Understanding the Relation between Sexual Objectification and Ostracism

Maayan Dvir, Purdue University


Ostracism – being ignored and excluded – and sexual objectification – when an individual is regarded only as an object that exists for the use and pleasure of others – are conceptually related, yet the connections between the two phenomena have yet to be examined empirically. Both involve aspects of the self being ignored by others. Sexual objectification involves attention that focuses on one’s appearance while other characteristics of the individuals are ignored. This fits within the parameters of the definition of “partial ostracism” – in which the individual is acknowledged and included in some ways (or times), but not in others. Furthermore, some of the outcomes of being ostracized, such as negative affect, depression, and substance abuse, have also been identified as outcomes of sexual objectification. This dissertation, therefore, looks at potential connections between ostracism and sexual objectification. Studies 1 (A, B, & C) and 2 demonstrated that women feel ignored and excluded to a greater extent when men focus on the appearance of their body, signaling objectification, than when men focus on their face, signaling attention to their personality. These results establish that sexual objectification is experienced as a form of ostracism, and suggest that research regarding ostracism can be applied to sexual objectification. Because ostracism elicits behaviors that are meant to re-establish belongingness and reconnection and recognition by others, it is possible that portraying a sexualized image of oneself could achieve both goals. Studies 3 and 4 examined whether ostracism causes women to self-objectify (i.e., present a sexual image of themselves). In these studies, included and ostracized women were asked how revealing they would like their clothing (Study 3) or their online artificial avatar’s clothing (Study 4) to be. The results of these studies did not support the original prediction that ostracism would lead to more self-objectification, however they provided some initial evidence that hostile and benevolent sexism may play a role in the relation between ostracism and self-objectification. Study 5 examined whether ostracized individuals are also more tolerant of sexual objectification. Because ostracism induces an increased need for attention, individuals may view any type of attention as better than no attention at all. In this study ostracized and included women were asked to imagine having a conversation with a man in a pre-recorded video who was either focusing on their face, on their body, or who was looking away from them. They were then asked to rate their interaction partner and to indicate their willingness to interact with him in the future. I hypothesized that ostracized women would rate the interaction partner who was focusing on their body more positively than included women. However, this hypothesis was not supported because in this study ostracism did not significantly affect women’s evaluation of their interaction partner. Women were most fond of their interaction partner and were most willing to interact with him when he was looking at their face and were most threatened by him when he was looking at their body. This work suggests that whereas sexual objectification makes women feel that their body is under the spotlight, they nevertheless feel ignored and unacknowledged.




Kelly, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Womens studies|Sexuality|Gender studies

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