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New UWLP brief details objectification of women in Utah

Man and woman talking
Man and woman talking

The Utah Women and Leadership Project has been researching sexist comments and responses for the last year and a half. UWLP founding director Susan Madsen said this research was done with a straightforward goal in mind.

“Our mission is to strengthen the impact of Utah girls and women, and to do that we need to raise awareness. We need to educate people,” Madsen said.

But even UWLP didn’t realize the extent of sexism in Utah. Madsen said their original plan for one policy brief on sexist comments and responses wasn’t enough.

“We were thinking we were gonna have one, and now we really have five, because what we realized is these quotes are so telling, and people need to read them,” Madsen said. “I need to read them to understand people's experiences.”

The newly released third brief focuses on objectification, which Madsen defined as women being treated as objects rather than as human beings. UWLP gathered comments from 850 women and separated those comments into seven different categories.They ranged from seemingly simple comments about appearance to more extreme and inappropriate comments.

“There were only 13. But we felt it was really important to include accusations of using sex to get ahead,” Madsen said.

The comments in this brief came from a variety of women from different backgrounds, but the majority of objectification instances happened in the workplace.

“So oftentimes, depending on the kinds of comments made, they were really from men, like 80% were from men, or more,” Madsen said. “And, oftentimes, they were from people in authority.”

Madsen said comments can seem harmless.

“A manager asked, ‘How do you keep that slim figure?’ Now people might say, well, that's kind of a nice comment. Well, it's about their body,” Madsen said.

Inappropriate comments can also be obvious.

“In some of these situations it was so egregious and everybody just sat and didn't say a word,” Madsen said. “They were in shock.”

But all can be damaging. Madsen said different women have different experiences and it’s impossible to understand how a comment could affect someone. Even so, Madsen said UWLP hopes these briefs will give employers the tools to create a better work environment.

“My hope is workplace groups will have everybody read them and have a couple of discussions,” Madsen said.

Having the appropriate direct response to an inappropriate comment or action is key, said Madsen. The aim should be to educate.

“I think as more women and men as bystanders are prepared and think of responses, we can better prepare ourselves to respond in ways that can impact people,” Madsen said.

The final two briefs to complete the Sexist Comments and Responses series will focus on stereotypes and undervaluing women.

Emma Feuz is a senior at Utah State University majoring in broadcast journalism with minors in sociology and political science. She grew up in Evanston, Wyoming where, just like Utah State, the sagebrush also grows. Emma found her love of writing at an early age and slowly discovered her interest in all things audio and visual throughout her years in school. She is excited to put those passions to use at UPR. When school isn't taking up her time, Emma loves longboarding, cheering on the Denver Broncos, and cleaning the sink at Angies.