RSS Feed Visit our Tumblr blog Visit us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Write us an emailDonate to SPARK!

Answers to Questions from Spark Virtual Summit

SPARK Virtual Summit – Q&A

Q1: Brooklyn, NY: What do you have to say about sports, for example, competitive cheerleading, which are broadly feminized and ALWAYS over-sexualized by media?

I would agree — some sports are highly sexualized on the women’s side.  Beach volleyball is a perfect example.  Women typically play in bikinis whereas men play in shorts that reach their knees and tank tops.  These differing patterns demonstrate that there is no performance-related need for female beach volleyball players to be playing in bikinis.  I think your question is related to the larger issue of the role of female sports in our culture.  Female sports are not highly valued and highly visible in US media.  A new study out of the University of Southern California found that only 1.6% of nightly news sport coverage on 3 network affiliates and ESPN’s SportsCenter was allocated to female sports in 2009.  (The authors of that study are Michael Messner and Cheryl Cooky if you want to see their report.)  Perhaps in order to get media attention, some individual female athletes and/or teams have opted to present themselves in sexualized ways.  An interesting question is whether we would see this type of sexualization if there were more (and more respectful) coverage of female sports.

Elizabeth Daniels, Ph.D.

Department of Psychology

University of Oregon

Great question! It is likely to be the case that girls’ activities influence the degree to which they develop sexualized identities. We are currently collecting data that will examine whether girls’ participation in more and less sexualized activities (e.g., softball vs. cheerleading) is associated with changes to their level of internalized sexualization.  No answers yet!

Rebecca Bigler, Ph.D.

Department of Psychology

University of Texas at Austin

Q2: From Wellesley, MA: Have any of you brought your research results to media industry producers in hopes of affecting positive change in media images?

No, because our research is too new but this is an excellent idea and it is one of the reasons that we, as researchers, were delighted to be part of the SPARK program.

Rebecca Bigler, Ph.D.

Department of Psychology

University of Texas at Austin

Q3: From NOW, NYC: Has anyone done any research on the relationship between sexualized images of women and violence against women?

I have looked at the short-term priming effects of sexualized music videos on heterosexual men’s attitudes toward interpersonal violence in sexual relationships. Here is an abstract of the study:

The present study examined the effects of sexualization of female artists in music videos on male undergraduates’ sexual beliefs. Findings showed that participants who viewed music videos of female artists who were highly sexualized reported more adversarial sexual beliefs, more acceptance of interpersonal violence, and more negative attitudes about sexual harassment than participants assigned to music videos by the same female artists that were low in sexualization. Path models indicated that adversarial sexual beliefs mediated the relationship between condition and (1) acceptance of interpersonal violence and (2) negative attitudes regarding sexual harassment. Findings are discussed in light of objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) and media priming effects (e.g., Jo & Berkowitz, 1994).

Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, Ph.D.

Department of Communication

University of Missouri-Columbia

There are a number of studies that have found associations between viewing sexualized images of women and having attitudes that are supportive of violence against women (for example, believing victim-blaming myths about rape, being tolerant of sexual harassment, believing that men and women are adversaries).  There is also a recent study showing that exposure to sexualized images of girls (children) leads to more tolerant beliefs about child sexual abuse.

Eileen Zurbriggan, Ph.D.

Department of Psychology

University of California – Santa Cruz

It is very hard to gather clear evidence of the casual role of sexualized images on violence, in part because of ethical constraints in research.  Nonetheless, there is reason to be concerned.  Violent pornography, for example, has been found to affect men’s attitudes toward women and their level of arousal to violence against women.

Rebecca Bigler, Ph.D.

Department of Psychology

University of Texas at Austin

Q4: From Alabama: How do we address the female athletes and actors/celebrities who make the choice/say “yes” to being sexualized in photo shoots, etc? Can educational efforts be targeted to the subject?

Female athletes might feel freer to say no to requests to present themselves in sexualized ways if their pay scales were closer to the pay scales for male athletes.  One possible area for activism is for more comparable wages for female athletes.

Eileen Zurbriggan, Ph.D.

Department of Psychology

University of California – Santa Cruz

I think our efforts need to be focused threefold: the media industry gatekeepers, the women appearing in the media, as well as the public. Attending SPARK Summit inspired me to push forward with my own efforts to connect my research to these entities in the real world in ways that might enable change. However, unfortunately, there is a lot of resistance from people to recognizing the negative effects of the sexualization of women and girls in the media. In speaking directly to your question, most of these celebrities have likely internalized media standards of beauty and their role as sexualized beings. Media literacy, however, DOES provide us with a way to educate individuals about media messages and their effects. The challenge, I think, is determining how to target the “subjects,” as you say – how to gain access to celebrities and work with them on these issues. I am continuing to think about ways in which we could do this, and I believe media visibility for this issue is a good first start to make waves and get the issue on the table.

Elizabeth (Lissa) Behm-Morawitz, Ph.D.

Department of Communication

University of Missouri-Columbia

I think that it will be important for scholars and activists to recognize both the “pros” and the “cons” to adopting sexualized identities and then educate girls and young women so that they make the best possible choice for their lives.

Rebecca Bigler, Ph.D.

Department of Psychology

University of Texas at Austin

Q5: From San Francisco, CA: Have there been any studies on the relationship between early sexualization of girls and the trend of homo-erotic images and teen girls kissing girls primarily for the pleasure of boys?

I don’t know of any studies that directly connect these phenomena to the early sexualization of girls However, Elisabeth Thompson (currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Arizona) has conducted interviews with teen girls who have kissed other teen girls to get attention from boys.  These young women talked both about feeling objectified and about feeling a sense of agency and power in these situations.  Young women with a stronger sense of feminist identity were more likely to recognize elements of objectification in these situations.

Eileen Zurbriggan, Ph.D.

Department of Psychology

University of California – Santa Cruz

There are no data on this topic of which I am aware.  We need more social science research on the topic!

Rebecca Bigler, Ph.D.

Department of Psychology

University of Texas at Austin

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Answers to Questions from Spark Virtual Summit”

  1. [...] The Spark Summit hosted experts on body image and girlhood, who fielded some complex questions and came up with some great answers. [...]

Leave a Reply