Women's Social Relevance: Public Attention for Private Matters

by Rachel Montana

Institution: Princeton University
Department: Psychology
Degree: PhD
Year: 2014
Keywords: Attention; Gender; Memory; Representation; Sexism; Social Invisibility; Social psychology; Gender studies; Psychology
Record ID: 2043969
Full text PDF: http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/dsp01qv33rw80k


Social invisibility research on the relevance and representation of different social groups suggests that women, as members of a marginalized social group, have more constrained representational repertoires and thereby fewer domains in which they are considered contextually relevant. Additionally, research on sexual objectification shows that women are more likely than men to be represented and perceived as objectified bodies as opposed to agentic subjects with minds. We combine these two formerly parallel lines of research and propose that women gain social relevance and representation in the public sphere through their physical visibility as opposed to their social audibility, while men have broader public relevance that is not contingent on context. Selective attentional directing as determined through visual fixation indeed demonstrates that women are considered more attentionally relevant than men in a context of exclusively physical visibility; however, once the context shifts to include social audibility as well as physicality, there is a corresponding shift in visual attention away from women but not from men. Results related to source memory similarly show that women are less memorable (and thereby less relevant) as audible subjects even though they received more attention as physical objects, with statements made by female speakers more likely to be misattributed than statements made by male speakers. Finally, a series of studies on evaluative ratings of audibility (as expressed through opinion editorials) demonstrate that the relationship of physical visibility and social audibility for women (but not men) is a dichotomous one, such that the privileging of the female body comes at the direct expense of the relevance of the female mind in evaluations of women's audibility.