My Eyes Are Up Here: The Nature of the Objectifying Gaze Toward Women

Abstract

Although objectification theory suggests that women frequently experience the objectifying gaze with many adverse consequences, there is scant research examining the nature and causes of the objectifying gaze for perceivers. The main purpose of this work was to examine the objectifying gaze toward women via eye tracking technology. A secondary purpose was to examine the impact of body shape on this objectifying gaze. To elicit the gaze, we asked participants (29 women, 36 men from a large Midwestern University in the U.S.), to focus on the appearance (vs. personality) of women and presented women with body shapes that fit cultural ideals of feminine attractiveness to varying degrees, including high ideal (i.e., hourglass-shaped women with large breasts and small waist-to-hip ratios), average ideal (with average breasts and average waist-to-hip ratios), and low ideal (i.e., with small breasts and large waist-to-hip ratios). Consistent with our main hypothesis, we found that participants focused on women’s chests and waists more and faces less when they were appearance-focused (vs. personality-focused). Moreover, we found that this effect was particularly pronounced for women with high (vs. average and low) ideal body shapes in line with hypotheses. Finally, compared to female participants, male participants showed an increased tendency to initially exhibit the objectifying gaze and they regarded women with high (vs. average and low) ideal body shapes more positively, regardless of whether they were appearance-focused or personality-focused. Implications for objectification and person perception theories are discussed.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported in part by a Layman Award to Sarah J. Gervais from the Office of Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This research was also supported in part by the McNair Scholars Program Summer Research Internship (U.S. Department of Education), the Research Experience for Undergraduates Award (National Science Foundation), and the Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experiences Program (Pepsi Endowment) from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to Arianne M. Holland. We would like to thank Angie Dunn for assistance with data collection, Devon Kathol and Justin Escamilla for assistance with stimulus creation, and Mark Mills for assistance with data analysis.

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Correspondence to Sarah J. Gervais.

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Gervais, S.J., Holland, A.M. & Dodd, M.D. My Eyes Are Up Here: The Nature of the Objectifying Gaze Toward Women. Sex Roles 69, 557–570 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-013-0316-x

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Keywords

  • Sexual objectification
  • Male gaze
  • Objectifying gaze
  • Dehumanization
  • Person perception
  • Impression formation
  • Attractiveness
  • Eye tracking