Thursday, November 8, 2012

Gender Roles and Victim Blaming

Our world is operated by gender roles and each society values different gender roles.  These gender roles are a way that society has organized specific characteristics of the sexes in order to function. However, as most of us would agree these gender roles may not always be a positive thing for women and also men. I hope that this blog post will be more of a discussion.  I want to share some research information and then have an open discussion about how we can go about teaching benevolent sexism and traditional gender roles in an appropriate manner.

Victim blaming became a passionate subject for me after this past spring when my husband and I had the opportunity to help a friend plan a Take Back the Night event.  She planned this event in regards to a recent rape that occurred on the Provo River Trail.  After this attack, the young woman who was out running received a lot of blame for the attack. After this even  I thought a lot of how gender roles and benevolent sexism contribute to victim blaming. I was reminded of a correlation study that a professor, whom I have had the opportunity to do a lot of work with, conducted.  I want to share her findings and help lead our discussion.

 Let me explain her research.  Her study focused on how strength of benevolent sexism, hostile sexism, and gender role tradionality contribute to the level that a rape victim either of a stranger scenario or date-rape situation influence the victim being blamed and the rapist being excused for the behavior.  In this research, hostile sexism was defined as negative and antipathetic attitudes toward women that are typically thought to comprise gender-based prejudices.  Benevolent sexism was defined as positive and sympathetic attitudes toward women that are not typically thought of as necessarily sexist. For example, opening the door for a woman or pulling her chair out for her at the dinner table would be part of benevolent sexism.  There were 126 participants that ranged from ages 18-26. All participants were attending a university in the Rocky Mountain region and all were undergraduate students. 58 were women and 60 were men. The participants were randomly assigned to read a scenario that focused on a date-rape situation or a stranger-rape situation.  After they read the survey they were asked to complete the Rape Supportive Attribution Scale, the Sex-Role Stereotypical Victim Blame Attribution Scale, the Excuse Rapist Scale, the Sex-Role Egalitarianism Scale, the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory, and a demographic survey.  What she found was that the date-rape scenario was minimized in seriousness compared to the stranger-rape scenario. They found that hostile sexism and benevolent sexism were positively correlated. Those who scored high on the benevolent sexism test and gender role traditionaltiy were more likely to blame the victim in a date-rape situation.  However, in a stranger-rape scenario they almost always blamed the rapist.  Those who scored high on hostile sexism tended to blame the victim in both scenarios.

“Abrams, Viki, Masser, and Bohner (2003) found that ambivalent sexism, particularly benevolent sexism, was a significant moderator of negative attitudes toward acquaintance rape victim...for benevolent sexists to protect women, women need to be seen as sexually pure and innocent. Therefore, if a woman violates benevolent sexists’ expectations (being raped by her date when she is supposed to be sexually pure), she no longer deserves to be protected. Abrams
et al. (2003) proposed that benevolent sexism can explain the phenomenon of victim blame in the case of acquaintance rape.” (Yamawaki, 2007). 
From this quote, she found that for those who scored high on benevolent sexism, once a woman violates the standards for being “sexually pure” she no longer deserves protection or respect.  Often times we hear,” Well, she shouldn’t have worn that, she should not have been at his place that time of night, she shouldn’t have gone alone.” These statements unfortunately are still a problem in our society. 

Does anyone else find her findings interesting or even alarming? What particularly sticks out to me is that almost half of the participants were women.  Some of these women still felt that the women in the acquaintance-rape scenario were the one to be blames for what happened. Why would this be? Here is where the questions for the discussion come to play.  We as a society, LDS or not, encourage our children, especially our boys, to be gentlemen. We encourage them to open the door for women, pull out the chair at the dinner table for her, ect. Now, I will be the first one to admit that I love it when my husband opens the door for me and I do not want to ignore teaching our son how to be a gentleman.  But how and what ideas or experiences do you have in teaching children these gender roles in a manner that they do not end up blaming a rape victim of an acquaintance scenario in the future? What do these findings of her research mean for us?   


  1. I'm not sure the best way to say this, but I truly believe that this whole "feminism" thing is a crock. At least in terms of how women as a whole in our society see it. I've noticed that women in our society want all the perks of feminism without taking any of the responsibility. If feminists really wanted to be equal to men in every way (the way they claim), they would have to accept equal responsibility for their actions. When talking about this, my mind often goes to single mothers (who often are single by choice) and not taking financial responsibility for the children they create simply because they feel they are women and are entitled. It's the exact same wrong decision they made along with the father, but he should be punished more simply because he's a man. That's an entirely different discussion - but do you see where I'm headed?

    I think a portion of rape scenarios, the victim is sometimes PARTIALLY to blame for the encounter. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying simply because she wore a low cut shirt it gave the rapist any excuse to do that, but often, victims of rape knowing put themselves in dangerous and stupid scenarios. Does that excuse the rapist? Absolutely not. But, if the victim hadn't been in the situation to begin with, there wouldn't have been a chance for it to happen.

    There is also the problem of the modern day definition of rape. If a woman is drinking and agrees to sex with someone, and feels remorse for it the next day, she can cry rape - when in fact, it was consensual. It's because of this evolving definition that I have a hard time with "the victim is never to blame" mentality.

    I believe that some adult rape victims are often victims of childhood abuse as well. And often, once a person has let that victimhood become part of their identity, they (knowingly or not) go seeking situations that may make them a victim again. Often they are trying to tempt fate because that's how they identify themselves. They are attracted to people who will hurt them. You can't place blame on them for what happened to them in childhood, but you can blame them for putting themselves into bad situations and asking for trouble as an adult.

    Basically, I guess I DO think that the victim is partially to blame in SOME situations, and the rapist is ALWAYS to blame - except in cases where it was consensual and the "victim" simply regretted it after the fact.

    1. Janae,

      I think you bring up some points that definitely lend themselves to our discussion. I disagree that feminism and the principles it embodies is not significant. I understand that in many cases we, male and female, do not live up to the responsibilities lent to us by our forefathers (one only needs to look at the number of people who vote in an election to see that). However, I think it’s a bit much to generalize and state that women in our society do not accept the recent responsibilities returned to them in fact there has been a significant increase in female employment, in women in politics, and women activists over the last ten years – which I believe is an example of women taking accepting equal responsibility for their actions and in fact, equal responsibility for national decisions. I am not familiar with women who do not take financial responsibility for their children- however, the data I find suggest that there is an increase in women paying alimony and child support ( . I understand that there needs to be an effort by both men and women to treat each other as equals. But I think it is important to remember that feminism does not mean women and men are the same- we aren’t biologically we are not the same but we are entitled to equal rights.
      I feel uncomfortable with that idea that a rape victim would be “partially to blame” for an attack. No human should ever, ever abuse another in any manner. As was discussed during Take Back the Night (which I believe Amanda mentioned) many attacks do not happen in “dangerous and stupid scenarios”, in fact they can happen during the day, in broad daylight, with people about. In fact, research has shown that most rapes are planned. I did a little reading after reading your comment because it got me thinking and it said that according to FBI statistics only 8% of forcible rapes complaints were unfounded- the average for other index suggest it may be as low as 2%. So in reality- rape is rape.

      I do not agree that anyone ever seeks to be a victim. Women are entitled to the right to feel safe and when we justify the actions of perpetrators we do not create an environment in which safety and security are high on the totem pole.

    2. Janae,

      It's great to have you as part of this discussion, and great that you are reading! You bring up a lot of key points which are critical to this entire conversation. Instead of responding to each of your statements, I have a couple of overall thoughts that I hope will contribute to your thoughts.

      While I understand the direction you are heading with your post, there are a lot of broad accusations made. Individuals are so diverse that it is almost impossible to lump people together in any situation. Single mothers are the perfect example of this because the only sure thing is that they are raising children on their own. How they became single is impossible to define. Do you think a mother of five "chose" to be single the day the police knocked on her door to tell her that her husband of 20 yrs had just been killed in a car crash? Do you think a victim of domestic violence is choosing to be alone when she runs away with her children, or is she choosing a better life free of violence and abuse for herself and her children? I don't want to ramble, but the point is that there are SO many differing and individual circumstances, that it is not only unfair but also self-righteous to label any group of people (single mothers in this instance) or pretend to know what they are going through and how they reached that point in life. Accusing single mothers of not taking financial responsibility for their families is additionally ignoring the tens of thousands of women in this country alone who work multiple jobs to make ends meet. In the situation you are describing, neglectful fathers are not being "punished" just because they are men, but because they are avoiding their social and legal responsibilities.

      As for rape, I have always been stunned to realize that the people in society who are defining and describing rape are those who have never been victims themselves. Before pointing the finger at any victim of sexual assault, take a minute to put yourself in their shoes. Can you even begin to imagine what it would feel like to be humiliated beyond belief? Completely powerless to stop your worst fear from happening? To forever remember the way he smelled (using the pronoun "he" simply because of the overwhelming statistics placing men as rapists.. however women can and are rapists as well), the way he felt, the threats he made, the shape of his body? For those who knew their rapists, how are they going to build relationships again when someone they had completely trusted, and were probably groomed by, was their perpetrator? For victims of blitz rapes, how could you go anywhere in public again when nowhere feels safe? There is absolutely no way to even begin to understand how damaging rape is, but can you start to see how ignorant it is to be telling rape victims how they should feel?

      NOBODY is ever responsible for their rape or to be blamed for their rape. Yes, there are precautions you can take to avoid being in situations that might be dangerous. Maybe you don't go to that party. Maybe you don't talk to strangers. Maybe you don't walk alone at night (or in broad daylight in places like Provo). Maybe you don't go out at all. Wait, but perpetrators break into homes and rape girls in their own homes, too. So maybe you shouldn't stay home. Rape is about power and when a perpetrator wants to have that power, someone is going to be raped. Instead of blaming victims for something they had no control over (you have NO control when you are being raped.. there is no way to predict how your body will respond to a situation like that until you are in that situation.. the trauma is so intense that your brain shuts off and you are suddenly betrayed by your own body), we should be working to help victims heal and become survivors.

      All in all, I would just caution all of us from pointing fingers and judging others..

    3. I absolutely know that most rapes are just that - horrible things that there was no control over. But I do believe that there are some exceptions. To say that a victim NEVER has any part in contributing to the rape is allowing for absolutely no personal responsibility.

      I agree that I made generalizations - and because there is no way to fully account for every situation, it's impossible not to do so. My mom was a perfect example of a single mother that I can admire. My father left us when we were little and never had contact with us again. Never paid child support. That was single motherhood that my mom definitely didn't choose. Instead of complaining to us about how horrible and hard life was because of the lack of child support, she worked several jobs and gave us the best she could - without help from family or church. We did without quite often, but she took responsibility for us and our lives and didn't play the blame game. Now, compare that to my husband's ex-wife. He has done everything he could to be involved in his children's lives and paid child support faithfully - even when unemployed. However, during that time, she constantly put him down in front of the kids and often told them that the reason she wouldn't buy them things is because he wasn't paying enough child support. They would call him asking him for more money because she had told them to. Her work ethic? Working a whole 4 hours once a week and living off of the charity of her church and parents. THAT is the irresponsibility I talk about. And somehow, she felt she was entitled to tell the kids that he was a horrible father and that it was all his fault when they couldn't buy things. There has been a recent trend towards having women pay child support ect, but when dealing with the state and the ex-wife, my husband was flat out told by the case worker that they had an unwritten rule to help the mother out as much as possible and treat all men like deadbeats.

      I LOVE that women can be the breadwinners in the home if they choose and hold political offices and all of the other wonderful things that the women's revolution brought about. I do however think that it's allowed men to stop the benevolent sexism because so many women somehow find it degrading - as if it shows that they are not capable of doing things for themselves. I think by telling men that they don't need to be gentlemen, it's becoming a lost art among men - and I do believe that it is a big reason for the increases in sexual crime. Women are "equals" and not treasures anymore.

      I can't remember what it is called, but there IS in fact a psychological disorder that happens to childhood victims that often makes them seek to become victims throughout their lives. Because it is part of their identity as a child, they don't know who they are without it and as adults, put themselves into situations that will make them into victims again. It's about confirming their identity.

      I actually have been a victim - and I know what it's like to be terrified. Even my bedroom wasn't a safe haven. Getting married and dealing with a honeymoon night was one of the hardest and scariest things. But I refused to continue to let myself be a victim for the rest of my life and live in fear. It took me a long time, but I was able to forgive my attacker and even start to build a relationship with them again (yes, I was one who knew him). You see, I've walked in these shoes. But as I don't advertise the fact that I was a victim, I have lost friends over the fact that I still advocate personal responsibility - as an adult - when the situation applies.

      I don't mean to overgeneralize. I know that there are more different situations than can be counted, but I don't know that we can discuss this without making some generalizations.

  2. I offer a simple observation with regards to teaching as a starting point. I think it's important when talking with boys to avoid any dehumanizing language---language that reduces one's date to property. This might seem obvious, but one can still hear phraseology like the two-edged sword "she's yours for the night, so take good care of her" with relative frequency. It's wording that emphasizes subjugation (or patronizing) instead of companionship. They need to understand that chivalry and control are miles further apart than they might seem to the freshly-testosteronated mind. Indeed, if we have the right mindset, they're mutually exclusive.

    I say this as a single man myself, but one with a younger half-brother whose father's own history of abuse and chauvinism has left my brother with a critical need for mentoring from elsewhere.

  3. So I hope this isn't a threadjack (it seemed applicible to me). But how would benevolent sexism and blame weight in with how we as an LDS community teach modesty. I have often heard young women cautioned not to be immodest because it puts impure thoughts in young men's head. It seems to me that there is some consequence to immoral behavior yet at the same time violation of agency is abominable. Does anyone else feel there is some correlation and have some thoughts?

    1. Genevieve! I completely agree with you! I have been wanting to write a post for a while. I'd love to get your insight and thoughts - if you'd be interested!

      Not only do I think it is frustrating for our young girls, but I think it holds our boys at a lower standard then they deserve. Its as if we say "Oh boys will be boys"...

    2. Genevieve, I agree with your concerns.

      I do think that by placing this heavy burden on young women to be modest to protect the virtue of the man can also contribute to the victim blaming Amanda discussed in her post. My past article on My Antonia,looks at one literary example of the dangers of placing one sex above the other. I think what needs to be taught in our community is equality in how we treat one another. I hold the door open for men all the time (which is usually accompanied by confused looks, sometimes awkwardness from the man, but usually a smile).

      In regards to modesty, I believe the motivation you describe for young women's dress is false doctrine. We need to emphasize to the women that we know that we dress modestly because God has asked us to show respect to our bodies in that way. It is a respect to ourselves and our God. And we're happy if it helps those around us keep clean thoughts (women included!), but that should never be the motivation.

  4. @Kyra I woyld love to share some thoughts and experiences I have had. Please shoot me an email at