Equal Opportunity Objectification? The Sexualization of Men and Women on the Cover of Rolling Stone

Abstract

A number of journalists and scholars have pointed to the sexual objectification of women and men in popular media to argue that Western culture has become “sexualized” or even “pornified.” Yet it is not clear whether men or women have become more frequently—or more intensely sexualized—over time. In a longitudinal content analysis of images of women and men on more than four decades of Rolling Stone magazine covers (1967–2009), we begin to answer such questions. Using a unique analytical framework that allows us to measure both the frequency and intensity of sexualization, we find that sexualized images of men and women have increased, though women continue to be more frequently sexualized than men. Yet our most striking finding is the change in how women—but not men—are sexualized. Women are increasingly likely to be “hypersexualized,” but men are not. These findings not only document changes in the sexualization of men and women in popular culture over time, they also point to a narrowing of the culturally acceptable ways for “doing” femininity as presented in popular media.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For the “text” variable, Kappa = .887 (p < .001); “body,” Kappa = .876 (p < .001); “mouth,” Kappa = .722 (p < .001); “pose,” Kappa = .831 (p < .001); “breasts/chest,” Kappa = .739 (p < .001); “touch,” Kappa = .726 (p < .001).

  2. 2.

    Some might attribute the increase in the hypersexualization of women on the cover of Rolling Stone to a change in management: In 2002, Rolling Stone hired a new managing editor, Ed Needham, who was the former editor of FHM—the rather notorious “lad mag” that regularly features scantily-clad women on its covers. A closer look at our data, however, reveals a strong increase in the hypersexualization of women on the cover of Rolling Stone since the 1980s. Moreover, the proportion of hypersexualized images of women actually peaked at 78% in 1999, well before Needham’s tenure. Hypersexualized images of women reached their second highest point (75%) in 2002, the first year of Needham’s appointment, and then again in 2006, after Needham’s 2-year stint at the magazine had ended.

  3. 3.

    Although a number of researchers have found that nonwhites are often sexualized in print media (Collins 1990; Hansen and Hansen 2000; West 2009), our analyses show no discernable difference in the frequency or intensity of sexualization of whites and nonwhites. Overall, 12% of women and 12% of men on the cover of Rolling Stone were nonwhite. They were nonsexualized, sexualized, and hypersexualized at about the same rate as their white counterparts.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the Editor and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. We also wish to thank Samantha Kwan and Elizabeth Borland for feedback on an earlier draft of this article, and Paul Durlak and Sarah Glann for research assistance.

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Correspondence to Mary Nell Trautner.

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Hatton, E., Trautner, M.N. Equal Opportunity Objectification? The Sexualization of Men and Women on the Cover of Rolling Stone . Sexuality & Culture 15, 256–278 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-011-9093-2

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Keywords

  • Sexual socialization
  • Sexualization
  • Gender
  • Media
  • Popular culture