Objectification in Action

Professor Randi Garcia Gives Second Lecture in WGS Series

Women who feel objectified in an encounter with a man tend to show signs of increased self-objectification and decreased confidence. Professor Randi Garcia, Ph.D of the Psychology Department expanded on this finding last Thursday, Oct. 15 during the second installment of the Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) Fall Lecture Series. In the lecture, Professor Garcia presented her research on objectification of the self and others.

In the field of WGS, most research is presented through personal anecdotes and true stories. Garcia’s research is unique because she analyzes hard numbers and statistics.  She began by talking about how quantitative measures are usually associated with masculinity. While qualitative measures are generally associated with femininity and how she has attempted to break down these gendered barriers with her research. Garcia’s study is one of the first to study objectification in face-to-face interactions, and one of few studies on objectification to use a quantitative measurement.

She showed a video featuring a speech by Jean Kilbourne, a renowned speaker on the subject of female objectification in advertising. Kilbourne described society’s obsession with thinness as a “public health problem,” and blamed the media’s objectification of thin female bodies.

The video provided an example for Garcia’s discussion of Objectification Theory, the idea that cultural practices of sexual objectification lead to self-objectification, which can then lead to psychological consequences and mental health risks.

 Garcia then cited several studies that have researched the way women and men perceive themselves. The first, called the “Swimsuit/Sweater Study” proved that when wearing a swimsuit rather than a sweater, women experienced cognitive impairment and ate less, while men were not affected by the clothing.

The second study, called “Talking Like a Body,” measured women’s performance when they believed men were watching or listening to them. The women were told to introduce themselves over a webcam to a man. The women who believed that just their faces or only their voices were being broadcasted spoke for more time than those who thought that just their bodies were being shown.

Garcia believes in the importance of groups of two people and face-to-face interaction, and so her study revolved around actual two-person encounters. She also wants to study whether trait self-objectification would affect the state self-objectification in a real life encounter. Her study found that women who felt objectified by their male partners had increased self-objectification and had reduced cognitive performance and reduced  career aspirations.

Molly Bond (’18), a WGS student, said that “it was interesting to hear Dr. Garcia speak about sexual objectification from such a methodological point of view, usually when speaking about this topic we speak from experience.”