Objectifying Sarah Palin: Evidence That Objectification Causes Women to Be Perceived as Less Competent and Less Fully Human

Topics: Psychology, United States presidential election, 2008, John McCain Pages: 10 (3366 words) Published: May 1, 2012
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 45 (2009) 598–601

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Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jesp


Objectifying Sarah Palin: Evidence that objectification causes women to be perceived as less competent and less fully human Nathan A. Heflick *, Jamie L. Goldenberg
University of South Florida, 4202 E. Florida Avenue, PCD4118G Tampa, FL 33618, United States

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a b s t r a c t
Although a great deal of research has examined the effects of objectification on women’s self-perceptions and behavior, empirical research has yet to address how objectifying a woman affects the way she is perceived by others. We hypothesize that focusing on a woman’s appearance will promote reduced perceptions of competence, and also, by virtue of construing the women as an ‘‘object”, perceptions of the woman as less human. We found initial experimental evidence for these hypotheses as a function of objectifying two targets – Sarah Palin and Angelina Jolie. In addition, focusing on Palin’s appearance reduced intentions to vote for the McCain–Palin ticket (prior to the 2008 US Presidential election). We discuss these findings in the context of the election and the objectification of women. Ó 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Article history: Received 12 December 2008 Revised 11 February 2009 Available online 1 March 2009 Keywords: Objectification of women Political psychology Infrahumanization

‘‘There is a gigantic difference between. . .me and my Vice-Presidential opponent. She’s good-looking”. Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States The Republican National Committee reportedly spent upwards of $150,000 improving US Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s wardrobe and appearance (Isikoff & Smalley, 2008). And, despite facing criticism for this, in a sense, it ‘‘worked”. A clip of her wearing a swimsuit on the internet site YouTube received well over a million views, and Time magazine declared her a ‘‘sex symbol”, reporting that ‘‘photos” and ‘‘beauty pageant” were the second and third most popular internet search words in conjunction with Palin’s name (Tancer, September, 2, 2008). In addition to the focus on her appearance, exit polls indicated that 60% of American voters thought that Palin was unqualified for the job (Barnes, 2008). But, is there a link between the focus on Palin’s appearance and negative views of her? In this study, we examined three questions. One, does focusing on a woman’s appearance reduce perceptions of her competence? Second, does it promote perceptions of the woman as an object – and consequently, as less fully human? Third, although there are undoubtedly a number of reasons for the McCain–Palin defeat, could the focus on Sarah Palin’s appearance have contributed to reduced willingness to vote for their ticket in the 2008 US Presidential election? Objectification Building on the work of feminist scholars (e.g., Bartky, 1990), Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) argued that women are objectified * Corresponding author. E-mail address: nheflick@mail.usf.edu (N.A. Heflick). 0022-1031/$ - see front matter Ó 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2009.02.008

when they are viewed as if their body is capable of representing them. Research on objectification has provided an in depth analysis of the psychological consequences for objectified women (see Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997); but, researchers have yet to address how focusing on a woman’s appearance affects perceptions of her. Philosopher Martha Nussbaum (1999) speculated about several possible ways that objectification influences perceptions of objectified persons, including females valued solely for appearance. Some of these are directly related to minimizing their competence: denying self-determination, agentic qualities and uniqueness of talents (i.e., they can easily be replaced). Others likely minimize the...

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