If You Must Objectify Us, Please Do So Tastefully

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Photo: Oleksiy Maksymenko/Corbis

Women find their sexual objectification in advertisements distasteful — unless it’s to advertise something really expensive, a new study in Psychological Science found. In two small experiments, University of Minnesota researchers showed women ads for watches, Pacific Standard reports, half of which were dominated by images of “majestic, snowcapped mountains” and the other half with “explicit sexual imagery.” The watches were priced randomly at either $1,250 or $10. Women who saw a sexual image used to sell a bargain product felt “more upset emotionally” than women who saw luxury product promoted with sexual images, according to Pacific Standard. Men had the same feelings about the sexy ad, regardless of the the product price.

Naturally, the researchers have a quasi-evolutionary explanation for this gender gap. They hypothesize that women dislike the cheap ads because they “want sex to be seen as rare and special” in order to maintain its value in the eyes of male providers. (To that end, some Mean Girls-style shaming of the easy women who drive the price of sex down goes a long way.)

But to me, it seems a little more chicken-or-egg, and the participants' reactions are a rational response to lived experience, not a hard-wired biological difference. After all, it’s not that women want sex to be considered a luxury good because they love Chanel purses so much. It's that until very recently, their sex was a good (period), not to mention their only social value. (If your only cultural yardstick were advertising, you might still think it was this way.) Under such conditions, who wouldn't hope to be expensive? Or at least, if men had spent the past couple centuries as walking biological clocks for sale, I imagine they'd get "upset emotionally" by the insinuation they were a Black Friday clearance Timex, too.