Study suggests Black women are more sexually objectified than White women

New research provides evidence that Black women are sexually objectified by White people to a greater degree than are White women. The study was published in Psychology of Women Quarterly.

The research sought to investigate the Jezebel stereotype — the belief that Black women are innately promiscuous and hypersexual.

“As a field, we are continuing to establish evidence about how we constitutes attributions of ‘humanness,'” said study author Joel Anderson of the Australian Catholic University.

“For example, there are constantly improvements in the complexities of human-machine interactions (consider how life-life robots can be these days!). However, it is equally important to understand why we sometimes deny these attributions to other groups of humans — and in particular, it is important to understand the mechanisms driving these processes and the risk-factors that make certain social groups more vulnerable to being objectified or dehumanised.”

The researchers conducted an eye-tracking experiment with 38 White college students, which found that participants attended more often, and for longer durations, to the sexual body parts of Black women compared to White women. This was especially true when the women were wearing bikinis rather than normal clothing.

In two more experiments, which included another 251 White participants, the researchers used a Go/No-Go Association Task to assess automatic associations between race and certain concepts. The associations with human attributes did not significantly differ between White and Black woman, but Black women were more strongly associated with both animals and objects.

All of the participants were from the United States.

“The Jezebel stereotype is still alive and kicking. Although blatant instances of the dehumanization and objectification of Black people have attenuated over time, subtle and dehumanizing perceptions still exist,” Anderson told PsyPost.

“We measured these inter-group processes using eye-tracking software and implicit measures, and we found considerable evidence that Black women are both objectified and dehumanized to a greater extent than White women.”

“Specifically, relative to White women, Black women were more frequently targets of an objectifying gaze (i.e., participants fixated more often on their the hips/waist and chest) and were implicitly (non-consciously) associated with words about animals and machines (relative to words about humanity),” Anderson said.

Like all research, the study includes some limitations.

“This is a first-step in this important line of research. We used categorical target race groups (i.e., visually identifiable as Black or White). This overlooks the complexities of the issue, for example, some Black people are less stereotypically Black in their visual appearance, and this might impact how they are perceived by others,” Anderson explained.

“Identifying as bi-racial might be either a protective factor or a risk factor for objectifying and dehumanising processes. In addition, it is important to understand if minority groups apply this process towards their own group. Little is known about the prevalence and impact of self-dehumanization for vulnerable social groups.”

The study, “Revisiting the Jezebel Stereotype: The Impact of Target Race on Sexual Objectification“, was authored by Joel R. Anderson, Elise Holland, Courtney Heldreth, and Scott P. Johnson.