Are degrading TV portrayals of women causally linked to gender harassment?

Objectifying Media: Their Effect on Gender Role Norms and Sexual Harassment of Women

From Psychology of Women Quarterly

Incidence rates of sexual harassment vary greatly across countries. Some research suggests that cultural differences in behavioral standards and social norms are key components in shaping the varying conceptions of sexual harassment across countries and social contexts. Television, in particular, which is widely accessible and intentionally appealing and engaging, makes massive use of stereotypical messages that the majority of people can easily understand.

This paper considered whether the two phenomena of objectifying TV and harassment, are causally linked. The researchers designed two experimental studies that used video materials of actual TV shows to investigate the causal relationship between TV exposure and harassing conduct. Together, the findings suggest degrading TV portrayals of women play a causal role in both gender harassment and sexual-coercion intentions and this relationship with gender harassment is at least in part attributable to a shift in masculinity norms. Therefore objectifying TV productions seem to create a normative context conducive to gender harassment, attesting to the responsibility of the mass media in promoting a climate that is hostile toward women.


Across two studies, we investigated the hypothesis that exposure to objectifying television in which women are shown as sexual objects increases the likelihood of harassing conduct. In both studies (Ns ¼ 141; 120), male participants were exposed to one of the three TV clips in which women were portrayed (a) as sexual objects (objectifying TV), (b) in professional roles, or (c) excluded (a nature documentary). Study 1 showed that men exposed to objectifying TV reported greater proclivity to engage in sexual coercion and manifested more gender-harassing behavior than participants in the other conditions. Study 2 further demonstrated that exposure to objectifying TV increased participants’ conformity to masculine gender role norms, which, in turn, mediated the relation between experimental condition and gender harassment. Together, the two studies suggest that media content plays a central role in activating harassment-related social norms, which in turn encourage or inhibit harassing conduct.

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Article details

Silvia Galdi, Anne Maass, and Mara Cadinu
Objectifying Media: Their Effect on Gender Role Norms and Sexual Harassment of Women
Psychology of Women Quarterly 0361684313515185, first published on December 16, 2013 doi:10.1177/0361684313515185





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