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Objectification and Reactions toward Public Female Toplessness in the United States: Looking Beyond Legal Approval

Abstract

Multiple United States federal courts have recently drawn inferences regarding community sentiment as it pertains to public female toplessness. Despite citing common social factors in their rulings, the courts have rendered conflicting decisions to uphold (Ocean City, MD) or to overturn (Fort Collins, CO) female-specific bans. Regional differences in attitudes toward toplessness may in part explain these discrepant legal outcomes. Participants (n = 326) were asked to rate their general impressions of photos depicting topless women in three different public settings. Geographic region was unrelated to reactions toward toplessness, however, participants from states with prohibitive or ambiguous statutes rated the photos differently. Consistent with a body of theoretical and empirical work on cultural objectification of women, female participants, on average, were more critical of the photos of other topless women. Other demographic and attitudinal predictors showed a pattern that suggests moral objections as a likely source of unfavorable reactions. Ascribing morality with the practice of toplessness echoed some of the commentary that surrounded the above legal cases and further substantiates prior objectification research (i.e., Madonna-whore dichotomy). Overall, attitudes toward public female toplessness appear to be driven more by individual opinions than by context (e.g., beach, park) or structural factors (e.g., region or state-legality).

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Data Availability

The data summarized in the associated manuscript, “Objectification and Reactions Toward Public Female Toplessness in the United States: Looking Beyond Legal Approval” are available via the Center for Open Science. The annotated datafile is in SPSS format (*.sav) and can be accessed at the following address: https://osf.io/dvg26/

Notes

  1. Due to the methodological limitation created by assessing “participant sex,” as opposed to gender identity, the terms “participant sex” and “sex difference” will be subsequently used to differentiate and refer to the hypothesized differences between men and women (i.e., Hypothesis 4). Greater consideration and the potential implications of suboptimal measurement in this way is treated in the Discussion.

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Funding

No external agency or organization (public, commercial, nor not-for-profit) provided financial or other support for research described in the associated manuscript, “Objectification and Reactions toward Public Female Toplessness in the United States: Looking Beyond Legal Approval”.

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Contributions

Both authors contributed to the design and implementation of the research project that is summarized in the associated manuscript, “Objectification and Reactions Toward Public Female Toplessness in the United States: Looking Beyond Legal Approval.” The first draft of the manuscript was written by Colin R. Harbke and both authors contributed to editing and revising the manuscript. Both authors approve of its content.

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Correspondence to Colin R. Harbke.

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Conflict of interest

The authors have no financial interests or conflicts of interest to disclose.

Consent to Participate

All participants were treated in accordance with the Ethical Principals of Psychologists and Code of Conduct of the American Psychological Association (2017), which included a complete description of the potential risks, benefits, and anonymity protections as part of the consent procedures. The same information was repeated at the end of the study, at which time the volunteer participants were also thanked for their contribution. Participants consented to participate via radio button prior to accessing the photo rating task and associated questionnaires.

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Harbke, C.R., Lindemann, D.F. Objectification and Reactions toward Public Female Toplessness in the United States: Looking Beyond Legal Approval. Sexuality & Culture (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-022-10005-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-022-10005-7

Keywords

  • Public female toplessness
  • Partial nudity
  • Bare breast
  • Objectification
  • Madonna-whore dichotomy
  • Equal rights
  • Sexism