Women are more critical of topless women than men

(ORDO NEWS) — A study published in the journal Sexuality & Culture examined the attitudes of US residents towards women who go topless in public places.

The results suggest that for some women, topless is intertwined with sexuality and represents a moral issue. According to objectification theory, women are more critical of female topless than men.

Western societies tend to be far more frowned upon for the public appearance of topless women than for men.

The rationale seems to be that women’s breasts are inherently sexual and thus inappropriate for display in family settings such as public beaches.

This view fits into objectification theory, which suggests that a woman’s value is based on her appearance as perceived by the heterosexual male gaze.

Researchers Colin R. Harbke and Dana F. Lindemann conducted a study to find out American attitudes towards the public nudity of women.

While past research has focused on public perceptions of the legitimacy of female topless, the purpose of this study was people’s reactions to the very fact of female topless.

The researchers also wanted to find out if attitudes towards female topless differ by geographic region, as previously reported in Canadian samples.

“We were interested in attitudes towards breastfeeding, and the different responses to a woman being topless in public while not breastfeeding came to the fore as a potential contributing factor,” explained Harbke, professor of psychology at Western Illinois University-Quad Cities. .

“We began to think that both of these behaviors are relatively simple and harmless at first glance, but that each of them is quite complex when objectification of women, morality and sexism are added to them.

Also, around the same time, some legal solutions appeared that revealed differences in the legality of topless public exposure not only between men and women, but also between one region or state and another.”

“Most of the previous research on attitudes towards public topless has been about legality (e.g. do people think it should be legal for women to be topless in public?), and we wanted to expand on this topic by getting an idea of ​​how people would react if they see someone topless in public.”

The study involved 326 US residents, the majority of whom (78%) were women. As part of a larger study, participants were shown a series of 60 images.

Among these images were six photographs of topless women in one of three public places – on the beach, in a park or on a city street. The photographs were selected from an online image search and consisted of unedited photographs of women who were not celebrities or models.

To control for implicit biases related to body shape, skin color, and other factors, the researchers selected only young adult white women with a similar appearance.

For each photo, participants rated their “impressions or feelings” on an 11-point scale from very positive to very negative. Participants then completed demographic questionnaires and measured disgust sensitivity, child protection beliefs, and sexual attitudes and awareness.

According to the results, 80% of the differences in the participants’ ratings were due to individual differences, not differences in photographs. Geographic region was not associated with participant attitudes.

“It was very clear that the driving force in how someone reacts to the appearance of a topless woman in public is not the setting, region or legality of the place where it occurs, but rather the characteristics, traits and opinions of the person who reacts in first and foremost,” Harbke told PsyPost.

“Even if previous surveys have shown that many people believe that being able to appear topless in public should be within the legal rights of women, these results show that this does not necessarily mean that they will respond positively to what they see around them” .

Living in a state where female topless is banned was associated with less favorable attitudes towards topless photography, while living in a state with controversial policies was associated with more favorable attitudes towards photographs. These results show how laws and social norms can influence people’s attitudes towards certain issues.

“Most of the previous law-based research has found that attitudes towards public female topless differ depending on the setting (or context) in which it was done (for example, on the beach or in the pool, in a public park, or if the person was walking on city),” Harbke told PsyPost.

“We expected to see differences in reaction to pictures in different settings, and we did, but they were much smaller in magnitude than in previous legitimacy-based studies.”

“Differences in participant reactions from states where public female topless was clearly legal, clearly illegal, or where the legality of topless was ambiguous, although present, were also smaller than we expected.”

There were also significant gender differences in ratings, with women rating topless photos more negatively than men. This finding remained significant after controlling for various demographic and worldview variables.

“What really surprised us was the magnitude of the difference we saw between the men and women in our study who rated the images; the differences based on the gender of the participants were about 3 times greater than the differences by context, and nearly 2 times times more than in terms of context and legality combined,” Harbke explained.

“This picture was consistent with the idea that women sometimes criticize and control the behavior of other women as sexual objects, along with other predictions and extensions of objectification theory.”

In their study, Harbke and Lindemann discussed two potential interpretations of this gender difference, both of which can be explained by objectification theory.

First, men may express more favorable attitudes toward topless photographs because they are attractive to them and because they increase the sexual objectification of women.

On the other hand, women’s less favorable attitude towards photographs may reflect their “police” attitude towards the behavior of other women.

Sexually objectifying contexts were found to encourage competition between women, and this dynamic may have led participants to object to sexualized photographs. In the opinion of the authors, it is likely that both of these explanations play a role.

The researchers went on to find a pattern that suggests that female topless is viewed as a moral issue. Higher SES, greater religiosity, and stronger child protection beliefs were associated with less positive ratings for topless photographs.

In contrast, more positive attitudes towards sexual permissiveness and more egalitarian views on birth control were associated with more positive ratings of topless photos.

A strength of the study was its high environmental validity, as participants viewed actual photographs of topless women that they would hypothetically encounter in real life. However, in the future, the study needs to be repeated using a larger dataset, including women with different body shapes, skin colors, and other characteristics.

“This is an area of ​​research where efforts to recruit more diverse samples can lead to really informative comparisons, especially when it comes to how gender identity and sexual orientation relate to attitudes towards public nudity of women,” said Harbke.

“Comparison with photographs of women who are not topless (such as in a swimsuit) or bare-chested men can also lead to valuable insights.”

“While the issue of public female topless is a relatively under-researched area, when it comes to attitude research, it is linked to a range of factors (e.g. objectification, morality, discrimination, legality) that are in common with a range of other issues, concerning equal rights and social problems,” the researcher added.

“In this way, understanding how demographic and worldview factors contribute to the response to the public exposure of women can be extended to many other areas.”


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