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Here is the scenario:

A man and a woman meet at a conference. During a small talk, the man says "I will try to determine the sport you played by looking at your body type." Then he backs up, looks at the woman from the top to the bottom and says "you probably played tennis."

After the event, the woman says that she was objectified and avoids the man for the rest of the conference.

Questions:

1) Is the behavior of the man an example of objectification?

2) Is the behavior of the man an example of sexual objectification?

3) Was the man's behavior sexist?

Any help/comment/opinion would be greatly appreciated.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure if this question is perfectly a psychological question or not, but I think Interpersonal Skills is a better place to know more $\endgroup$ – Ooker Jun 23 '18 at 8:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Ooker Thank you. I tried posting the question there, but they said that this question did not fit their stack. $\endgroup$ – Pawel Jun 23 '18 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ Also, objectification is a term of social-psychology, so I am not exactly sure why classification of such behaviors would not be a good fit for a psychology stack. $\endgroup$ – Pawel Jun 23 '18 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ It's all in the intentions. Was it just an excuse to focus on her body, or does he think that he can actually guess a persons history of physical engagement by looking at their body? Guesswork. But it could regardless be inappropriate in other ways. $\endgroup$ – Alex Jun 25 '18 at 5:35
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I think the answer to your questions is, yes, probably, and almost definitely.

  1. Not necessarily, but likely yes. "I will try to guess what sport you played based on your body type," is essentially turning a person into a guessing game. The fact that he is doing it based on the person's body (i.e., their concrete form and not their feelings or personality) only makes this more apt a description for what he's doing. Whether the person wants to be objectified (which is doubtful in this case) is a different matter.

  2. It depends on his internal motivations and feelings. Did he do it because it excited him sexually at all? If so, then yes, of course it is sexual objectification. I suppose it could also be the case that he wasn't sexually motivated, but she interpreted it as sexually motivated. Strictly speaking I guess you could say that he wasn't sexually objectifying her in that case, but in another sense, it should be recognized that a man looking a woman up and down and then commenting on her body is suggestive enough that the man's intent is not the only factor in whether his objectification could at least be interpreted as sexual. That is, if he wants to later claim that it wasn't sexual, I think the burden of proof is on him.

  3. Probably. If he says things like this to women only, then it was definitely sexist. Even if he says things like this to men just as frequently, he failed to recognize that his comments are made in a societal context of which he is a part, and cannot be interpreted separately from that context. It is (or should be) well known that the history of women in the workplace is fraught with men commenting on women's bodies in an unprofessional if not outright sexual and harassing manner. In that context, there is simply no way for a man to randomly comment on the body of a woman he just met at a conference and claim that it's appropriate. He ought to recognize how it sounds, and that it understandably sounds much different to a woman than it does to a man.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's possible that the man is specialized in sport aesthetics and think that if the woman does play tennis she would feel exciting too. Just a thought. $\endgroup$ – Ooker Jun 24 '18 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ In the example, the woman was not into it. Yes, it is possible to imagine many scenarios in which the man's motivation was naive or innocent, but that only matters a little. I can't walk up to a stranger at a conference and stick my finger in their mouth, and then say, "it's ok, I'm an ortolaryngologist." $\endgroup$ – PhiloT Jun 24 '18 at 12:39

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