When Women Are Sexualized, It Results in a Lack of Empathy: Study

When Women Are Sexualized, It Results in a Lack of Empathy: Study

Revealing images are everywhere, and they’re actually changing the way your brain works, experts have found.

The head doctor of the U.S women’ gymnastics team, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby-the list of high profile people accused of committing sexual assault keeps growing.

It’s hard to draw a direct correlation between the downfall of these famous names and the #MeToo movement.  No doubt, it has had a positive influence, however. The hashtag that went viral on social media last October has succeeded in encouraging women to speak up and tell their stories of sexual harassment and assault, and to do so feeling it’s more likely that they will be listened to, heard and believed.

But where is all the sexual assault coming from, in the first place?

Inarguably, it’s been with humanity throughout history. And certain practices and habits can feed the fire, making it worse.

Learned behavior that places few shots in women’s court when it comes to respect is one of them. And all those sexy images on billboards, magazines and other media hanging around town don’t help either.

What are we talking about? Researchers at the University of Vienna have found that when humans view sexualized representations of women, their brains behave differently.

Related: How Big of a Health Risk is Porn?

Participants in the study led by Giorgia Silani from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Vienna displayed less empathy for sexually objectified women, and weren’t able to share the sexualized women’s emotions, or even recognize them at all, in certain contexts. It came down to the clothing being worn.

Amazingly scientists found that by simply modifying the type of  outfit the actresses in the study were wearing, they could make the participants feel less or more empathy towards the women wearing them. Easy.

So, am I arguing that old line that women who dress suggestively “have it coming” to them?

Absolutely not. But here’s a thought. Perhaps when various media perpetuate and spread this sexualized view of women, we, as a general public audience, lose the ability to empathize with women in general– no matter what the context.

Maybe it’s a stretch, but maybe not. Did Bill Cosby care? Did he ever think about how his actions were affecting the tens of women he’s said to have drugged and violated? Does Harvey Weinstein empathize and ever take no for an answer?

Did Larry Nassar have such a psychological wall in his head that it allowed him to delude himself into believing his actions were “revolutionary” and “strictly medical”?

We’ll likely never know. And it’s a process. Deciding where to draw the line on related issues like porn, and furthermore, how revealing is “too revealing”, is a delicate matter.

In a previous post, I argued that porn isn’t the big public danger some argue it is.That being said, as a culture, we might think twice about making everything “sexy” and widen the role that women have beyond a big bust, for everyone’s benefit.

Photo credits: WilmaVdZ/Shutterstock.com

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