A new study from University at Buffalo researchers, to be published in the September issue of Sexuality & Culture, tends to confirm that, over the last few decades, the popular-media portrayal of women has become increasingly sexualized, which seems to be self-evident, unless, of course, you're residing in an Amish community. (In which case, you're not reading this either.)
The study used Rolling Stone covers from 1967 to 2009 as fodder with which to measure changes in media representations of men and women. One could say, of course, that Jann Wenner is simply a sellout, while another might say Rolling Stone accurately reflects the zeitgeist. Either way, researcher Erin Hutton, a sociology professor, said they chose Rolling Stone "because it is a well-established, pop-culture media outlet" that "offers a useful window into how women and men are portrayed generally in popular culture."
The study authors devised a "scale of sexualization" to measure degrees of sexualization. Points were awarded based on how intensely sexualized a given image was. For instance, parted lips, exposed tongues, partial or full nudity, and sexually explicit language could all justify receiving points. Images were identified according to three categories: not sexualized, sexualized, and "hypersexualized."
Comparing Rolling Stone covers by decade, reasearchers found that in the 1960s, eleven percent of men were sexualized compared to forty-four percent of women. And in the 2000s, seventeen percent of men were sexualized, compared to a whopping eighty-three percent of women. Among all the sexualized images, a mere two percent of men were hypersexualized, contrasted with a revealing sixty-one percent of women.
Summing it up, Hatton said:
"In the 2000s, there were ten times more hypersexualized images of women than men, and eleven times more non-sexualized images of men than of women. 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."
Hatton adds, "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."