Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Is sexualization of women driven by the structure of our economy?

Posted 30 Aug 2018 / 0

PNASIncome inequality not gender inequality positively covaries with female sexualization on social media

This study kind of blew up my head (well, at least blew up the preconceptions in my head). It would seem so logical to predict that gender inequality would be the main cause of the sexualization of women on social media. Women are sexualized because men are oppressing them, right?

Well this is what I love about science is that it can produce answers to these questions. And when these authors went to see where the most sexualized Instagram and Twitter posts were coming from, the strong correlation was driven by income inequality, not gender inequality.

Why might this be? Well, I think that the important thing to recognize here is that most of these images are consensual. I want to be nuanced in saying that, because consent can be coerced, especially when there are power imbalances. But the study found something really striking: most of the sexualized images being passed around originated with women. Women are choosing to post sexualized images of themselves. Clearly there’s some pressure driving that choice, but that pressure appears not to be gender inequality per se. Instead, income inequality is the best predicator of the posting of sexualized images of women. This suggests that when there is a lot of competition for limited resources, women tend to turn to sexualized images as a means of competing.

That of course doesn’t mean that we don’t live in a sexist society, or that oppressive views about the role of women are not prevalent. Economic inequality appears to lead to more competition, but women could have chosen to compete in another way. The fact that posting sexualized images is a way of competing tells you a lot about how women are valued in these (mostly Western) societies.

This finding is fascinating because it shows that how we structure our economies and economic regulations (in particular our tax systems) can affect the degree to which women feel pressured to objectify themselves.

A Minor Post, Competition, Economics, Human Evolution, Human Nature, Sexual Competition, Uncategorized

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