Install Theme

Your web-browser is very outdated, and as such, this website may not display properly. Please consider upgrading to a modern, faster and more secure browser. Click here to do so.

Sociological Images

Inspiring sociological imaginations everywhere.
Sep 16 '14

Meryl Steep, in The Devil Wears Prada, makes the most chilling case for a social institution you’ve ever heard.

By Lisa Wade, PhD

One of the more difficult sociological concepts to explain is the social institution.  When sociologists talk about institutions they don’t mean hospitals or churches or any of the concrete organizations that easily come to mind, they mean something much bigger and more difficult to pin down.  They  mean institutionalized ways of doing things or, as I’ve defined them elsewhere:

Persistent patterns of social interaction aimed at meeting the needs of a society that can’t easily be met by individuals alone.

Education, then, is an institution, as is medicine and transportation.  In my textbook, I discuss the examples of sanitation and sport.  One can’t play on a team all by oneself and it’d be pretty gross to take a personal potty with you everywhere you went.  Instead, we have organized sport and the provision of toilet facilities. Eventually, institutionalized ways of solving social needs get taken-for-granted as the way we do things, often to the point that we forget that they were invented in the first place.

I was inspired to write about this by a post at Sociological Cinema by sociologist Tristan Bridges.  He uses a clip from The Devil Wears Prada to illustrate just this phenomenon.  Meryl Streep plays the editor of a fashion magazine.  Fashion is an institution because we can no longer feasibly make our own clothes.  Even the most industrious and clever among us, those who make their own clothes, will buy the fabric with which to do so.  Almost no one in a Western country has the faintest idea of how to make fabric, let alone the resources.

In the clip, Streep’s character responds icily when a holier-than-thou fashion outsider scoffs at her as she goes about her work.

She says:

You think this has nothing to do with you.

You go to your closet and you select, I don’t know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back.

But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis, it’s actually cerulean.

And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that, in 2002 Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns and then I think it was Yves St. Laurent – wasn’t it? – who showed cerulean military jackets…

And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers.  And then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled down into some Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin.

However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical that you think you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room.

An institution has emerged to put clothes on our back.  The scoffer who inspires Streep character’s rant would like to think that she is outside of the fashion industry, that it has nothing to do with her. Likewise, many of us would like to think that we’re outside of the institutions that we don’t like. But we’re not.  That’s the rub.  No matter how enlightened or inspired we are to fight social convention, we can’t get outside the institutions that organize our societies.  We’re in them whether we know it or not.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Sep 15 '14
How do we decipher sex in everyday life?
By Lisa Wade, PhD
In Michael Kimmel’s sociology of gender textbook, The Gendered Society, he offers us the two pictures above and asks us to decide, based on our gut-level reactions, whether the two individuals pictured are male or female.
If you are like most people, you find, perhaps to your own bewilderment, that the first individual seems male despite the female pubic hair pattern and apparent female genitalia and the second individual seems female despite the presence of a penis and scrotum.
Kimmel suggests that this is because, in our daily life, we habitually judge individuals as male or female on the basis of their secondary sex characteristics (e.g., body shape, facial hair, breasts) and social cues (e.g., hair length) and not, so much, their primary sex characteristics (i.e., their genitalia).
In that sense, Kimmel argues, social cues and secondary sex characteristics “matter” more when it comes to social interaction and gender is really about gender (socially constructed ideas about masculinity and femininity), not so much about sex (penises and vaginas).
Images borrowed the images from Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach, by Kessler and McKenna.  University of Chicago Press. Originally posted in 2009.
Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

How do we decipher sex in everyday life?

By Lisa Wade, PhD

In Michael Kimmel’s sociology of gender textbook, The Gendered Society, he offers us the two pictures above and asks us to decide, based on our gut-level reactions, whether the two individuals pictured are male or female.

If you are like most people, you find, perhaps to your own bewilderment, that the first individual seems male despite the female pubic hair pattern and apparent female genitalia and the second individual seems female despite the presence of a penis and scrotum.

Kimmel suggests that this is because, in our daily life, we habitually judge individuals as male or female on the basis of their secondary sex characteristics (e.g., body shape, facial hair, breasts) and social cues (e.g., hair length) and not, so much, their primary sex characteristics (i.e., their genitalia).

In that sense, Kimmel argues, social cues and secondary sex characteristics “matter” more when it comes to social interaction and gender is really about gender (socially constructed ideas about masculinity and femininity), not so much about sex (penises and vaginas).

Images borrowed the images from Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach, by Kessler and McKenna.  University of Chicago Press. Originally posted in 2009.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Sep 14 '14
In internet dating, we’re better off not knowing what a prospective date looks like, but we judge by appearance anyway.
By Lisa Wade, PhD
In the aftermath of the revelation that Facebook has been manipulating our emotions – the one that prompted Jenny Davis to write a post titled Newsflash: Facebook Has Always Been Manipulating Your Emotions – the folks at OkCupid admitted that they been doing it, too.
I’ll let you debate the ethics. Here’s what Christian Rudder and his team found out about attractiveness. Let me warn you, it’s not pretty.
OkCupid originally gave users the opportunity to rate each other twice: once for personality and once for score.  The two were strikingly correlated, as seen in the opening graph.
Do better looking people have more fabulous personalities?  No. Here’s a hint: a woman with a personality rating in the 99th percentile whose profile contained no text at all.

Perhaps people were judging both looks and personality by looks alone.  They ran a test. Some people got to see a user’s profile picture and the text and others just saw the picture. Their ratings correlated which means, as Rudder put it: “Your picture is worth that fabled thousand words, but your actual words are worth… almost nothing.”
Their second “experiment” involved removing all of the pictures from the site for one full workday.  In response, users said something to the effect of hell no.  Here’s a graph showing the traffic on that day (in red) compared to a normal Tuesday (the dotted line):

When they put the pictures back up, the conversations that had started petered out much more aggressively than usual. As Rudder put it:  “It was like we’d turned on the bright lights at the bar at midnight.”  This graph shows that conversations started during the blackout had a shorter life expectancy than conversations normally did.

It’s too bad the people are putting such an emphasis on looks, because other data that OkCupid collected suggests that they aren’t as important as we think they are.  This figure shows the odds that a woman reported having a good time with someone she was set up with blind.  The odds are pretty even whether she and the guy are equally good looking, he’s much better looking, or she is.  Rudder says that the results for men are similar.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

In internet dating, we’re better off not knowing what a prospective date looks like, but we judge by appearance anyway.

By Lisa Wade, PhD

In the aftermath of the revelation that Facebook has been manipulating our emotions – the one that prompted Jenny Davis to write a post titled Newsflash: Facebook Has Always Been Manipulating Your Emotions – the folks at OkCupid admitted that they been doing it, too.

I’ll let you debate the ethics. Here’s what Christian Rudder and his team found out about attractiveness. Let me warn you, it’s not pretty.

OkCupid originally gave users the opportunity to rate each other twice: once for personality and once for score.  The two were strikingly correlated, as seen in the opening graph.

Do better looking people have more fabulous personalities?  No. Here’s a hint: a woman with a personality rating in the 99th percentile whose profile contained no text at all.

6

Perhaps people were judging both looks and personality by looks alone.  They ran a test. Some people got to see a user’s profile picture and the text and others just saw the picture. Their ratings correlated which means, as Rudder put it: “Your picture is worth that fabled thousand words, but your actual words are worth… almost nothing.”

Their second “experiment” involved removing all of the pictures from the site for one full workday.  In response, users said something to the effect of hell no.  Here’s a graph showing the traffic on that day (in red) compared to a normal Tuesday (the dotted line):

1

When they put the pictures back up, the conversations that had started petered out much more aggressively than usual. As Rudder put it:  “It was like we’d turned on the bright lights at the bar at midnight.”  This graph shows that conversations started during the blackout had a shorter life expectancy than conversations normally did.

2

It’s too bad the people are putting such an emphasis on looks, because other data that OkCupid collected suggests that they aren’t as important as we think they are.  This figure shows the odds that a woman reported having a good time with someone she was set up with blind.  The odds are pretty even whether she and the guy are equally good looking, he’s much better looking, or she is.  Rudder says that the results for men are similar.

3

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Sep 14 '14

Marx, Weber, and Durkheim on "if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around."

  • Q: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around--
  • Marx: Bulldozers. Bourgeoisie bulldozing forests to make a profit.
  • Durkheim: Maybe the tree felt some anomie and committed suicide.
  • Foucault: I may have seen it fall.
  • Weber: There's going to be paperwork about this.
  • Mead: Am I the tree and everyone else is the forest? How does the forest see me? How do I see the forest?
  • Cooley: ^^ Ditto.
  • Mills: You can't look at the tree without looking at its interaction with the forest. I wrote a whole book about it.
Sep 13 '14
The average prisoner is visited only twice.
By Chris Uggen, PhD
Prisoners who can maintain ties to people on the outside tend to do better — both while they’re incarcerated and after they’re released. A new Crime and Delinquency article by Joshua Cochran, Daniel Mears, and William Bales, however, shows relatively low rates of visitation.
The study was based on a cohort of prisoners admitted into and released from Florida prisons from November 2000 to April 2002. On average, inmates only received 2.1 visits over the course of their entire incarceration period. Who got visitors? As the figure shows, prisoners who are younger, white or Latino, and had been incarcerated less frequently tend to have more visits. Community factors also shaped visitation patterns: prisoners who come from high incarceration areas or communities with greater charitable activity also received more visits.  
There are some pretty big barriers to improving visitation rates, including: (1) distance (most inmates are housed more than 100 miles from home); (2) lack of transportation; (3) costs associated with missed work; and, (4) child care. While these are difficult obstacles to overcome, the authors conclude that corrections systems can take steps to reduce these barriers, such as housing inmates closer to their homes, making facilities and visiting hours more child-friendly, and reaching out to prisoners’ families regarding the importance of visitation, both before and during incarceration.
Cross-posted at Public Criminology.
Chris Uggen is a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota and the author of  Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy, with Jeff Manza. You can follow him at his blog and on twitter.

The average prisoner is visited only twice.

By Chris Uggen, PhD

Prisoners who can maintain ties to people on the outside tend to do better — both while they’re incarcerated and after they’re released. A new Crime and Delinquency article by Joshua Cochran, Daniel Mears, and William Bales, however, shows relatively low rates of visitation.

The study was based on a cohort of prisoners admitted into and released from Florida prisons from November 2000 to April 2002. On average, inmates only received 2.1 visits over the course of their entire incarceration period. Who got visitors? As the figure shows, prisoners who are younger, white or Latino, and had been incarcerated less frequently tend to have more visits. Community factors also shaped visitation patterns: prisoners who come from high incarceration areas or communities with greater charitable activity also received more visits.  

There are some pretty big barriers to improving visitation rates, including: (1) distance (most inmates are housed more than 100 miles from home); (2) lack of transportation; (3) costs associated with missed work; and, (4) child care. While these are difficult obstacles to overcome, the authors conclude that corrections systems can take steps to reduce these barriers, such as housing inmates closer to their homes, making facilities and visiting hours more child-friendly, and reaching out to prisoners’ families regarding the importance of visitation, both before and during incarceration.

Cross-posted at Public Criminology.

Chris Uggen is a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota and the author of  Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy, with Jeff Manza. You can follow him at his blog and on twitter.

Sep 12 '14
Skoal’s “imagined community” of tobacco dippers.
By Lisa Wade, PhD
Benedict Anderson famously coined the phrase “imagined community” to describe the way that large groups of people without direct contact could nonetheless think of themselves as a meaningful group.  He originally discussed this in the context of nations.  In his book, he writes:

It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion… it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings.

Whenever someone refers to “Americans,” he or she is conjuring up this idea of an imagined community.  Why do we feel that we have so much in common with other Americans?   We will only meet a very small percentage of Americans in our lifetimes.  We have things in common with some other Americans, but very little in common with still others.  And, in many important ways, we are probably more like certain segments of other societies (e.g., individuals in the middle class in the U.S., for example, are probably more like those in the middle class in the U.K. than they are like very poor or very rich Americans).
Others have used Benedict Anderson’s term to describe other kinds of imagined communities.  Apparently Skoal is hoping that “dippers” will find a sense of camaraderie and devotion to each other (“loyalty”) and the product through the imagining of a Skoal community (“Brotherhood”).
Text:

OUR 75th ANNIVERSARY IS ALL ABOUT YOU.
75 years ago we created Skoal Smokeless Tobacco.  And on that day, dippers created something else: A Brotherhood.
Guys who share a love of quality dip.  Enjoyed the finest way possible.It’s something we never could have anticipated.  And something we’re honored to be a part of.That’s why, instead of making our 75th anniversary about us, we’re making it about you.
2009 is the Year of the Dipper.  And we’ve come up with some pretty big ways to celebrate it.  And we’re not just talking cake.So keep an eye out.  And a pinch ready.You’ve been giving us your business — and your loyalty — since 1934.It’s time you got some thanks in return.
SKOALWELCOME TO THE BROTHERHOOD

Originally posted in 2009.
Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Skoal’s “imagined community” of tobacco dippers.

By Lisa Wade, PhD

Benedict Anderson famously coined the phrase “imagined community” to describe the way that large groups of people without direct contact could nonetheless think of themselves as a meaningful group.  He originally discussed this in the context of nations.  In his book, he writes:

It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion… it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings.

Whenever someone refers to “Americans,” he or she is conjuring up this idea of an imagined community.  Why do we feel that we have so much in common with other Americans?   We will only meet a very small percentage of Americans in our lifetimes.  We have things in common with some other Americans, but very little in common with still others.  And, in many important ways, we are probably more like certain segments of other societies (e.g., individuals in the middle class in the U.S., for example, are probably more like those in the middle class in the U.K. than they are like very poor or very rich Americans).

Others have used Benedict Anderson’s term to describe other kinds of imagined communities.  Apparently Skoal is hoping that “dippers” will find a sense of camaraderie and devotion to each other (“loyalty”) and the product through the imagining of a Skoal community (“Brotherhood”).

Text:

OUR 75th ANNIVERSARY IS ALL ABOUT YOU.

75 years ago we created Skoal Smokeless Tobacco.  And on that day, dippers created something else: A Brotherhood.

Guys who share a love of quality dip.  Enjoyed the finest way possible.
It’s something we never could have anticipated.  And something we’re honored to be a part of.
That’s why, instead of making our 75th anniversary about us, we’re making it about you.

2009 is the Year of the Dipper.  And we’ve come up with some pretty big ways to celebrate it.  And we’re not just talking cake.
So keep an eye out.  And a pinch ready.
You’ve been giving us your business — and your loyalty — since 1934.
It’s time you got some thanks in return.

SKOAL
WELCOME TO THE BROTHERHOOD

Originally posted in 2009.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Sep 11 '14
OKCupid deceived its users about their match ratings, discovered that they matter a lot less than we think.
By Lisa Wade, PhD
In general, married couples are homogamous.  That is, they are more likely than not to match on a whole host of characteristics: age, income, education level, race, religion, immigration history, attractiveness level, and more.
But, does homogamy really translate into compatibility?  Or, do we just think it does?
OKCupid set about to find out.  This is the second of two posts about recent revelations that they, like Facebook, have been doing experiments on users. The last one was a depressing look at the role of attractiveness on the site. This one is about the impact of match ratings.  Yep, they lied to see what would happen.
OkCupid users answer a series of questions and the site then offers a “match rating” between any two users.  The idea is that people with a higher match rating are more homogamous — by some measure not identical to those that sociologists typically use, to be clear — and, therefore, more likely to get along.
The first thing they did was artificially alter the match rating for couples whose true match was only 30%.  Users could read the profile, look at the pictures, reviews answers to questions, and see a match rating.  In other words, they had a lot of information and one summary statistic that might be true or false.
People were slightly more likely to send a message and continue a conversation  if they thought they were a 60% match or better.  This is interesting since all these couples were poorly matched and it shouldn’t have been too difficult to discover that this was so.

Rudder’s interpretation of the data is that you can make two people like each other by just telling them that they should.
Or maybe, he considered, their algorithm was just terrible. So, they took couples who matched at the 30, 60, and 90% rating and displayed a random match rating that was wrong two-thirds of the time.  Then, they waited to see how many couples got to exchanging four messages (their measure of a “conversation”).

The lower right corner suggests that the ideal situation is to be a good match and know it.  Likewise, if you’re a bad match and you know it things probably won’t get very far. But the difference between actually being a good match and just thinking you are isn’t as big as we might think it would be.  At least, not in the space of four messages.
So, does homogamy really translate into compatibility?  Or, do we just think it does?  Maybe a little of both.
Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

OKCupid deceived its users about their match ratings, discovered that they matter a lot less than we think.

By Lisa Wade, PhD

In general, married couples are homogamous.  That is, they are more likely than not to match on a whole host of characteristics: age, income, education level, race, religion, immigration history, attractiveness level, and more.

But, does homogamy really translate into compatibility?  Or, do we just think it does?

OKCupid set about to find out.  This is the second of two posts about recent revelations that they, like Facebook, have been doing experiments on users. The last one was a depressing look at the role of attractiveness on the site. This one is about the impact of match ratings.  Yep, they lied to see what would happen.

OkCupid users answer a series of questions and the site then offers a “match rating” between any two users.  The idea is that people with a higher match rating are more homogamous — by some measure not identical to those that sociologists typically use, to be clear — and, therefore, more likely to get along.

The first thing they did was artificially alter the match rating for couples whose true match was only 30%.  Users could read the profile, look at the pictures, reviews answers to questions, and see a match rating.  In other words, they had a lot of information and one summary statistic that might be true or false.

People were slightly more likely to send a message and continue a conversation  if they thought they were a 60% match or better.  This is interesting since all these couples were poorly matched and it shouldn’t have been too difficult to discover that this was so.

1

Rudder’s interpretation of the data is that you can make two people like each other by just telling them that they should.

Or maybe, he considered, their algorithm was just terrible. So, they took couples who matched at the 30, 60, and 90% rating and displayed a random match rating that was wrong two-thirds of the time.  Then, they waited to see how many couples got to exchanging four messages (their measure of a “conversation”).

2

The lower right corner suggests that the ideal situation is to be a good match and know it.  Likewise, if you’re a bad match and you know it things probably won’t get very far. But the difference between actually being a good match and just thinking you are isn’t as big as we might think it would be.  At least, not in the space of four messages.

So, does homogamy really translate into compatibility?  Or, do we just think it does?  Maybe a little of both.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Sep 10 '14

When wild animals learn to use human technology… and the end of times.

By Lisa Wade, PhD

Forgive me, because this is probably better left to Cyborgology, but something amazing is happening here. In the video above, nesting swallows become trapped in a building when they add doors. The birds soon learn, though, that they can get the doors to automatically open by triggering the motion sensors. This is a story, obviously, of how smart birds are, but here’s what struck me: we often think about human technology as for humans. In this case, however, birds adapted the technology for their own very similar needs (to get in and out).

If the workers had installed an older human technology — plain old doors — the birds would have been out of luck because they don’t have thumbs and the strength to manipulate an environment built for humans. But motion activated doors make both thumbs and strength irrelevant, so now birds are our functional equals.

This is fascinating, yeah? Our technology has advanced to the point where we’re potentially undermining our own evolutionary advantages. I’m not putting a moral judgment on it. I think morality is firmly on the side of non-fitness based decisions (eh em, social Darwinism). If one wants to theorize the relationship between animals, technology, and what it means to be human, however, this looks like gold to me.

Okay Cyborgology, your turn.

Thanks to Reuben S. for the tip!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Sep 9 '14

Kia’s horny hamster ad makes me go sigh.

By Lisa Wade, PhD

This ad for the 2015 Kia Soul featuring hamster people is… charming.

It’s also a very good example of advertising that just up and shrugs and admits that its target is primarily men.  The scientists and engineers are all male and the audience is intended to identify with them.  The females are sexual objects that exist to attract and revel in male attention.  They literally buy them at the pet store, for goodness’ sake.

Hello Kia Soul!

Like, women are 51% of the population and we make purchasing decisions. Maybe go with advertising that’s a tad more inclusive? You know, one or two female scientists would have been totally do-able. Your weird science could have included some hunks alongside the hotties. Maybe one of your guy engineers would have liked that, too. I’m just saying. Being more inclusive would have been easy. There’s no excuse for this.

But thanks for the hamsters.

Thanks to @MLerner_RBS for the link!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Sep 8 '14

Gendered reactions to male and female nudity.

By Lisa Wade, PhD

Last year in a post about the truism “sex sells,” I asked:

But whose sex is sold?  And to who?

“If it was simply that sex sold,” I continued…

…we’d see men and women equally sexually objectified in popular culture.  Instead, we see, primarily, women sold to (presumably heterosexual) men.  So what are we selling, exactly, if not “sex”?

I argued that what was really being sold was men’s (presumably heterosexual) sexual subjectivity, the experience of being a person in the world who was presented with images that were for his titillation. Women do not live in the world this way. They are not exposed everyday to images that legitimize their lust; instead, the images teach women that they are the object of that lust.

In light of this, Sociologist Beth Eck did a series of interviews attempting to tap into what it felt like for men and women to look at male and female nudes.  Her findings were pretty fascinating.

First, she asked men and women to look at naked images of women, including the one above of Cindy Crawford.  Women viewing images of female nudes almost inevitably compared themselves to the figure and felt inadequate.   Said one woman:

…the portrayal of these thin models and I just get depressed… I’m very hard on myself, wanting to be that way.

Women ended up feeling bad whether the model conformed to conventional norms of attractiveness or not.  When looking at a heavy set woman, they often responded like this:

I am disgusted by it because she is fat, but I’m also… I need to lose about 10 pounds.

I don’t necessarily find her body that attractive… Her stomach looks like mine.

Men, in contrast, clearly felt pandered to as holders of a heterosexual male gaze.  They knew that the image was for them and offered praise (for a job well done) or criticism (for failure to live up to their expectations).  About Crawford they said:

Personally I think she is attractive.

I like that.

Both men and women, then, knew exactly how to respond to female nudes: women had internalized their object status and men had internalized their subject status.

Eck then showed them male nudes, including the one of Sylvester Stallone.  Interestingly, both men and women felt uncomfortable looking at male nudes.

Men responded by either expressing extreme disinterest, re-asserting their heterosexuality, or both.  They did not compare themselves to the male nudes (like women did with female nudes), except to say that they were both male and, therefore, there was “nothing to see.”  

Meanwhile, because men have been trained to be a lustful sexual subject, seeing male nudity tended to raise the specter of homosexuality.  They couldn’t see the bodies as anything but sexual objects for them to gaze upon.

In contrast, the specter of homosexuality didn’t arise for women because they weren’t used to being positioned as lustful.  Eck explains:

When women view the seductive pose of the female nude, they do not believe she is ‘coming on to’ them.  They know she is there to arouse men.  Thus, they do not have to work at rejecting an unwanted advance.  It is not for them.

Many women also did not feel lustful when looking at male nudes and those that did often experienced lust mixed with guilt or shame.  Eck suggest that this may be, in part, a reaction to taking on the active, consuming, masculine role, something they’re not supposed to do.

Summarizing responses to the male nudes, she writes:

Men, over and over again, reject the seductive advance [of a male nude].  While some women welcome the advance, most feel a combination of shame, guilt, or repulsion in interacting with the image…

This is what it means to live in a world in which desire is structured by a gendered sexual subject/object binary.  It’s not just “out there,” it’s “in us” too.

Source: Eck, Beth. 2003. Men are Much Harder: Gendered Viewing of Nude Images.  Gender & Society 17, 5: 691-710.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.