same group of men was more likely to associate the images of sexualized women with first-person verbs ("grab"), and not so much with third-person verbs ("grab"). All this leads us to think of a world in which being a woman and taking off certain clothes can be a reason for men to take you for something that looks a lot like a human being.

This, of course, would have very serious implications if what we were seeing was the imprint that reification leaves on the brains of heterosexual men.

How is this interpreted?

The meaning of these results is unclear. Seeing clear activation patterns in the areas that are usually activated when something is done does not mean that those areas of the brain are in charge of triggering those specific functions. Clusters of neurons in the premotor cortex, for example, fire in many other situations.

Regarding the association between verbs and images, although they serve in any case to reinforce the hypothesis that scantily clad women are seen as objects, it is not possible to ensure that the product of these activation patterns is sexual objectification. Reification is too abstract a concept to associate with such specific neural patterns from a single investigation, but that does not mean that they could be related.

This experiment can be considered as an invitation to continue researching in this regard since, despite the haze of The uncertainty that surrounds these results, gender biases, machismo, reification and their neural correlates is an area that deserves be studied. Even if it is to avoid the appearance of barriers that separate both halves of the population.

Bibliographic references:

  • Butler, J. 2007 [1999]. The gender in dispute. Feminism and the subversion of identity. Barcelona: Espasa.
  • Cikara, M., Eberhardt, J. L., and Fiske, S. T. (2011). From agents to objects: Sexist attitudes and neural responses to sexualized targets. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23 (3), pp. 540 - 551.
  • Rudman, L. TO. and Mescher, K. (2012). Of Animals and Objects: Men’s Implicit Dehumanization of Women and Likelihood of Sexual Aggression. Personality & social psychology bulletin, 38 (6), pp. 734 - 746. doi: 0.1177 / 0146167212436401

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