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

The end:


                                                        Analysis and Opinion

Masculinity, as defined by American society, is primarily and historically centered in patriarchy at the macrosocial level. Social institutions and the functional structure of society are based on male authority, leadership and power. Small inroads have been made on a microsocial level as sexuality and taken-for-granted gender roles have recognized diversity found in individuals, families, and some communities however, these small changes remain far from being accepted in the mainstream. Male power and authority result in the marginalization of other members of society. Male power and authority is recognized and enhanced by socially constructed masculine gender attributes and expectations.  Masculinity is the embodiment of male power, authority, and control. Masculinity instructs and informs social process, social institutions and social order, thus the enactment of masculinity both validates and reinforces socially accepted myths of what being a man really means. Researchers across disciplines have clearly defined masculinized characteristics; among those are a sense of entitlement, the presence of ownership and control over others, and the existence of hostility in general which often manifests in aggression and violence. Simply being female historically justifies a label of targeted recipient to masculine aggression and violence. For hundreds of thousands of women in American society each year that aggression and violence is perpetrated as control through rape.

Feminists return consistently to the concept of a rape culture and the overarching belief that rape myths continue to exist in our society. The literature reviewed here, regardless of variable or method, seems to indicate that this assumption is correct. Yet the studies in this review focus on young males predominately of college age. Can it be generalized that the prevalence of rape myth attitudes found in existence within these sample populations also carry over to the older male population? Perhaps looking back at studies of rape one would notice differing findings, yet to this researcher that seems implausible with the pervasive attitudes of deep-seated patriarchy that reside in established social structures and systems. In other words, it is my belief that even today younger adult males are continuing to learn of and accept rape myths and patriarchal belief systems as social norms. The meta-analysis by Suarez & Gadalla (2010) sum the findings presented as universal within this review: males endorse rape myth acceptance, aggression and hostility increase rape myth acceptance, and socially oppressive systems further enhance rape myth acceptance. A rape culture, as defined by Buchwald et al., (1993) appears to be sustained within the majority of American society.

Feminism has been critical in its role as policy advocate and change agent to demand that rape, as one component of violence toward women, be clearly defined by legal entities, and addressed in terms of education for both men and women. Once more, the literature reviewed here with a focus on peer-education and prevention programs is, at best, only slightly reflective of positive amelioration toward rape myths and attitudes. Intervention over the last decade encompasses programs focusing on younger participants, mandatory college-age programs, and most recently adult male organizational programs. All of these, according to the findings discussed, have presented with lackluster results. No long-term amelioration is evident. Programs have been reorganized and reworked in the hopes of greater success as noted in the CDC report by Cox et al., (2010). Adult programs show significant, comprehensive debates among leadership and feminist advocates over their method, structure and purpose as Marchese (2008) points out.

Lacking also in this arena is diversity among participants taking part in social research which only adds to the limiting factors associated with assessment of outcome. The educational studies reviewed are highly dominated by female participants, followed closely by studies such as the work of Kress et al., (2006) and Carlson (2008), which note their male participants are clearly majority Caucasian. Only one study was located which utilizes a diverse male population as its sample. The findings have to be disregarded as being inaccurate and thus discredited due to contradictory discussion remarks and arbitrary meaning associated with key findings. In an ironic twist the main author of that particular study is J. Foubert, the founder of The Men’s Program anti-rape education organization highlighted by Marchese (2006) as exclusionary to both women’s participation and input.

The focus of rape education and prevention programs also seem to be at odds with a goal of amelioration. Noted in review are the programs that debate mixed versus single-gender participation, central focus on male-as-perpetrator/women-as-victim roles, and programs that hope to promote a broader community-based bystander model such as suggested by Pease & Flood (2008) or Carlson (2008). Rape culture exists. Rape myth attitudes and acceptance is being condoned and perpetuated. Amelioration of that cultural ideal and the methodology used seem to be locked into a structural and ideological battle over what will be the most appropriate way to achieve change.

Discourse and theory may also be locked into a battle of wills over the idealized notion of a right to rape in American society. While I believe that feminist patriarchal theory holds firm as a leading method of analysis, contemporary views have enabled a broader discourse. The underlying current of masculine gender attitudes and actions as normative remains strong however among the theoretical reviews discussed. The analysis by Martin et al., (2006) simply provides a quantitative look into general components of feminist theory across paradigms and social-structural viewpoints. This in turn may continue to fire debate among rival systems within feminism itself setting up greater division between liberal, radical and socialist messages. Hunnicutt (2009), while still drawing from patriarchy, moves into the theoretical dimensions of varied forms of masculinity as explanatory to a society whereby some men are able to see beyond patriarchal values. In her analysis, levels of patriarchal belief and acceptance exist across place, time, and location to create a hierarchal system within gender defined boundaries. Evidence corroborating this theoretical system can be seen in studies of rape myth acceptance focused on the male need to avoid being labeled as effeminate (Franklin, 2004; Amato, 2012). In other words, rape myth acceptance and related beliefs and actions clarify a specific level of masculinized gender behavior with the system of masculinity itself. This concept can explain a great deal of the variance seen in survey response within rape myth acceptance studies.

Connell, as discussed by Scott Appelrouth and Laura Edles (2011), helps to locate male dominance in both a microlevel private sphere, as well as that of the macrolevel public domain, thus helping to establish and all-encompassing masculinized power base to American society that further condones women as objectified beings through “cultural consent, discursive centrality, institutionalization, and the…deligitimation of alternatives” (p. 360). Connell & Messerschmidt (2005) validate the theory presented by Hunnicutt (2009) in their revised and updated review on hegemonic masculinity. They also add a need to evaluate individualized internal conflict within masculine roles as well as assign a greater place to the discussion of agency. With those additions, Connell & Messerschmidt (2005) may be speaking to postmodern analysis on masculinity and rape.

Theorists researching both rape and rape prevention, such as Carine Mardorossian (2002) and Holly Henderson (2007) have incorporated concepts centered on a return to women as crucial to rape theory. Specifically, discourse on women’s agency, the drawbacks to labeling women as victim which add further to the already extensive victimization of the rape act itself, as well as the incorporation of discourse by theorists such as Foucault who harbor the need to redefine rape as a sexual act to better mitigate the question of agency. These examples, as well as theorists such as Coles (2009), who speak to both Connell’s hegemony while incorporating theory associated with Bourdieu, bring much-needed insight to the analysis of rape. In much the same way that Hayes et al., (2013) introduced the just world belief concept into their work on rape myth acceptance, contemporary theorists are attempting to challenge the status quo of rape theory. Stepping slightly away from strict sociological structures and functional patterns of analysis is an important move in expanding amelioration of rape myth acceptance and behavior in American society. Without the ability to expand on original patriarchal theories with the addition of paradigms such as Coles (2009) posits, it would seem inevitable that amelioration will remain stagnant. Viewing masculinity as a field within society that endorses the ability to assign worth in the form of physical capital, and then analyze the negotiations of that bodily-centered worth in the everyday performance of life defined by Bourdieu as habitus brings to light greater understand of the role of entitlement (Coles, 2009). In just one example Coles (2009) notes that habitus allows masculinity to be viewed in terms of innate behavior such that the notion of entitlement becomes natural to dominant or hegemonic males. This concept in no way deters from the realization that masculinized gender is socially constructed. It does however open a conduit for understanding the male perspective regarding acceptance of rape myths.

                                                       Future Research

What then might inform social research as beneficial to both amelioration and the theoretical analysis of rape as moving forward? That question may seem mired in a social system that seems unable, or at the very least, highly unwilling to recognize the need for change. The patriarchal dividend that Connell (2005) defines appears to be of too great a benefit to the majority who embrace masculinized gender roles and beliefs. Buchwald et al., (1993) had high hopes when they published their collection of essays on rape culture stating that their text was designed to be “a sourcebook of visions for a future without rape” (p. iiix). Sadly, twenty-one years later, that future vision has not materialized. Short of wiping the concept of gender from social process, the leading formulary focuses on redress of definition, law, attitude, behavior, and analysis regarding rape. Contentions continue among feminists themselves, among highly attendant patriarchal supporters and feminism’s ideals, and among those who attempt to process relevant theory. Rape myth acceptance studies within this review note, as a key limitation, the need for longitudinal research data and I agree. These surveys need to be redone, perhaps with entirely new parameters, new questions, and definitely with diverse sample populations that are not monopolized by female volunteers or majority Caucasian males. While acquaintance rape may be of higher proportion than stranger rape, white males are not the only perpetrators. It is time that diverse populations are utilized in sampling frames. It is also time to return to or re-open the use of ethnographic social research. Proponents of hard, empirical, statistical data are missing out on key lived experiential research information from the standpoints of both females and males.

It is imperative to ask what we, as social researchers, really have to lose at this point. Rape is not going away. Debates within feminism, men’s movements, social science and society in general are certainly not advancing amelioration as seems clear by the articles and research presented here. Theoretical research on rape will, I believe, always be rooted in a patriarchal system to some degree. Patriarchy is the socially inspired force that creates gender distinctions of feminine and masculine. Masculine attitudes on entitlement, dominance, control and aggression fuel cultural beliefs on rape. However, the need to expand theory is paramount to encouraging greater discourse on this subject. Staying entrenched in a status quo of theory, going around the same general principles of causation, critiquing and thus dismissing older theories as ineffectual, outdated, or irrelevant has worked only to close doors to meaningful discourse. Perhaps, through innovation and the willingness to look beyond a few well placed structural theories the sourcebook discussed by Buchwald et al (1993) will be achieved.

In that regard, I propose a paradigm to be utilized in the study of rape. Much has been discussed both here and across theoretical literature regarding masculine and feminine gender roles. Socially created gender ideals define expected and proper actions by males and females which then express concepts associated with doing gender. American males are taught masculinized roles to present to society which will then be validated as normative. Female members of our society undergo the same process. I propose that underlying all outward expressions of gender is a process whereby both men and women act upon their gender roles. Two theorists specifically postulate on the concept of roles which play out in our society: Erving Goffman and Judith Butler. A constant found within the theory of both individuals is the concept that life, and thus individuals living life, are dynamic or fluid. Goffman, being a proponent of symbolic interaction denotes individuals as actors who use “verbal and nonverbal practices…in an attempt to present an acceptable image of our self to others” (Appelrouth & Edles, 2011, p. 196). Goffman terms this process impression management. Butler, a postmodern feminist, focuses on gender with the assumption that gender is not fixed “but a sustained set of acts, ‘a repetition and a ritual’” (Appelrouth & Edles, 2011, p. 372). Butler uses the term performativity to describe her thoughts on doing gender. I believe a marriage of these two theories adds an intriguing position to the discussion of gender identity and to the discussion of attitudes and actions surrounding rape from both a masculine and feminine standpoint. There are underlying differences between these theorists yet in a broad spectrum each suggests that processes occurring everyday in our society, interaction with others, and the images we create or project are used to define the self. This act of gendered performance allows us, or society as a whole, to see ourselves as others have defined normative behavior. Our actions and the acceptance by others of those actions allow the idea of normative gender to be reinforced which also reinforces the expectations associated with the label masculine or feminine. Thus, as Goffman describes, we as individuals manage our outward self each time we come into contact with another individual and we act upon the social expectations of our gender. Butler witnesses only a manufactured set of actions, or impersonations, that attempt to keep the self passing off gendered expression as real (Appelrouth & Edles, 2011).

The term doing gender has come to denote a performance, the act of expressing the masculine or feminine attributes society as ascribed to the male or female body. Using theory such as presented by Goffman or Butler raises the question, even in a heavily influenced patriarchal society, that perhaps we are simply acting out what gender roles have ascribed to our physical body. In that regard, especially for males who currently seek to express evolving patterns of sexuality and gender identification a slow change may be on the horizon. Perhaps, through coming to a clearer definition of individual sexuality and expression of gender, the patterns of violence, aggression and control associated with rape will fade. I am not suggesting that society wait out the course of events as this process is just that: a process that is only just beginning. However if the concepts of enacting gender roles, of playing the masculinized or feminized part in a social theater is relevant, then socially relevant research into gender identity and roles is needed. Dispelling the myth of gender must continue to be essential to changing social myth and acceptance of rape.


In the initial pages of this paper it was asked: In the last decade has American society witnessed amelioration in patriarchal rape culture attitudes as evidenced through educational models related to evolving masculine gender identities and roles?

Amelioration is a word describing an act that improves or creates a positive change. The literature reviewed within this paper suggests that a rape culture and rape myth acceptance has changed little in the last decade. Breaking false beliefs about rape into categories or survey questions and presenting them to young adult males has only evidenced the fact that misinformation, negative attitudes toward women, and masculine gender ideals remain strongly in place in our society. Educational models are cautionary at best. Short-term amelioration is noted in some research. Longitudinal studies are lacking and the small amount of long-term data indicate that even factual and timely educational programs do not provide for sufficient, lasting attitudinal change. The process by which activists and theorists have attempted to define and produce meaningful discourse on the subject of masculinity, violence, control, and rape seems to be ineffectual. Feminist theory remains the most prevalent in the discourse, with research in the last decade attempting to reorganize patriarchal ideals to advance theory, yet it is still the same theory. Contemporary theorists offer intriguing points of view in attempts to better provide analysis of rape, yet there are large gaps of time when little is written on the subject rather that be in educational models or attempts at new theoretical discourse.

Rape is a societal problem, directed mostly at women. Much like other societal problems centered on women this issue seems to ebb and flow within changing social currents. Combating college campus rape and questions surrounding rape within the military have taken precedence lately in a renewal to bring about amelioration. One must wonder just how long that drive will be sustainable. All the while women continue to be the victims of rape every day, everywhere in American society. This process seems to be inevitable from the standpoint that our social order has constructed and defined a two gender system: masculine and feminine. American society is only just starting down a path to recognize and define other forms of sexual expression. Judith Butler would likely argue the need for definition of any gender identity while encouraging an allowance for gender expression to be malleable.  I would argue the need to remove the concept of gender altogether from our society. Acceptance of either one or both of those ideals is too far into the future to contemplate. Change of any kind is not accomplished easily in a society where so many are marginalized based on sex, color, belief, sexual expression, income level or even contribution to society at large. The answer then to the question asked is no: amelioration regarding rape, rather that be in attitude, prevention or the search for answers to gender and identity would appear to be immobile in American society.




2 thoughts on “Social research on rape: reviewing the literature and asking where we go now. Part III”

  1. Not sure what to think on the Valenti piece. My first gut reaction was ‘why the hell do we need to ‘train’ anyone to intervene in a suspicious situation.” Of course I see the point of taking action to stop whatever level of violence is occurring directly at the source and time of action but that should be a given in any situation shouldn’t it? The fact that intervention is not an immediate reaction only illustrates the bigger issue. Edwards reason and hope, I assume, is to save the rape victim from physical harm, but just like those who want to define degrees of ‘rape’ who will be defining the ‘degree of harm’ done? The victim may not have had direct penetration occur, but no one is going to convince me that simply removing the victim/or rapist prior to the act is going to lesson the emotional impact, which I think you might describe (and agree) could certainly be even more harmful.

    In my opinion, intervention in a rape is a given and those who truly understand misogyny and rape culture attitudes will intervene. Those who are on the fence, the ones who are there to watch, record, who feel uncomfortable about the situation but don’t leave the room, or who are goaded into participation need to understand why they walked into that room, why they are willing to be led to participate and that’s entirely wrapped up in the fact that they buy into rape culture beliefs just as much as the rapist. You can’t be a little bit misogynistic. You can’t hop back and forth across the fence on objectifying women. You buy the whole thing or you comprehend that as a man you have no right to control a woman in any way. Ignoring the guy who makes the rape joke while trying to ‘train’ him to intervene is futile. Edwards need to use her techniques and tips on bystanders (both male and female) who truly understand why men rape. Those are the people who will make an immediate difference and save victims.

    🙂 Thank you for letting me rant. I’ve missed that connection of passionate ranting on this topic…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks again for posting–sorry it took me so long to engage with!

    Some general responses/thoughts I had while reading:
    *Noting the different fields you drew from: wow, do we need substantive mechanisms and methods for interdisciplinary work. All cultural work–study and change–requires the breadth of the academy.
    *On finding that ‘the more -isms one subscribes to, more likely one is to buy into rape myths’: Dread -isms sure are dreadful.
    *How young, how terribly young: majority of both perpetrators and victims. And how much younger they need to be, for interventions to be productive.
    *On idea that it must be “role of men to wake other men up”: yes, and I find myself both encouraged and depressed by male anti-rape activism that recognizes this. Bottom line: men not listening to, or believing, women talking about their own experiences plays role as both cause and effect of rape culture. (fyi, you might find interesting:
    *Impression of society as “highly unwilling to recognize need for change”: yes. Painfully true. May the gods be merciful on our stubborn and violent souls.

    Wonder if you saw this recent article by Valenti, discussing two different approaches for anti-rape work:
    I am haunted by the issues raised herein. My profound unwillingness to concede defeat on the “changing rape culture & attitudes” mission, or to take my eyes off that goal, feels in real conflict with Edward’s “meet ’em where they are” approach–even though it is the latter’s pragmatism that shows far greater promise in actually reducing violent events.


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