Culture, News Media

Equal opportunity objectification? The sexualization of men and women on the cover of Rolling Stone

Britney Spears (Rolling Stone)
(Rolling Stone)

The images of barely clad men and women that adorn magazine covers, posters, billboards and media of all kinds have been a standard feature of popular culture for decades. Critics often condemn the apparent ever-increasing sexualization of advertisements and mass media. Yet, from a quantitative standpoint, it is not precisely clear how much of an escalation there has been, if any, in the use of sexuality in popular culture and marketing.

A 2011 study from researchers at SUNY-Buffalo published in Sexuality and Culture, “Equal Opportunity Objectification? The Sexualization of Men and Women on the Cover of Rolling Stone, examined whether or not women and men have been increasingly sexualized by comparing Rolling Stone magazine covers from 1967 to 2009. The researchers, Erin Hatton and Mary Nell Trautner, state that they chose the magazine because of its longevity of publishing, and because “representations of men and women on the cover of Rolling Stone resemble popular cultural images broadly, particularly more so than lifestyle magazines which are often explicitly about sex, relationships or sexuality.”

The study’s findings include:

  • Of the 931 covers included in the data set, 651 featured only men, 205 featured only women, and 75 featured women and men together.
  • The pattern of treatment shows a clear change in the depiction of both men and women: “In the 1960s, 11% of men and 44% of women on the covers of Rolling Stone were sexualized. In the 2000s, 17% of men were sexualized (a 55% increase), and 83% of women were sexualized (an 89% increase).”
  • There are fewer images of women that do not exploit sexuality: “Nonsexualized images of women dropped from 56% in the 1960s to 17% in the 2000s, while nonsexualized images of men dropped only slightly from 89% in the 1960s to 83% in the 2000s.”
  • Over the entire time period, 22% of the images of men displayed no sexualized attributes.
  • Hypersexualized images of women increased from 11% in the 1960s to 61% in 2000s.
  • There were 10 times more hypersexualized images of women than men, compared to 11 times more nonsexualized images of men than women.

In conclusion, the researchers state that while “sexualized representations of both women and men increased,” the “hypersexualized images of women (but not men) skyrocketed.” Furthermore, the study’s authors hypothesize that this increased hypersexualization of women may be limiting “cultural scripts for ways of doing femininity.”


By | July 27, 2011

Citation: Hatton, Erin; Trautner, and Mary Nell. "Equal Opportunity Objectification? The Sexualization of Men and Women on the Cover of Rolling Stone," Sexuality & Culture, 2011, Volume 15, pp. 256–278. DOI 10.1007/s12119-011-9093-2.

Analysis assignments

Read the issue-related NPR story "Hundreds March Against Sexual Assault in ‘SlutWalk.’"

  1. If you were to write a news analysis piece incorporating news from the article and findings in the study, what might you say about current trends in gender and popular culture?

Read the full Sexuality and Culture study "Equal Opportunity Objectification? The Sexualization of Men and Women on the Cover of Rolling Stone."

  1. Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
  2. Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
  3. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)

Newswriting assignments

  1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
  2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
  3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
  4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.

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Media Round-Up, Week of 8/1 | Katie Donnelly Aug 5, 2011 16:37

[...] out this study about the sexualization of men and women on the cover of Rolling Stone. Take a wild guess as to whether or not women are more sexualized now than in the 1960s. How about [...]

The sexualization of men and women on the cover of Rolling Stone | Communication Research Methods Sep 8, 2011 20:12

[...] [From Jouralist's Resource] [...]

Men’s Rights, Feminism and Sexualization | Fashion Cultus Oct 27, 2013 8:16

[…] Usually I’m all for equality but… Honestly, less sexualization of everyone, please. (Source on increasing sexualization of men and women, and skyrocketing sexualization of […]

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