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Popular Media like Rolling Stone Show Women as Available for Sex

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Erin Hatton, PhD, and Mary Nell Trautner, PhD, assistant professors in the University at Buffalo Department of Sociology, set out to measure changes in the sexualization of men and women in popular media over time. The sociologists found that the portrayal of women on the cover of Rolling Stone from 1967 to 2009 became increasingly sexualized, even “pornified”. The same is not true of the portrayal of men. Hatton explains:

We chose Rolling Stone because it is a well-established, pop-culture media outlet. It is not explicitly about sex or relationships. Foremost it is about music. But it also covers politics, film, television and current events, and so offers a useful window into how women and men are portrayed generally in popular culture.

The authors devised a “scale of sexualization” as a measure for their work. An image was given “points” for being sexualized when it had sexually symbolic behavior like parted lips, the tongue showing, nudity or near nakedness, or the accompanying text used sexual language. The authors recognized, from the score, three categories of images:

  1. those that were, for the most part, not sexualized, scoring 0-4 points on the scale
  2. those that were sexualized, scoring 5-10 points
  3. those that were intensely sexualized—hypersexualized—scoring 11-23 points.


After analyzing more than 1,000 images of men and women on “Rolling Stone” covers over the 43 years, the authors concluded:

  1. representations of both women and men have indeed become more sexualized over time
  2. women continue to be more frequently sexualized than men
  3. the change in how intensely sexualized images of women—but not men—have become.
  • In the 1960s, 11 percent of men and 44 percent of women on the covers of Rolling Stone were sexualized.
  • In the 2000s, 17 percent of men were sexualized, an increase of 55 percent from the 1960s, and 83 percent of women were sexualized, an increase of 89 percent.
  • Among the images that were sexualized, 2 percent of men and 61 percent of women were hypersexualized.
  • In the 2000s, there were 10 times more hypersexualized images of women than men, and 11 times more non-sexualized images of men than of women.

Hatton says:

What we conclude from this is that popular media outlets such as Rolling Stone are not depicting women as sexy musicians or actors, they are depicting women musicians and actors as ready and available for sex. This is problematic because it indicates a decisive narrowing of media representations of women. We don’t necessarily think it’s problematic for women to be portrayed as “sexy”. But we do think it is problematic when nearly all images of women depict them not simply as “sexy women” but as passive objects for someone else’s sexual pleasure.

These findings are important, the authors say, because such images have a range of negative consequences. Hatton says:

Sexualized portrayals of women have been found to legitimize or exacerbate violence against women and girls, as well as sexual harassment and anti-women attitudes among men and boys. Such images also have been shown to increase rates of body dissatisfaction and/or eating disorders among men, women and girls; and they have even been shown to decrease sexual satisfaction among both men and women. For these reasons, we find the frequency of sexualized images of women in popular media, combined with the extreme intensity of their sexualization, to be cause for concern.

Written by mikemagee

10 August, 2011 at 11:41 pm

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