Objectification is something that many women have experienced at some point in their life. Whether it’s being catcalled while walking down the street, experiencing sexual violence, and many other situations, objectification is unfortunately a familiar experience for women. In this podcast, Dr. Kate Balestrieri talks with Dr. Jamie Goldenberg and Roxanne Felig about their current research around objectification and looking at Terror Management Theory (TMT) as a motivation that could explain why men objectify women as they are able to deny the reality of women’s humanness.
What is Terror Management Theory?
Terror Management Theory is a behavioral psychology theory that is based in death anxiety the human race experiences and motivations for self-preservation. Many people have a strong fear of death or at the very least become anxious when experiencing death related thoughts which can often manifest in a denial of death for some. Of course, most people understand at some level that that they will die someday, but some experience a psychological existential crisis that can result in a belief system that enables someone to need to manage the terror around dying on an individual and society level.
Cultural beliefs and cultural worldviews often come into play with Terror Management Theory via spirituality. Some attached their ideology to a religion that gives them meaning and purpose and others find comfort in developing a belief system around what the afterlife will be like. Researchers studies have argued that this profound terror around death drives entire societies to develop constructs that give people meaning in their lives, all of which is an unconscious attempt to avoid persistent mortality salience.
Terror Management Theory & Objectification
How does Terror Management Theory play into objectification? When someone objectifies another person, they are viewing them as the name suggests, an object. They are stripped of their humanness and personhood and reduced to a “thing” that services a purpose for the person objectifying, which is usually fulfilling a sexual gratification need.
Within Terror Management Theory, Dr. Goldenberg’s research suggests there is a motivation for men to deny mortality of women which shapes the attitude they have about the purpose of women’s bodies. However, this isn’t just a concept around people objectifying others, it can also show up in why people objectify themselves as well. When someone is reminded of death or mortality, the research argues that people essentially cope by objectifying to psychologically handle the existential threat.
Dr. Jamie Goldenberg works at the University of South Florida and has been involved in the study of Terror Management Theory and Objectification of oneself and others, the body and sex, objectification of women. Roxanne Felig has been a part of the same research study.
Dr. Goldenberg’s research focuses on psychological experiences associated with being a woman. To this end, she has conducted extensive research examining the causes and consequences of objectification of women. One approach to these questions is to apply terror management theory, a theory that takes an existential perspective on human motivation. Her research suggests that people are motivated to deny mortality and any connection to animality (or creatureliness) – objectification of woman accomplishes this by turning women into literal (and immortal) objects. The focus on women’s appearance and consequent denial of personhood and internal attributes affects perceptions of women and can hinder their success, having implications for political progress for instance, and also affects women’s self-perceptions, undermining self-concept clarity and congruences between the self and bodily experiences (e.g., explaining why women sometimes dress as if they are imperious to the cold).
They have also applied the terror management perspective to health outcomes, developing the terror management health model; this line of research led to 10 years of continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health. Recently, she and her graduate students have been interested in the consequences of social media on women’s health and well-being.
With her guests, Dr. Kate discusses objectification, the disconnect from one’s body, the pyscho-dynamic denial of the body’s natural abilities including feeling pain or pleasure. And so much more on the findings of this study and the phenomenon of objectification, fear of death, and connection of it all.