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If you think women are out to control you through sex or feminism, you are more likely to see this woman as an object.

To everyone who has watched the recent video by Jessica Rey, former White Power Ranger, current Hepburn-Inspired-Swimsuit Peddler,

Rey’s suits are stylish–she doesn’t want no “frumpy-dumpy” sister-wives getups.

Naturally, many people, including many of my friends, are posting the video with comments like, “love this” and “this is neat” and “modest is hottest” (actually, no one has said the last one yet, thank goodness).

Unfortunately, Rey is very misleading in her use of the research. She claims that researchers (at Princeton!) found that men who viewed women in bikinis saw them as objects, and as having less power, in comparison to women who were dressed “modestly” (in her opinion). Of course she also plugs her own swimwear line during this speech. Create a problem, and then sell people the solution – basic marketing.

In reality, the study found that bikinis per se were not the problem, but the attitudes held by the male viewer.1 In the study, hostile sexism (HS) is defined as “a combative ideology maintaining that women seek to control men to use sexuality or feminist ideology as a means to achieving status.” Men with high HS scores are “more likely to deny that women possess positive, uniquely human, secondary emotions (e.g., compassion…).” Here’s a key conclusion from the study:

“…male participants with high HS scores were faster to associate sexualized female targets with first-person action verbs and clothed female targets with third-person action verbs than the inverse. This suggests that sexualized women are more closely associated with being the objects, not the agents, of action as compared to clothed women, but only for men who possess hostile sexist attitudes.”

In other words, if you are a man, and you feel like women try to control men using their sexuality or feminism, if you see a woman in a bikini (or whatever might be “immodest” in your culture), you are more likely to objectify her, and see her as having less agency than a “modest” woman.

One thing this says to me is that the men who are most harshly critical of what women wear may indeed also be the men who possess the most sexist attitudes toward women. Perhaps we should be teaching young men to, in the very least, not be threatened by feminism, or “scantily clad” women, as if they were out to get them. Apparently this could go a long way toward increasing virtue.

A more recent study may also lend support to this idea.2  Male participants viewed non-nude centerfold images (women in bikinis and lingerie), and were measured according to how much these images impacted their attitudes about rape. These images DID have a negative impact on *some* of the men! Some of the men actually did become more accepting of rape.

What made the difference?

Those who became more accepting of rape also had reported having fathers who were “progressive” (not in the political sense) in that they espoused sexist attitudes about women, they treated women as objects and as means to sexual gratification. Participants who reported their fathers were “conservative” or “traditional” in the sense that they had respectful views of women, were NOT negatively impacted by the images.

Articles of clothing are not inherently immodest or modest. Our best bet at increasing virtue in the world and in the church is to teach young men to be respectful, to not be sexist, to see women as equals, to NOT be threatened by a woman’s body or how she chooses to display it. Heterosexual males are responsible for making a bikini or a shoulder or an ankle or a neck or a navel immodest.

Women, if you want to wear a bikini or a tankini or a Jessica Rey Hepburn Swim Dress, or a burqa swimsuit, go right ahead (not that you need my approval). Yes, it is true that if you choose to wear something more revealing than is the cultural norm, guys who are already sexist jerks will think of you as a hammer or wrench or some other object. We don’t need to base our actions on the lowest common denominator, however. Real men see women as people, as powerful agents unto themselves, REGARDLESS of the size of their swimsuit. Modesty is a factor of the mind, not the body. When one is “modest” in thought, outward dress reflects that  doesn’t matter.




1. Cikara, M., Eberhardt, J. L., & Fiske, S. T. (2010). From agents to objects: Sexist attitudes and neural responses to sexualized targets. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23, 540-551.

2. This study was fairly recent, and should be published in the near future. The results reported here are from a presentation by a professor at a large Midwestern university.