Here’s the thing about academic research: At its best, it reaffirms the obvious but at a much greater cost than casual observation entails. “A number of studies have found style of clothing and extent of nudity to be important markers of sexualization,” Erin Hatton and Mary Nell Trautner of the University of Buffalo wrote in a paper which appeared in Sexuality & Culture.
A number of people outside the academy have noticed the same trend, merely by walking down the street. Nevertheless, the sociologists from Buffalo sought to break new ground.
“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,’” they note in Sexuality & Culture. “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.” Believe it or not, Sexuality & Culture is an academic journal.
“ 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.” Hatton and Trautner explain of their research. “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.” They actually went on to develop a scale for measuring nudity:
“We developed a six-point scale for this variable, ranging from unrevealing clothing (0 points) to completely naked (5 points). Those images that featured models wearing slightly revealing clothing, such as women wearing shirts with modestly low necklines or exposed arms and shoulders, scored a ‘1’ on this measure. Images that scored a ‘2’ in this category featured models wearing clothing that was somewhat revealing; this included exposed midriffs on both women and men. Images that scored a ‘3’ featured models wearing highly revealing and/or skin-tight clothing. Images that scored ‘4’ in this category featured models wearing swimsuits and lingerie, that is, apparel that is not generally considered ‘clothing’ at all. Images that scored a ‘5’ in this category featured models wearing nothing at all (or only minimal clothing, such as socks and shoes but nothing else).”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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