Does society repress individuals or do individuals express themselves. Is female sexuality an expression of personal freedom and choices or an instance of social control? These are issues for the WQ crowd. The claim has long been that disparities between different fields is evidence of social suppression of women. A cascade of research in the past five years has thrown a spanner into that assumption. The countries with the greatest legal protections of women and the strongest egalitarian cultures are also those with the sharpest disparities. The causal mechanism appears to be that countries with the strongest egalitarianism, the strongest laws protecting human freedoms, are also those with the strongest growth and the greatest prosperity. Rich countries allow people to make decisions based on what they want rather than what they need. And when given the choice, apparently men and women choose activities, interests, and outcomes which are consonant with traditional norms. Much to the distress of the high WQ ideologues.
Blake et al are reporting a similar finding from another perspective. In free, egalitarian countries, women use wiles to achieve their desired goals. Emphasis added.
Female sexualization is increasing, and scholars are divided on whether this trend reflects a form of gendered oppression or an expression of female competitiveness. Here, we proxy local status competition with income inequality, showing that female sexualization and physical appearance enhancement are most prevalent in environments that are economically unequal. We found no association with gender oppression. Exploratory analyses show that the association between economic inequality and sexualization is stronger in developed nations. Our findings have important implications: Sexualization manifests in response to economic conditions but does not covary with female subordination. These results raise the possibility that sexualization may be a marker of social climbing among women that track the degree of status competition in the local environment.Free market economies generate high levels of prosperity for all members but at the expense of increasing income inequality. The researchers find that in such an environment, women use sexualization as a mechanism to game the system. In other words, it is a self-chosen strategy to attract a high performance mate.
They elaborate in the Abstract:
Publicly displayed, sexualized depictions of women have proliferated, enabled by new communication technologies, including the internet and mobile devices. These depictions are often claimed to be outcomes of a culture of gender inequality and female oppression, but, paradoxically, recent rises in sexualization are most notable in societies that have made strong progress toward gender parity. Few empirical tests of the relation between gender inequality and sexualization exist, and there are even fewer tests of alternative hypotheses. We examined aggregate patterns in 68,562 sexualized self-portrait photographs (“sexy selfies”) shared publicly on Twitter and Instagram and their association with city-, county-, and cross-national indicators of gender inequality. We then investigated the association between sexy-selfie prevalence and income inequality, positing that sexualization—a marker of high female competition—is greater in environments in which incomes are unequal and people are preoccupied with relative social standing. Among 5,567 US cities and 1,622 US counties, areas with relatively more sexy selfies were more economically unequal but not more gender oppressive. A complementary pattern emerged cross-nationally (113 nations): Income inequality positively covaried with sexy-selfie prevalence, particularly within more developed nations. To externally validate our findings, we investigated and confirmed that economically unequal (but not gender-oppressive) areas in the United States also had greater aggregate sales in goods and services related to female physical appearance enhancement (beauty salons and women’s clothing). Here, we provide an empirical understanding of what female sexualization reflects in societies and why it proliferates.There has been a long simmering debate/antagonism between sex-positive feminists and third-wave feminists for whom sex, in all its manifestations, is a mechanism for suppressing women in a patriarchal system.
Blake et al suggest that in fact sex is a form of empowerment and agency for women, as sex-positive feminists have long argued.
If their research bears out, it answers primarily anthropological questions. It does not address questions of propriety and acceptable social norms. So the fight will continue but it is interesting information.