Objectification among College Women in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence

By Gervais, Sarah J.; Davidson, M. Meghan | Violence and Victims, February 1, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Objectification among College Women in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence


Gervais, Sarah J., Davidson, M. Meghan, Violence and Victims


This study examined intimate partner violence (IPV) and objectification. Specifically, the associations between psychological and physical abuse and self-objectification, body surveillance, and body shame for college women were considered through the lens of objectification theory. Consistent with Hypothesis 1, bivariate correlations showed that more psychological abuse was associated with more self-objectification, more body surveillance, and more body shame. As well, more physical abuse was associated with more body surveillance and more body shame. However, when the unique effects of psychological and physical abuse were considered in a path model, the links between psychological abuse and objectification remained while the links between physical abuse and objectification became nonsignificant. In addition, consistent with Hypothesis 2 and the model proposed by objectification theory, body surveillance and the combined effect of self-objectification and body surveillance explained relations between psychological abuse and body shame. This work fills an important gap in the current literature because it is the only study to date that examines relations between both psychological and physical abuse and self-objectification, body surveillance, and body shame. Implications and future directions are discussed.

Keywords: objectification; intimate partner violence; psychological abuse; emotional abuse; physical abuse; shame

Intimate partner violence (IPV)-harm inflicted by a current or former partner or spouse (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2010)-represents a serious personal and societal issue (Coker et al., 2002). In the United States, for example, 32.9% of women report experiencing physical abuse (i.e., intentional use of physical force with the potential for causing death, disability, injury, or harm; CDC, 2010) from an intimate partner over their lifetime, whereas 4.0% of women report experiencing physical abuse in the past 12 months (Black et al., 2011; CDC, 2010). Similarly, 48.4% of women report experiencing psychological abuse (i.e., intentional use of expressive aggression or coercive control intended to monitor or threaten; CDC, 2010) from an intimate partner over their lifetime, whereas13.9% of women report such abuse in the past 12 months (Black et al., 2011). In addition, IPV is especially prevalent among college women because results from an online survey showed that 35% of the women reported being victims of IPV at least once during college (Fass, Benson, & Leggett, 2008; see also Coker et al., 2002). Importantly, experiencing IPV is associated with various adverse mental health outcomes including body- and appearance-related consequences for young women. For example, violence in teen dating relationships contributes to unhealthy weight control behaviors, including using diet pills and laxatives, binge eating, and vomiting to lose weight in girls and women (Ackard & Neumark-Sztainer, 2002; Silverman, Raj, Mucci, & Hathaway, 2001). Thus, considering the body- and appearance-related consequences of IPV for college women is important for both researchers and practitioners.

OBJECTIFICATION THEORY

In this work, we considered the body-related consequences of psychological and physical abuse in the context of intimate relationships using objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) as a framework. Objectification theory was developed to elucidate the adverse psychological consequences for women living in a society in which they are treated as things rather than as people. People are objectified when their body parts or functions are separated out from their person, reduced to the status of mere instruments, or regarded as if they were capable of representing them (Bartky, 1990). In our view, when people subject their partners to psychological and/or physical abuse, they are dehumanizing their partners (Haslam, 2006) and treating their partners more as things rather than as people.

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