Women Seeing Women as Sexier than Men

Girls are so inundated with sexualized images of women that they learn to see women as sexier than men. Women come to see women through male eyes?

In the bedroom, this can make women’s sexuality a bit convoluted, which I’ll discuss later.

But consider my students:

“Women’s bodies are just naturally sexier than men’s,” my class tells me when I ask why women are portrayed as sex objects.

In this belief, my students are not alone.

A few years back Lisa Kudrow, of Friends fame, told Jay Leno that female nudity is displayed more in movies because, “Who wants to look at a guy?”

Hugh Hefner thinks women are natural sex objects, “If women weren’t sex objects, there wouldn’t be another generation.”

I’ve talked before about how the breast fetish is not natural, but is learned by both men and women. But how do we all learn that women are sexier than men in ways that go beyond the fetish?

Growing up, girls are bombarded with visions of women as sexy, with skin selectively hidden and revealed, the camera focused on those intriguingly concealed parts.

When I was little my mom took me to the Ice Capades. After noticing that the women were half dressed while the men were fully clothed, I asked why. Mom told me that women just have better legs.

Do they? One warm summer day an adult from my church youth group commented, “It’s too bad the guys have the best legs.” (Thanks!) But what is our cultural ideal? Longer, leaner. Young men typically have longer legs, and they don’t have the extra layer of fat that women do. So most young men’s legs come closer to our ideal. Yet we say women have better legs? When I think about it, I actually think men have pretty nice looking legs. But nothing and no one directs our attention to them.

On Dancing With The Stars, women are half-dressed and men are fully-clothed. During an advertisement, the camera lingers on women’s breasts and legs in a Victoria’s Secret display. Next, a commercial for shoes focuses on women’s behinds: See this Rebook ad for EasyTone. Try to imagine the same focus on men’s butts (which actually are pretty attractive)!

Watch a football game and see big, fully-dressed, aggressive guys playing on the field, while scantily clad cheerleaders show off their stuff from the sidelines. In the Bikini Open men sport golf wear while women dawn bikinis. When does Sports Illustrated most focus on women? In the swimsuit edition.

Through it all, the camera gazes at women’s body parts, but not men’s. Telling us what’s important to notice. What’s sexy and what’s not.

Men’s bodies are rarely sexualized outside infrequent underwear ads.

Historically, men have had control of media, and they’ve portrayed what they see as sexy.

Bombarded with these images, girls come to see women as sexier than men. As I’ve said before, when I tell my class that I find a Playboy pinup sexier than a Playgirl pinup, women’s heads nod in agreement.

Meanwhile, when women answer surveys about what they find sexy they say “men.” But when they are wired up, blood flow to the vagina is stronger when viewing an image of a nude woman than a nude man – conscious responses and bodily responses not agreeing.

Oddly, and yet logically, women come to see women through male eyes.

So women come to see themselves as the sexy half of the species. Being sexy has some advantages. It can just be fun, it’s easier to attract mates (consider the success of women versus men in singles bars), and sexiness is a source of power.

But there’s a downside, too, including the narrow construct that leaves so many women feeling they exist outside the “sexy” box, with a drop in self esteem kicking in.

Taken to extreme, some women can become sex objects, taking an unhealthy one-dimensional focus on themselves, feeling that how they look is all that matters. And some men may see them as objects whose sole purpose is to be used for their pleasure.

It ain’t so great to be, or be seen, as mere object.

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 Originally posted on January 10, 2011by

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 2, 2012, in body image, feminism, gender, men, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. Even as a young girl I wondered about the disparity between how men and women’s bodies were and still are being portrayed in the media. To me this is especially apparent in the field of sports, despite its associations with being more wholesome and healthy. These are men and women who are closer to the physical ideals of beauty, and yet almost exclusively it is the women’s bodies that are exhibited, whilst their male counterparts are more modestly clothed. The only exception I can think of is perhaps swimming and diving, where the men usually wear a tiny ‘Speedo’ whereas the women wear the more modest one-piece swimming costume. There are some branches of sport, eg golf, basketball, football, horse-riding, etc where both sexes are dressed similarly, but my personal favorite, so to speak, has to be beach volleyball. For some reason the women are essentially in bikinis (remember women swimmers are not), and yet the men have no trouble in playing just as energetically and competitively in their baggy shorts. As you say, as men control the media and they showcase what they generally see as sexy. Hence tanned women in bikinis diving to lob the ball back on a beach, with the obligatory shots of their behinds, whereas the female audience do not get corresponding shots of the men. As beach volleyball has now been included the Olympics for the first time, we have lots of such images to look forward to this summer from London. Especially as sex sells, and advertisers will pay extra to be featured in those games, both off and on the ‘beach’.

  2. This post makes me think about why girl-on-girl porn is so acceptable yet man-on-man gay porn is frowned upon and “very gay” yet two girls is totally acceptable. Women being seen as “objects” is historically relevant. Women began to take men’s name at marriage because they were now their property. This woman was now an asset to his wealth that’s why he put his name on it to show his dominance, to show it is his. We are socialized through the media to believe that sexy is power, and if you’re not sexy then good luck attaining anything in life. Me getting the message that women gain their power through sex appeal, I start to compare my “sexiness” to other women around me and as long as I’m the hottest girl in the room I’m okay. I got the message that men validate me, that I’m okay as long as he says I am.

  3. women come to see women through male eyes.

    But why gay men don’t learn that women is the sexy gender?
    Even though gay men have the same social learning as everybody else have, they don’t learn to see men and women as hetero women do.

    Hetero women see women as sexier than men. They are turned on by a naked woman and they are not turned on by a naked man.
    But for gay men is exact the opposite.

    Gay men and hetero women are naturally attracted to men
    still It’s like gay men are more interested in men than hetero women are interested in men.

    • Well, they kind of do and they kind of don’t. And the way they do is often the same way that women do.

      Some gay men dress in drag as sexy women. That’s because they want to experience themselves as sex objects. You can’t so easily dress up as “a guy” to experience yourself as a sex object.

      Does that mean that they are more turned on by women than men? No. But they are recognizing that women are the designated sex objects in our society. And I could say the same for women. Women often recognize that women are designated the sex objects in our society, but that doesn’t mean that they are more sexuallly attracted to women.

      I may have already said this on the fetish. It comes up so much I can’t remember who I’ve written this to and who I haven’t. But it’s in my “commonly asked questions” file so here it is again:

      Why don’t gay men find breasts erotic by learning to do so? Women’s bodies are responsive to EVERY sex signal they see — including bonobos (an ape species) having sex — while men’s bodies are not. Perhaps to protect vaginas from harm thru lubrication. And breasts have become a very strong sex signal in our culture (by being focused on obsessed about, etc). So it’s no surprise that women respond to them.

      For men this flexibility doesn’t come so easily. They don’t respond to EVERY sex signal they see. Monkeys having sex? No response. Yet, straight men can come to associate VISUAL images of the penis with orgasm through conditioning (associating penis and orgasm). I guess gay men never come to associate breasts with orgasm.

      • But that means that gay men can’t learn the breast fetish.
        For men, heterosexuality seems to be a precursor and/or a requirement to experience the breast fetish. Heterosexual men also can’t associate breasts with orgasms but they learn the breast fetish unlike gay men.

        This makes sense, a naked men with a flaccid penis isn’t a sex signal for women so they don’t get turned on.
        But that research didn’t say about women seeing a man with an erection. Do they see that as a sex signal and they have blood rushes to the vagina, or they are indifferent even to an erected penis?

      • If hetero men don’t learn the breast fetish unless they are “taught” it, but many straight women do, and if straight men lose the fetish with regard to their partners, it can’t be based on sexual orientation.

  4. That still doesn’t explain why gay men can’t learn the breast fetish. Neither gay nor straight men can associate breasts with orgasm.

    Straight men can learn the breast fetish, gay men can’t.
    They only difference between them is male heterosexuality.

    I didn’t say that breast fetish is natural for hetero men. Of course they must learn it. But social learning isn’t enough for them to experience it. They also have to be hetero male.

    For men it takes social learning AND male heterosexuality to learn the breast fetish.
    If one of those two requirements is missing then that male can not learn the breast fetish.

    Can a hetero man experience the breast fetish with out the social learning?
    No, social learning is required.
    Can a man through social learning experience the breast fetish with out male heterosexuality?
    No, male heterosexuality is required.

    • It may be necessary but it’s not sufficient.

      The breast fetish is a social construct that straight men may or may not learn. It isn’t biological. You don’t find it in all cultures. And men lose it when it comes to their own partners. So they stop being straight?

      Meanwhile, straight women can learn it.

      • I didn’t say that it’s sufficient. But it’s definetely a requirement. Male heterosexuality plays a role in breast fetish.
        I don’t think that I am saying anything different than you are saying.

        I don’t know about how women feel and experience it – I am not a woman. Perharps female sexuality is more fluid or they can associate the female body they are seeing with theirs, something like empathy.

        Straight men may lose the breast fetish when it comes to their own partners but they may still experience it with other women. And even if they lose it at all, it doesn’t mean that they are not straight anymore, it’s just that the effects of the social learning of breast fetish just “wore out”.

        I agree it’s not biological, I don’t think that I said it was otherwise.

        If I may use a analogy to explain better what I mean.

        In order to build a fire you need fuel, heat and oxygen. If you got only one or two of these three requirements you can’t build a fire. Build a fire and then take oxygen out, then the fire will be extinguished. Or if you have enough oxygen and heat but you don’t have fuel can never start a fire.
        The same goes with breast fetish.
        A hetero male with out the social learning won’t learn that fetish.
        A male having the social learning still isn’t enough to learn the breat fetish. He ALSO has to be hetero.
        I didn’t say it’s one or the other, Both of these requirements must be applied at the same time. So male heterosexuality is needed just like a spark is needed to start a fire.
        You can have a pile of woods and oxygen (=social learning) but if you don’t have the spark (=male heterosexuality) there won’t be a fire (=breast fetish) for that male.

  5. And also if you have a spark without having fuel and oxygen (=social learning) you also won’t start a fire.

  6. This commentary rings very true in my own experience, and perhaps clarifies a thing or two about my own sexuality (I’ve frequently labelled myself “bisexual but homoromantic,” i.e. I lust after women as much as after men, but I could only see myself dating a man).  Thank you very much for sharing your insights 🙂

    In response to Potis and the smattering of other commenters asking “What about the gays?” a few posts ago, I posit that the media caters to the sex drive of the dominant demographic–that is, not to men blanketly, but to straight, wealthy white men.  Think about it–it’s only recently, and rarely, that I’ve noticed any advertisements featuring interracial or, god forbid, same-sex families.  Because straight, wealthy white men tend to be interested in straight, wealthy white women, the media imposes that ideal of beauty onto both their demographic and marginalized populations alike.  The latter of these groups includes the straight women Ms. Platts discusses in this post and the gay men we’re discussing now–and though these and other minorities might not be instinctually drawn to the media’s “ideal” of the rich blonde (female) beauty, it’s no surprise that continued exposure sows a kind of recognition and, eventually, desire for the much-objectified ideal.  Even gay communities fetishize a male counterpart of this ideal in the archetypical “twink” (named for the delicious but nutritionally insubstantive snack food), carrying over an appreciation for the slimness, eternal youth, and disproportionate whiteness of the media’s favourite woman.

    And, returning to the original content of this post, what’s it like to be that woman?  As a queer male POC, I have literally no idea–but I imagine it to be empowering more than infuriating (once one can get over the objectification part).  If you’re going to be a woman, oppressed in one manner or another by the patriarchy as it stands, you might as well be the woman over whom the most affluent, powerful men drool.  That role holds more power, after all, than the lady for whom only working-class minorities have eyes–because continued social learning will have them looking for the rich-white-skinny girl, too.

  7. What if men were saying that men are sexier than women, what would you (plural) think of their sexual orientation?
    Women seeing women sexier than men it seems to be fine

    but I bet if men would say that they see men as sexier than women, then those same women who think that women are sexier than men, would think that these men are actually gay.

    • If we lived in this universe, then yeah.

      If we lived in a parallel universe that completely mirrored ours, Then I think it would depend. Some women, who are like you, would think so. Most wouldn’t. When women in my class say that women are more objectified because their bodies are sexier, I’m guessing that the guys in my class don’t think they are lesbian or bisexual. Our society is set up to deem women the sexier sex.

      If women’s bodies were hardly ever used to draw your attention to products. If men’s bodies were constantly used to do the same thing… If men’s bodies were constantly selectively hidden and revealed, and if guys were always running around in speedo’s and women were fully clothed, then I expect that both women and men would come to think that men’s bodies were more revealed and obsessed over because they were the sexier of the two. But men could still want to have sex with women and not men, Making them hetero.

      • Same thing, women can make compliments about other women’s looks and no one would wonder about it.
        But if a man makes a compliment about another man’s looks then ‘he must be gay’.

      • Yes. We are much more homophobic when it comes to men.

      • Women might, but I don’t think guy’s would. Guys would be more appreciative and pay attention to men’s bodies and less afraid to find men attractive. BUT, I still believe men would have a strong visual desire for women. And actually if women were fully clothed, it would still create intrigue as men would have a body to want to see under that clothes of women.

      • I’m sure that men would still have a strong visual desire for women because we wouldn’t likely stop sexualizing women’s bodies. And clothing definitely helps to create intrigue. But it’s hard to say that guys would be more appreciative of men’s bodies because you haven’t been there. A world in which men’s bodies are fetishized and there’s a narrow notion of what “Male attractiveness” means isn’t even close to where we are so it’s hard for you to imagine what that world would be like. But even with a slight increased focus on men’s bodies of late, there is an accompanying slight increase of body image problems and eating disorders among men.

  8. Women seeing women as sexier than men is different than learning the breast fetish.
    In the first case it’s not necessary about naked women but it’s also about dressed women or women in swimming suit etc.
    Women see women sexier than men even when they are dressed.
    If it’s learned by the media then this brings the question:
    Do also gay men learn to see women as sexier than men too?

    • The number of gay men dressed in drag, or go to drag shows. When they put on, or watch men wearing, high heels, short skirts, push up bras, they are wearing the clothing of the sexy sex. In this way, they’re seeing women sexier.

      • That sounds more like they like pretending to be a woman.
        The same as *some* lesbians who like to dress up like a man. But they certainly don’t see men as sexier than women

      • Really, that’s my point about women.

        Neither gays nor hetero women desire women more. But both recognize women — and the symbols that surround them — as the sexier sex.

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