Sexual reification: the brain of the man in front of the woman in a bikini

We are widely familiar with the concept of “woman vase”. It is usually an idea related to the world of marketing and marketing show the company, Spheres of public life which reach us in particular through the mainstream media.

We all see with relative normality that the role of the hostess in a television show is, almost always, occupied by a woman who remains in a rather passive attitude. It is also not uncommon to see how the aesthetic side of women is exploited commercially in advertisements, Movies or sometimes even in sports.

Sexual reification and neurons: the human brain in front of women with small clothes

Sensing that the female body is so sought after by the cameras, one has to wonder if, beyond the economic results of renting female vase, the heterosexual male brain has learned to behave differently in front of women. when they are dressed in small clothes. .

Could it be that the reification of woman is embodied in the way neural tissues interact?

What is sexual reification?

the reification can be summarized as the consideration that a person is in fact something that looks like an object. When someone reifies another person, he believes, more or less and more or less unconsciously, that what he sees is an animated body, whatever factors characterize him as a human being capable of thinking and taking autonomous decisions. the sexual reificationMore specifically, it is about letting a person’s aesthetic and sexual attributes fully define them.

The example of the hostess mentioned above can be seen as a form of reification: the woman becomes only the part of her body that we perceive as an object, and it is this “object made of flesh” which represents all. the woman, beyond her condition as a human being. The philosopher Judith Butler said about this, from a more abstract point of view:

In the philosophical tradition which begins with Plato and continues with Descartes, Husserl and Sartre, the ontological differentiation between the soul (consciousness, spirit) and the body he always defends the relations of subordination and the political and psychic hierarchy.

The mind not only subdues the body, but ultimately plays with the fantasy of completely escaping its corporeality. The cultural associations of the mind with masculinity and of the body with femininity are well documented in the field of philosophy and feminism.

And is that the reification of women is not only degrading in moral terms, but can have a very material and dramatic expression to be linked to a desire to dominate the entire feminine. It should not be forgotten, for example, that when there is dehumanization of women, there is also a greater likelihood of sexually assaulting them or subjecting them to vexatious treatment, according to some research. Although by definition both men and women can reify things, this fact remains alarming.

Daily sexism

Moreover, reification is not given only on the TV screen. Anyone can see these same trends reproducing on the streets, in bars, in universities and even in homes. This is a widespread phenomenon and it may be that this reification towards women is also reflected in neural activation patterns inside the brain.

An experiment by Susan Fiske, Mina Cikara and members of Priceton University seems to suggest that, at least in some contexts, men’s brains perceive women with little clothing more as objects than beings with their own feelings and subjectivity. Sexual reification would thus have a material embodiment in at least part of the brains belonging to heterosexual men.

Looking for correlations in the brain

The study scanned the brains of a number of heterosexual men with a working magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine while showing them four types of images: women in street clothes, women in low clothing, men in street dress and men with little clothing.

Thanks to the results of the resonances, it was possible to see how contemplating images of women with little clothing it activated areas of the brain usually related to handling instruments (Like the premotor cortex), although this did not happen if the stimulus was a conventionally dressed woman, a man with little clothing, or a conventionally dressed man. Areas of the brain that are activated when assigning mental states to other living things were less active in men who exhibited a higher degree of hostile sexism (misogynistic attitudes).

In addition, this same group of men was more likely to associate images of sexualized women with first person verbs (“seize”), and less with third person verbs (“seize”). All of this leads you to think of a world where being a woman and removing certain parts can be a reason for men to take you for something that looks a lot like a human being.

This, of course, would have very serious implications in the event that what was seen outside of the imprint that reification leaves on the brains of heterosexual men.

How is this interpreted?

The significance of these results is unclear. Seeing clear activation patterns in areas that are typically activated when something is done doesn’t mean those areas of the brain are responsible for triggering those specific functions. Groups of neurons in the premotor cortex, for example, are activated in many other situations.

As for the association between verbs and images, if it serves in any case to reinforce the hypothesis according to which women with little clothing are considered as objects, it is not possible to guarantee that the product of these activation patterns is sexual reification. Cosification is too abstract a concept to be associated with such specific neural models from a single survey, but that does not mean that they can be related.

This experience can be seen as an invitation to further research in this regard because, despite the fog of uncertainty surrounding these results, gender biases, masculinity, reification and their neural correlates are an area for study. Although this is to prevent the appearance of barriers that separate the two halves of the population.

Bibliographical references:

  • Butler, J. 2007 [1999]. The kind in dispute. Feminism and the subversion of identity. Barcelona: Espasa.
  • Cikara, M., Eberhardt, JL and Fiske, ST (2011). From agents to objects: sexist attitudes and neural responses to sexualized goals. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23 (3), pages 540-551.
  • Rudman, LA and Mescher, K. (2012). Animals and objects: implicit dehumanization of men by women and likelihood of sexual assault. Bulletin of Personality and Social Psychology, 38 (6), p. 734 – 746. doi: 0.1177 / 0146167212436401

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