Campus Rape: It's Not All Misogyny
Amongst those who frequently talk about rape and other sexual assault issues pertaining to male perpetrators and female victims, there is often an assumption that rapists are aggressively hostile towards women. But open hostility - such as believing that women are all asking for it, that they're sluts who manipulate men into buying gifts and dinners and then don't put out, or other typically stated resentments by so-called "men's rights activists" (MRAs) and "pick up artists" (PUAs) - is not actually required for rape to occur.
The key difference lies in whether the man himself thinks of what he's doing as rape or not. Several studies and reports have circulated in recent years indicating that a lot more men will admit to descriptive situations that involve coerced sex as long as you don't use the word rape in the description. We've several chilling stories about how men will casually admit to having had sex with a woman who was unconscious, having used roofies, or having used some of the PUA techniques that involve physical coercion because they feel entitled to sex in these situations and fundamentally do not see themselves as having raped anybody.
Even victims don't often want to admit they've been raped. That word is so loaded with ugliness, trauma, and victim-blaming that many victims themselves will go to lengths to explain away a rape, especially during the initial trauma period. This is part of why we've seen calls for rape investigations to be less brutal towards victims, less requiring of nailed-down specifics, and more flexible as their minds process what happened over time. Unfortunately, because our society is still so deeply mired in victim-blaming, many of these attempts to revise justice systems or reporting systems get written off as allowing female victims time to "make things up" instead of recognizing the psychological processes at work.
A new study by Sara Edwards, PhD, and Kathryn Bradshaw of University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, and Verlin Hinsz, PhD of North Dakota State University in Fargo, appearing in the peer-reviewed journal Violence and Gender entitled “Denying Rape but Endorsing Forceful Intercourse: Exploring Differences Among Responders,” (available for free at http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/vio.2014.0022 until February 6, 2015) contrasted male survey respondents who were willing to engage in coercive sexual activities versus those who were willing to rape in terms of their responses to other survey elements geared to gauge their relative hostility towards women versus a callous sexual attitude as part of wider hyermasculinity.
Hostility towards women was measured using statements as I've mentioned above, and the callous sexual attitude measurement looked at what many of us engaged in activism typically refer to as entitlement: the objectification of women, the supposition that "real men" are sexually dominant and "score" a lot, that men allegedly have uncontrollable desires, and that therefore if a man is to be a "real man" he needs to be supplied with sex regardless of whether the woman involved really wants to or not.
From the study:
Given that callous sexual attitudes permit violence and consider women as passive sexual objects, it follows that for men who endorse these, sexual aggression becomes an appropriate and accepted expression of masculinity. In this sense, using force to obtain intercourse does not become an act of rape, but rather an expression of hypermasculinity, which may be thought of as a desirable disposition in certain subcultures. Taken together, these research findings suggest that an expression of hypermasculinity through callous sexual attitudes may relate to an inclination to endorse a behavioral description (i.e., using force to hold an individual down) versus referring to a sexually aggressive act as rape. Hence, we hypothesize that the construct of callous sexual attitudes will be found at the highest levels in those men who endorse intentions to force a woman to sexual acts but deny intentions to rape.
In other words, the researchers wanted to see if this entitlement attitude many of us have been decrying is linked to approval for coerced sex if you take away the loaded word "rape", versus requiring actual hostile misogyny to approve of such situations.
And it is.
As hypothesized, a sizable number of participants indicated that they might use force to obtain intercourse, but would not rape a woman. Men who indicate intentions to use force but deny intentions to rape exhibit a unique disposition featuring an inverse construct of hostility toward women but high levels of callous sexual attitudes (Check 1985). Given that hostility toward women involves resentment, bitterness, rejection sensitivity, and paranoia about women's motives, we consider the inverse of hostility toward women in men that intend to use force to be indicative of an affable, trusting, and nonreactive affect toward women. When combined with callous sexual attitudes, we interpret this function as representing personality characteristics that might lend themselves to allowing men to not perceive his actions as rape and may even view the forced intercourse as an achievement. The primary motivation in this case could be sexual gratification, accomplishment, and/or perceived compliance with stereotypical masculine gender norms. The use of force in these cases might be seen as an acceptable mean to reach one's goal, or the woman's “no” is perceived as a token resistance consistent with stereotypical gender norms. While the ultimate outcome of either act constitutes rape, this pattern of results suggests that there might be different types of offenders with potential differences in underlying motivation, cognition, and/or personality traits.
I want to highlight some phrases in there:
"an affable, trusting, and nonreactive affect toward women" - This is why so many victims of rape are so mind-boggled by the event that they themselves don't know how to label it, because he was their friend. He was that nice guy, that harmless guy, that funny guy, that decent fella everyone likes. So even if the victim can get over her own mental roadblock and realizes, "He is not nice because HE RAPED ME," when she reports this to mutual friends, she is routinely met with disbelief. "What? Him? No way! He's so nice! He'd never do that!" Except that he did, and now the victim is plunged into a world of self-doubt, doubt by friends, and questions from all sides about what she did to make this happen. Did she lead him on? Did she ever flirt with him or send him mixed signals? Those questions should be irrelevant but that's what she'll get in her face constantly, even from within her own head.
"may even view the forced intercourse as an achievement" - This is why so many of us complain about casual use of women as prizes in literature/movies/games/other entertainment, even down to those items geared towards very young children. When we routinely enforce the girl-as-prize trope, we are helping to enforce a key component of a set of attitudes that is leading to real-life rape. The stories and games that deliver women as literal prizes to "heroes" rarely give the woman a choice in this outcome, teaching girls and boys, men and women that female consent is irrelevant if the male has "earned" this reward, or worse, that a female who withholds consent at the point of being a prize is breaking the game or wrecking the ending.
"The primary motivation in this case could be sexual gratification, accomplishment, and/or perceived compliance with stereotypical masculine gender norms." - Or what many of us simply call "entitlement", the notion that a man is allowed to have these things, that women are provided by fate or circumstances to supply it, and if women don't like it they shouldn't go out, shouldn't wear that dress, shouldn't drink, or shouldn't live their lives. Because boys will be boys and apparently part of that is being allowed to stick your penis in any available vagina, with "availability" not necessarily including "clear consent".
"the woman's “no” is perceived as a token resistance consistent with stereotypical gender norms" - This is why we chant, "Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!" Because PUA training (and society in general) tells men that women really do want to say yes to them but have to be coerced into it one way or another so women can free themselves from the sexist bonds of the supposed morality of chastity. Some PUAs even see themselves as heros of sexual liberation, casting themselves in such a positive light that they cannot comprehend why they ever get negative reactions.
Plus it implies that a woman who has said yes before - to that man or to any other man - then somehow owes more yeses, because that chastity gate has been unlocked and therefore is expected to remain unlocked for all time.
All of this concocted nuance about the word "no" misses the point that "no" should be seen as an absolute. If a man suspects a woman of playing "head games" and meaning "yes" when she says "no", he should either directly ask for clarification or go with the assumption of "no" meaning "no" until the woman herself changes it to a "yes" of her own volition. Because here's a hint to the male "players" out there: most of the time when a woman says "no" to you she does not want to have sex with you and you need to get over your entitlement issues and move along.
So what does all of this mean for campus rape prevention? It means we can't keep just screaming, "Misogyny!" at the obvious MRAs and PUAs and expect anything to get better, because to be blunt, the actual misogynists are not going to listen anyway. But this study reveals inroads to getting to those men who are raping while defining it away in their own minds as something else, the ones who seem "like such a nice guy" but apparently don't mind scoring points with their brethren using coercive techniques upon women.
The authors conclude,
Men who are primarily motivated by negative, hostile affect toward women and who conceptualize their own intentions and behaviors as rape are unlikely to benefit from the large group primary prevention efforts done as part of college outreach efforts. However, programming using a group and norm-based approach appears to be appropriate for men who endorse force but deny rape, as long as the programming can establish rapport and credibility with participants. Because these men do not view their sexually aggressive intentions as rape, failing to attend to issues around beliefs about the stereotypical rapist and not identifying with them could weaken the effectiveness of the programming due to not receiving buy in from participants. This would ultimately likely leave the men who could benefit most from these prevention efforts disengaged.
In other words, we need to establish campus-specific socialization programs that reduce the need for and spread of hypermasculine norms, which frankly would benefit many men anyway since many men do not want to engage in those narrow definitions of what constitutes a "real man". The traditional campus hazing rituals and party games that emphasize "real manhood" in terms of aggression, drunkenness, and other stereotypical "masculine" behaviours need to be barred from campuses entirely. Further, there needs to be real education available in a non-obtrusive way that suggests alternative definitions of masculinity that embrace all men - gay, straight, nerds, jocks, etc - while simultaneously clamping down on any lingering "boys will be boys" excuses that not only allow perpetual violence but help to enforce it as a valid behaviour in the first place.
This might mean that some of the blunt campaigns those of us who already get it favour - like posters that simply say, "Don't Rape" - are not effective with the "callous sexual attitude" set because as far as they're concerned, they're not raping so they'll ignore those posters. Better simple slogans may be those that emphasize consent - ie "No means no" and "Absence of No Does Not Mean Yes" - may be more effective. We need other strategies to get and hold the attention of men who already have a callous sexual attitude and turn them away from that, using their own social groups to bolster these strategies because that's going to be a lot more effective than an external force coming forth with what seems like a scolding for something they're pretty sure they've never done.
We also need to do better at seeding the concepts of female autonomy and required consent on a wider social scale. That means shunning those games/movies/books/etc that promote women as prizes or sex as a point system. Male virgins need to no longer be objects of ridicule while female virgins need to no longer be objects of high value. "Deflowering" and "cherry popping" need to go in terms of concepts of some kind of special event men get to apply to women. First sex is over-romanticized all over the place which is bad enough for so many reasons outside the scope of this article, but specifically making it a prize that experienced men get to win out of inexperienced women needs to be seen as creepy, not points to be won.
Lastly, as I have said so many times, a lot of this has to come from the men who get it towards the men who don't. That can be as simple as no longer silently standing by when your male friends display callous sexual attitudes. Stand up and say, "Hey, that's not cool" when you hear rape jokes in your video game sessions. When your friend in the bar is assigning point values to women around the room, try saying, "Or maybe they're human beings and not prizes for you to win." For too long the actual good guys have lived in fear of rejection by the jerks. It's time to turn that around and speak out so the jerks are the ones being ostracized for their ugly attitudes, and that can only happen if those of you who know better take the initiative and do it.
Image source, a potentially better campaign that emphasizes consent: http://www.theviolencestopshere.ca/dbtg.php .
#rape #campusrape #rapeprevention #science
Banhammer is in effect for any comments that engage in victim-blaming or derailment from the focus of this study.
PS If you think you may have coerced someone into sex or think you might be inclined to do so, don't bury that. Deal with it. Start by seeking professional counselling because that professional can help you figure out what you're doing wrong, how to stop it, and what, if anything, you need to do to rectify what you've already done.
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