Sexual violence as a form of social control : the role of hostile and benevolent sexism
This thesis examines the feminist hypothesis that rape functions as a tool of
social control through which women are kept in subordinate social positions
(Brownmiller, 1975). In examining this hypothesis, the current thesis explores the role
of benevolent and hostile sexism in accounting for people's responses to different
types of rape (i.e. stranger vs. acquaintance rape). An examination of the literature
suggests that there are general societal beliefs in the distinction between "good" and
"bad" rape victims (Pollard, 1992). Interestingly, researchers have observed that
benevolent sexism (BS) is related to the idealisation of women in traditional gender
roles (i.e. "good" women; Glick et aI., 2000). It is, therefore, argued that individuals
who idealise women in traditional roles (i.e. high BS individuals) are more likely to
negatively evaluate rape victims who can be perceived as violating these norms.
Nine empirical studies are presented in this thesis. Study 1 examines the
potential role of BS in accounting for previously observed differences in the amount
of blame attributed to stranger and acquaintance rape victims (e.g. Pollard, 1992).
Studies 2 and 3 examine the psychological mechanisms that underlie the relationship
between BS and victim blame in acquaintance rape situations. Studies 2 and 4 also
explore the psychological mechanisms that underlie the relationship between hostile
sexism (HS) and self-reported rape proclivity in acquaintance rape situations (c.f.
Viki, 2000). In Study 5, the relationship between BS and paternalistic chivalry
(attitudes that are simultaneously courteous and restrictive to women) is examined.
Studies 6 and 7 examine the role of BS in accounting for participants' responses to
stranger vs. acquaintance rape perpetrators. The last two studies (Studies 8 and 9)
examine the potential role of legal verdicts in moderating the relationship between BS
and victim blame in acquaintance rape cases.
Taken together, the results support the argument that BS provides a
psychological mechanism through which differences in the amount of blame attributed
to stranger and acquaintance rape victims can be explained. In contrast, HS provides a
mechanism for explaining differences in self-reported proclivity to commit stranger
and acquaintance rape. The thesis concludes with a summary of the findings, a
discussion of the methodological limitations of the studies and suggestions of
directions for future research.