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Men’s Objectifying Media Consumption, Objectification of Women, and Attitudes Supportive of Violence Against Women

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Abstract

A recent White House Council Report on Women and Girls called attention to sexual assault on college campuses and encouraged continued research on this important public health problem. Media that sexually objectify women have been identified by feminist scholars as encouraging of sexual assault, but some researchers question why portrayals that do not feature sexual assault should affect men’s attitudes supportive of violence against women. Guided by the concepts of specific and abstract sexual scripting in Wright’s (Communication Yearbook 35:343–386, 2011) sexual script acquisition, activation, application model of sexual media socialization, this study proposed that the more men are exposed to objectifying depictions, the more they will think of women as entities that exist for men’s sexual gratification (specific sexual scripting), and that this dehumanized perspective on women may then be used to inform attitudes regarding sexual violence against women (abstract sexual scripting). Data were gathered from collegiate men sexually attracted to women (N = 187). Consistent with expectations, associations between men’s exposure to objectifying media and attitudes supportive of violence against women were mediated by their notions of women as sex objects. Specifically, frequency of exposure to men’s lifestyle magazines that objectify women, reality TV programs that objectify women, and pornography predicted more objectified cognitions about women, which, in turn, predicted stronger attitudes supportive of violence against women.

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Notes

  1. Our conceptualization of attitudes supportive of violence against women follows that of Malamuth, Hald, and Koss (2012), who defined ASV as “positive affective responses to acts such as rape, other types of sexual aggression, and partner violence; evaluative cognitions justifying these acts; and behavioral predispositions or attractions toward such aggressive acts” (p. 428).

  2. This selective exposure model, tested using structural equation modeling, demonstrated moderate fit to the data, χ2(81) = 118.67, p = .004, CFI = 0.92, RMSEA = 0.050, 90 % CI [0.029, 0.067], SRMR = 0.05. Analogous to the media effects model, the covariates (i.e., age, ethnicity, religion, sexual experience) were modeled as predictors of objectification of women and objectifying media exposure. The path from acceptance of violence against women to objectification of women was significant (β = 0.82, SE = 0.05, p < .001). Additionally, objectification of women was a significant correlate of pornography exposure (β = 0.27, SE = 0.08, p < .001), magazine exposure (β = 0.31, SE = 0.08, p < .001), and reality TV exposure (β = 0.26, SE = 0.08, p = .002).

  3. Aggregate-level analysis is an additional methodology that has been employed in the study of sexual media and sexual aggression. Aggregate-level analysts correlate rates of documented sexual crime with indicators of the availability of sexual media, such as a loosened legal restriction on access to pornography (Diamond, Jozifkova, & Weiss, 2011) or the number of pornographic movies released during a particular period (Ferguson & Hartley, 2009). This method contrasts with individual-level analyses such as the present study, where attributes of individuals related to sexual aggression are measured directly and correlated with those individuals’ actual media exposure. The perils of drawing conclusions about the behavior of individuals from aggregate-level data are well documented (e.g., Robinson, 1950). Associations found at the aggregate-level may not translate to the individual level and should only be considered as a source of possible evidence when individual-level correlations are not available (MacInnis & Hodson, 2015). For a brief treatment of the problems of aggregate-level analysis in pornography and sexual aggression research, see Kingston and Malamuth (2011). For a more detailed discussion, see Malamuth and Pitpitan (2007).

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Wright, P.J., Tokunaga, R.S. Men’s Objectifying Media Consumption, Objectification of Women, and Attitudes Supportive of Violence Against Women. Arch Sex Behav 45, 955–964 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0644-8

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