It’s not just guys that stare at women’s breasts – women check each others’ sexual body parts out too, according to recent research.
Men have a bad reputation for ogling women in many cultures, but they may be off the hook, at least in part. It turns out that there’s no difference between the sexes when it comes to how long they spend staring at a woman’s face versus her breasts and midriff.
Both men and women shift their eyes away from the face and towards these sexual parts when they’re asked to focus on a woman’s appearance, the study found. And the more attractive they think a woman is, the more time they spend not looking her in the eyes.
Though most women know what it feels like to be objectified in this way, there’s been little scientific research about what’s going on when a man, or woman, checks a woman out.
So researchers set out to study what they call the ‘objectifying gaze’, when a person focuses on a woman’s breasts or the shape of her body instead of on her face.
They showed 65 male and female university students pictures of women, including some that had been photoshopped, for example to give them bigger breasts and curvier waists. While the students checked out the images they wore an eye-tracking device that recorded whether they spent time looking at the women’s faces, chests, or waists.
The study was carried out in the US and researchers were careful to say that the objectification of women is cultural – whether it takes place, and to what extent, in other parts of the world needs to be studied in more detail.
When a woman is being objectified, less time is spent looking at her face and what makes it unique.
Women might be sizing up the competition and comparing themselves to others, hypothesised the researchers. But men are quicker to objectify, and they can be pretty judgmental about what they see, basing their opinion of a woman on how attractive they find her, something which the women participants didn’t do.
And that’s just the problem. Objectifying a woman doesn’t tend to work in her favour – for example, she’s more likely to be seen as less intelligent and friendly, research has shown.
Chances are a woman feels she’s being evaluated based on her looks and not her abilities, since sexual objectification can harm work performance and cause women to stress about the way they look.