Research at Princeton University in New Jersey claims that changes in brain activity suggest that images of women in typically sexualised poses and costumes can shift the way men perceive women, turning them from people to interact with, to objects to act upon. The part of the brain which deals with technology is turned on, and the part which enables empathy is turned off - which is not the same as 'attraction' - a conclusion which the tabloid twerps have been typically quick to jump to. The American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual conference was told that the experiments showed that sexy images lead men to think of women as 'less than human'. In other words, that sexual 'objectification' is a reality, and not the PC Gone Mad of media paranoia.
Even more confirmation, if it were needed, of what every feminist since Mary Woolestonecraft has been saying and the producers of 'Weird Science' knew already. Namely, that the use of sex for political and commercial purposes is always going to be a tactic to dehumanise women, and that it will take a constant process of education and radical cultural reformation to overcome it. And that ther is a vast amount of money to be made from exploiting that primal reflex in men.
"The mind will ever be unstable that has only prejudices to rest on, and the current will run with destructive fury when there are no barriers to break its force. Women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man; and should they be beautiful, every thing else is needless, for, at least, twenty years of their lives."'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman'
An interesting feminist response comes from Feministing.
Simply taking naked women out of the picture (figuratively and literally) is not going to resolve the problem, and implying that "men can't help it" will just be used to contribute to the same sexist customs and rape culture that we're fighting against.But it missses the point. Mere nakedness does not create the kind of objectifying, stereotyping, dehumanising effects which the research is talking about. It is as different as objectification is from genuine attraction. Nudist camps? I rest my case.
Commercialised sex, driven by commercial pornography, is a rape culture, and rape is not sex, but the exercise of power, as every feminist also knows.
Fiske explained that the areas, the premotor cortex and posterior middle temporal gyrus, typically light up when one anticipates using tools, like a screwdriver. "I’m not saying that they literally think these photographs of women are photographs of tools per se, or photographs of non-humans, but what the brain imaging data allow us to do is to look at it as scientific metaphor. That is, they are reacting to these photographs as people react to objects."
Fisk also tested the men for levels of sexism and found a surprising effect those who scored high on this test, "...the hostile sexists were likely to deactivate the part of the brain that thinks about other people's intentions. The lack of activation of this social cognition area is really odd, because it hardly ever happens. It’s a very reliable effect, that the medial prefrontal cortex comes online when people think about other people, see pictures of them, imagine other people."
The debate this report provokes will at least air some home truths about the mind-bending pornography we routinely plaster all over our field of view, and enable more people to see it for what it is, and be able to overcome it.