According to a 2012 study in the European Journal of Social Psychology, our brains have actually been trained to see men as a whole, and women as a sum of their parts. Using photos of men and women, the scientists found something terrifying: “When presented with images of men, perceivers tended to rely more on “global” cognitive processing, the mental method in which a person is perceived as a whole. Meanwhile, images of women were more often the subject of “local” cognitive processing, [which] underlies the way we think about objects: houses, cars and so on.” Both men and women, therefore, think of women has less of a whole, which makes women seem weaker and of less value than men.
But what’s most surprising about this is that anyone was surprised — pop culture has encouraged us to think this way for decades.
Of course, Derulo cannot get all the credit for this brand of music, and he likely won’t have as much success when he moves onto the female elbow (to date, “Wiggle” has brought in more than 173 million views, earning Derulo a peak position of fifth most popular song in the country). Butts, in particular, have been the focus of many hits — from Big Sean’s “Dance (Ass)” to Major Lazer’s “Bubble Butt,” to The Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps.” Ask any 20- or 30-something to finish the sentence, “I like big butts …” and you’ll hear Sir Mix-a-Lot’s entire dance hall favorite, word for word. Some of the catchiest pop songs of the last couple decades have been about women’s behinds.
Many people would argue that these songs pay a loving tribute to a woman’s behind — that they’re lighthearted. But every time a woman is atomized into parts, listeners really are encouraged to ignore the whole of her. Important things, like her agency and personhood, are left in the dark.