Men under the influence of alcohol are more likely to see women as sexual objects, a study has found. Researchers from University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the US went beyond mere anecdotal evidence to investigate some of the circumstances and factors that influence why men objectify women.
The study, published in journal Sex Roles, involved 49 men in their twenties and was conducted in the safe space of a college laboratory. Of the 49 subjects, 29 received two alcoholic drinks to mildly intoxicate them, and the rest received placebo drinks. All were shown photographs of 80 undergraduate women dressed to go out, and were asked to rate the women’s appearances and personality. The women’s photos were previously rated by an independent panel on how much warmth, good-naturedness, friendliness, competence, intelligence, confidence, and attractiveness they exuded.
Eye-tracking technology noted which part of the women’s bodies men were looking at when they were shown the images. When the men assessed a photographed woman based on her appearance, the instruction most often triggered objectifying gazes from them. They spent less time looking at faces and focused far longer on chests and waists. This was particularly true when viewing women who had been rated high in attractiveness. It happened to a lesser degree when viewing women who exuded warmth and competence, especially when men were slightly drunk.
The findings suggest that whether a man will sexually objectify a woman depends on the alcohol intoxication of the man, as well as how attractive, warm and competent a woman is perceived to be.
“The sum of these results supports the notion that being perceived as high in humanising attributes, such as warmth and competence, or being average in attractiveness provides a buffer that protects women from sexual objectification,” said Abigail Riemer of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“Environments in which alcohol is present are ripe with opportunities for objectifying gazes,” said Riemer.
He said that the only other study previously done on the link between alcohol and objectification by men relied on self-reports from women.
“Adopting objectifying gazes toward women leads perceivers to dehumanise women, potentially laying the foundation for many negative consequences such as sexual violence and workplace gender discrimination,” she said.
“Understanding why the objectifying gaze occurs in the first place is an initial step toward stopping its incidence and its damaging effects,” said Riemer, who believes that there might be value in mindfulness-based interventions to help men reflect on how they perceive women.
“This may inform primary prevention programs to reduce the continuum of sexual violence that women disproportionately experience,” she said.