Social research on rape: reviewing the literature and asking where we go now. Part II

Continuing with the literature review:


Social responses to rape culture and rape myth acceptance

Turning to the social response to rape, a generalized starting point may be credited to the initiation of men’s studies programs within college and university campuses. Andersen & Witham (2011) describe the advent of these programs as a hallmark to challenge patriarchal bias and sexist norms. Often discussed under the name masculinity studies, these programs incorporate activism and discourse with the integral focal point being the understanding of male location in a society shaped by gender and sexuality. Building upon these early endeavors, education and prevention programs have been adopted in schools and colleges nationwide.

Opening this discussion is a review of research undertaken by Poco Smith and Sarah Welchans in the year 2000. This study, focused on rape prevention education at the high school level, is informative for what it lacks in findings. Smith & Welchans (2000) set out to assess the effectiveness of a peer education program that emphasizes male responsibility as integral to decreasing sexual assault. The authors note that the typical education programs are undertaken at the college level, but a need is apparent to begin education at younger levels because “6 out of 10 rapes occur before the survivor is 18 years old” (Smith & Welchans, 2000, p. 1256). The program in this study, like those on college campuses, focuses on reduction of rape myths and victim blaming patterns while stressing male responsibility and awareness. The main focus of this study was the effect of gender as a variable in changing rape myth attitudes. Smith & Welchans (2000) hypothesized that scores on pretests and posttests would show difference based upon gender. The findings validate their hypothesis showing that females score higher both pre and post test regarding change in rape myth attitudes. Significance is high also as males show a larger positive change in attitude between their pre and post test.

     In much the same manner Victoria Kress, J. Brad Shepherd, Renee Anderson, Aaron Petuch, James Nolan, and Darlene Thiemeke (2006) have compiled an evaluation of a rape prevention program at the college level using variables focused on rape myth attitudes and acceptance. With the gap of eight years between this study by Kress et al., (2008) and the work of Smith & Welchans (2000), criticisms of such earlier programs are able to be addressed and a more thorough design is constructed by Kress et al., (2008). Peer education in a mixed gender setting is utilized, although the presentation itself lasts almost three times longer than the high school program allowing for greater coverage and varied use of presentation styles to engage varied learners (Kress et al., 2008). Positive changes in rape myth attitudes can be documented by this study however, the sample population is not diverse, being 90% Caucasian and located within a small, religiously affiliated college campus. As with the study by Smith & Welchans (2000), no longitudinal data has been made available to track rape myth attitude changes as lasting.  While these outcomes direct presumptive positive change toward educational programs as ameliorative to attitudes on rape, long-term influence is unclear and noted as a limiting factor in both studies. The inability to document long-term or lasting attitudinal change in studies such as these thus leads to redress and reorganization of educational programs over the next decade.

Recognizing that both individual and social change was needed to create greater amelioration in accepted rape myth attitudes the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began, in 2005, to establish restructured educational programs combining both individual and social elements. Pamela Cox, Karen Lang, Stephanie Townsend, and Rebecca Campbell (2010) produced a joint report detailing the formation of a theoretical model for the implementation of such programs. Changes included program development that spans a longer length of time than the original single forty-five minute session and a move to single-gender programs (Cox et al., 2005). Community readiness was also assessed to evaluate the likelihood of successful programs based upon the same suggestions that Pease & Flood (2008) postulated regarding the need to change community attitudes prior to individual acceptance.

During this same approximate period of time that the implementation of revised programs was beginning at the community level, college and university programs found themselves re-evaluating their methods regarding campus rape and education. McMahon (2010) writes of the major public health related issue on college campuses associated with rape listing “that 3% of college women are raped during a 9-month period and one fifth to one-fourth of all women experience a completed or attempted rape during their 4- to 5-year college careers” (p. 3). These figures inform the mandated implementation of federal programs like the CDC model for all higher education institutions receiving federal funds (McMahon, 2010). As part of the newer model on rape prevention McMahon (2010) notes an emerging focus on bystander intervention which strongly incorporates community involvement and intervention.

Within McMahon’s (2010) study, rape myths are defined in terms previously noted and used as variables to assess the willingness of college students to intervene if witness to rape. This analysis was preparatory to gauge educational needs as they relate to prevention. This was a large, campus-wide survey of incoming freshmen of both genders. Consistent with all previous research, gender was significant with males showing more proclivities to the acceptance of rape myths and less willingness to intervene. Also, without separating for gender, 53% of the students showed a tendency to victim blame, excuse actions by the perpetrator, and define specific actions by the victim as consequentially informing rape by the acknowledgment that “if a girl acts like a slut, she is eventually going to get into trouble” (McMahon, 2010, p. 9). This statement by McMahon (2010) is a prime example of the just world belief utilized in the research of Hayes et al., (2013).

In a slightly older ethnographic study, Melanie Carlson (2008) examines masculinity and bystander intervention in generalized crisis scenarios. While not directly related to the subject of education and prevention programs this small study of only 20 college aged males uses first-person narrative to document responses to rape myth attitudes, victim blaming, and concepts associated with just world beliefs. Findings were consistent with previous research with the focal responses centered on the unwillingness “to look weak in front of other men” (Carlson, 2008, p. 6). Crucial responses condoning rape myths and ideals of rape culture are exhibited in remarks surrounding the unwillingness to intervene as an invasion of another man’s territory and the fear of being labelled homosexual (Carlson, 2008). Also shown is a pervasive acceptance that biology guides male attitudes, meaning that gender is not understood to be socially constructed. Although this study is not generalizable, it does reiterate the role that gendered masculine norms and attitudes play in violence against women.

Literature on rape prevention education enacted from a young male standpoint is lacking. In another ethnographic study Marc Rich, Ebony Utley, Kelly Janke, and Minodora Moldoveanu (2010) interview college age males directly searching for insight on male rape attitudes and the place of educational programs. This study indicates widespread ineffectual efforts by university systems to ameliorate change regarding rape. Rich et al., (2010) discuss outdated programs, misinformation regarding assailants and the overuse of strategies that enhance environmental deterrents or place responsibility on females to prevent assault rather than focus on the perpetrator. This discussion would seem to counter previously reviewed studies and recommendations, however, it must be noted that Rich et al., (2010) appear to be utilizing data from studies published in the transitional phase of educational program development, which could explain their concerns.

Hypermasculinity is mentioned as being rampant on college campuses with Rich et al., (2010) citing fraternities and athletic teams as well as staff culture that is socialized to marginalize, objectify, and follow rape culture norms. While the validity of hypermasculine attitudes is not in question, once more Rich et al., (2010) appear to be generalizing from rather outdated or incomplete studies. The outcome of their ethnography however adds insight. They sample 157 participants, diverse in both common demographic levels and ethnicity. Open ended interview questions focus on rape myth attitudes, male roles, and involvement in rape prevention programs. Findings include the apparent disinterest by males in this study regarding prevention programs. This response is noted as stemming from the misconception that rape is perpetrated only by “deviants,” thus programs are deemed irrelevant by the majority of males (Rich et al., 2010, p.283). Rape myths are strongly adhered to as well and exhibited in answers reinforcing rigid gender roles and expectations. Rich et al., (2010) also note a defensive, angry tone among some males in the study when approached for discussion regarding their level of responsibility and role in rape prevention in general.

While no hard, empirical data is established from this study, as well as the ethnography by Carlson (2008), this type of research has its place in attempts to ameliorate rape myth attitudes and acceptance. Answering pre-prescribed questions on a survey can allow for generalizability in large studies as applicable to the population overall. Listening and learning in a smaller, one-on-one interview may bring, as Dorothy E. Smith suggests from her ethnographic work based on women’s experience and standpoint, greater insight into the male perspective and experience living in a rape culture.

Men’s studies courses and male-focused prevention programs are not the only social responses to rape culture ideology or to gender myth perpetration in general. In initial discussions of violence and bystander intervention education, McMahon (2010) notes that men’s pro-feminist movements or organizations have taken up some of the slack associated with long-term attitudinal changes lacking in college programs. Caution should be noted however in the definition of a men’s movement. A duality exists between groups truly seeking to change gendered norms and oppressive attitudes toward women contrasted to vocal men’s rights movements which may run counter to reversal of patriarchal norms. Men are taking action in rape crisis centers and sexual assault advocacy as well. Writing for Buchwald, Fletcher, & Roth (1993), Richard Orton chronicles his involvement working in sexual assault centers beginning in the late 1970’s. While decidedly pro-feminist, Orton (1993) awakened to his own androcentric viewpoint while interacting with women in crisis. He describes social change as encompassing an unlearning of gender/power based norms and then relearning empowering behaviors without regard to gender. Likening social change to a  process whereby both men and women wake from a long sleep, Orton (1993) is emphatic that it is the role of men to wake other men up to the connection between sexism and violence that is creating mistrust and the inability to move ahead.

It is also advisable to step back a moment and discuss literature referencing the men’s movements available in many communities. While not the purpose of this paper to chronicle or advertise specific organizations that describe attempts to change awareness of gendered norms, violence, and the like, McMahon (2010) notes a few programs that have been developed in relation to sexual violence and have also taken up the educational programs focused on bystander intervention in the community and on college campuses. One such organization noted my McMahon (2010), The Men’s Program, must be discussed as a part of this review simply because descriptive views and success of the program are dichotomous at best. McMahon (2010) reports that this organization’s founder has noted positive outcomes by “approaching men as ‘potential helpers’” in the educational process regarding rape, and that numerous evaluations of this program note “long-term changes in men’s attitudes and behavior, including decreases in rape myth acceptance,” likelihood of raping, increased empathy and support, and lessened sexist comments (p. 4). These comments are significant because Emily Marchese (2006), at the time a graduate student in London, wrote a discursive analysis of men’s anti-rape organizations, among which is The Men’s Program.

The purpose of Marchese’s (2006) report is to examine anti-rape organizations that both exclude women from physical attendance and/or disregard a woman’s perspective on rape from their materials. Marchese’s (2006) aim with this analysis is to provide valuable critique and evaluation from a feminist standpoint regarding the position and method employed by such groups. Speaking specifically of The Men’s Program and it’s founder John Foubert, Marchese (2006) states that this group “is the most adamant about refusing women entrance to their sessions” based on the recommendations “that ‘all male, peer-education programs are more successful than mixed-gender programs’” (p. 61). This statement, noted previously as a recommendation in the CDC report by Cox et al., (2005) is strongly noted to hold little validity by Marchese (2006) who references meta-analytic studies and empirical data contrasting all-male and mixed-gender programs. The greatest concern discussed by Marchese (2006) focuses on resultant inaccurate misinformation about rape by men’s groups who exclude women from their work. The author is decidedly feminist, may be decidedly biased, and seems to advocate for feminist centered policing of organizations such as these. Once more critical discourse remains lacking regarding true, valid analysis of the numerous men’s anti-rape groups in existence. Evaluations such as Marchese (2006) presents must not legitimate an overall feminist backlash, but rather open the door to discourse and explication using sound theory. Long-term, validated research is lacking regarding all forms of rape prevention education programs. No studies have been able to define a lasting ameliorative effect on rape myth attitudes and acceptance. Non-standardized formulations and models produce varied and often non-significant or non-generalizable results. Questions remain of any overall positive effect toward change.

                                                          Discourse, Theory and Rape Culture

In closing the literature review it is imperative to introduce contemporary standpoint and theories associated with rape culture, rape myth perceptions and changed attitudes associated with gendered masculine norms, sexual attitudes and expectations. Theoretical paradigms have emerged since 2005 which attempt to explicate the reason why some men rape in our society. All are focused on masculinity and while only summarized briefly here, further analysis and synthesis as relevant to amelioration and future research will be evident moving forward. To begin, two paradigms pursue a re-working of patriarchal explanations as assumptive to socially accepted rape culture.

Kimberly Martin, Lynne Vieraitis, and Sarah Britto (2006), using quantitative analysis, attempt to explain rape victimization from the standpoint of four varied feminist ideologies: Marxist, radical/liberal, alternative radical, and socialist. Their study uses detailed variables centered on status and gender equality which exhibit mixed and inconclusive results. For that reason I have chosen to discuss their research in terms of the theoretical analyses offered to provide a well-rounded picture of relevant rape discourse within the last decade.

Martin et al., (2006) suggest that a Marxist feminist paradigm, based in a hierarchal oppressive capitalist structure which devalues women, would precipitate sexual victimization until women’s absolute status is significantly increased by citing studies that note lower rape rates in communities associated with higher female median income, higher female education levels, greater labor force participation, and higher occupational prestige. Using precedents from both radical and liberal theory, Martin et al., (2006) formulate an ameliorative paradigm. Despite differing base viewpoints, radical and liberal feminism upholds the ideal that equality will result in a positive reduction in incidence of victimization as stratification and rape culture objectification and acceptance is weakened. Conversely, Martin et al., (2006) also note an alternative radical paradigm with negative consequences resulting from gender equality. The “backlash” paradigm creates situational levels of perceived threat to male power and dominance as women gain greater equality in society resulting in possible higher incidence of rape (Martin et al., 2006, p. 325). This scenario is associated with the literature review discussion of hypermasculinity by Gallagher & Parrott (2011). On a brighter note, Martin et al., (2006) do clarify that, over time, gender equality should ameliorate this backlash. Lastly, socialist feminism places rape victimization in a dual structure whereby women are marginalized both from a lower class position (Marxist feminism) as well as being disadvantaged within a sexual hierarchy (Radical feminism) such that both absolute and relative status may predict rape (Martin et al., 2006).

Gwen Hunnicutt (2009) provides a theoretical review of patriarchal feminist theory as a sound base in discourse and explication of rape. She provides a contemporary look at patriarchy by defining specific levels or degrees of patriarchal oppressive dominance across time, place and social location. This new look by Hunnicutt (2009) advances and reinforces that patriarchy itself is not necessarily a static or generalized universal system but encompasses a hierarchal system within itself. A related theory focusing on masculine dominance known as hegemonic masculinity is produced originally by Raewyn Connell (formerly R.W. Connell) and reviewed with James Messerschmidt (2005) in a follow-up study. Not unlike Hunnicutt (2009), and certainly prior to Hunnicutt’s concepts, Connell & Messerschmidt (2005) advance that hegemonic masculinity, like patriarchy itself, allows for the continuation of male dominance over women. The distinguishing aspect of hegemony however allows for multiple masculinities, yet only one, the hegemonic masculinity, is superior to all others and favored by individual cultures and societies (Connell & Messerschmidt 2005). Jumping into that same arena, while also adding an intriguing twist, is Tony Coles (2009). Freely acknowledging hegemonic masculinity as established by Connell, Coles (2009) brings into the theoretical mix a discussion of Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, capital, and fields. Coles (2009) clearly describes hegemonic masculinity in terms of a minority of practitioners yet states that “it is supported by the majority of men as they benefit from the overall subordination of women” (p. 31). Connell (2005) refers to this practice as the patriarchal dividend. Coles (2009) does however see limitations to hegemonic masculinity as fully explanatory and thus introduces Bourdieu’s concepts. In this regard, habitus allows for an unconscious navigation through male daily life so that masculine roles, rather dominate or subordinate are nonreflexive in their function. A field is noted by Coles (2009) to be “a metaphor for domains of social life.” by shaping “the structure of the social setting in which habitus operates” (p.35). Lastly, Coles (2009) formulates capital (in varied dimensions) as a resource functional to relations of power. His discussion as applicable to masculinity then finds a theoretical model whereby masculinity occupies the position of social field with inherent struggles for legitimation and power that are influenced by all forms of capital. The most influential form of capital in Coles (2009) opinion is the male body and all that is implied by normative masculine gender roles. The underlying assumption in all of these paradigms is clear. Each theorist is trying to advance a reasonable theory to explain an unreasonable act of violence, domination and oppression: rape.

**Continued in Part III





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