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Gender Socialization and Rape

Sample research paper. Ashlyn Olson. Winter 2009

In the society we live in, we are constantly being fed information. From how we should act to what we should strive to look like; none of us are exempt from experiencing this on a daily basis. From very early on in life, men and women are socialized to be nearly opposite of one another. This has serious implications for the relationships between men and women. Our society constructs men to be dominant, strong, and forceful and women to be quite the opposite. Unfortunately, the gender roles men and women learn from a very early age ultimately lead to the horrendous act of rape.

In regards to these learned gender roles that have been embedded into men and women, it is important to realize that these differences may seem biological. However, "studies find only a modest correlation between aggressive behavior and testosterone levels (Andersen, 303)." Men and women are shaped almost entirely by the society and the institution in which they live in; this is the socialization process. Once these gender roles have been learned and reinforced through the socialization process, they become who we are. In the book Male and Female Roles, it states that, "Sex differences are not something deeply biological but rather learned and once learned become part of the ideology that continues to perpetuate them (Petrikin, 29.)

In some cultures around the world, men and women's roles are completely swapped! Women become the bread winner (so to speak) and men take care of the children. In fact, women from the tribe of Tchambuli are considered the sexual aggressors and this seems completely natural to these women. From their perspective, child rearing is the man's job and the women take little interest in being nurturing to their children (Petrikin, 30.) It is apparent through this and many other examples that learned gender roles are formed tremendously by the socialization process.

As for whom are the agents of gender socialization, who create and maintain these sex roles, look no further than the social institutions. Family, peers, religion, schools, and other institutions have a tremendous amount of impact on gender socialization. One of the first rites of passage that a boy experiences is circumcision and this introduces him to "manhood". It was found that there is the greatest amount of gender differences in cultures who circumcise versus those that do not (Petrikin, 33.) In most cases, those cultures that put the most emphasis on this practice are doing it for the tradition and cultural expectation that is instilled in us. Because penile infection rates show extremely little difference among those who are and are not circumcised (Petrikin, 35.) And Americans are not unaware of this knowledge. Overall, it is engrained within them to have their sons experience this; otherwise their son would not be culturally accepted and enter what we call being a man.

From the beginning, the family treats sons and daughters different. "Boys and girls grow up in essentially different cultures, (45)" states Petrikin. As a result of the implicit socialization, children learn to expect this type of treatment from a very early age. It was found that at the young age of four, boys and girls already know how they should behave and only a year later, they are segregating themselves into same-sex groups (Mann, 49.). The culture has a huge impact on how people find who they are in the world and how to interact within their social environment. From a journal article, it was said that, "cultural influences may act on children at many levels, from family level to those transmitted through the media and other institutions (Polaschek, 391.)" It isn't just the media or solely the family that creates these gender roles; it is all the institutions working together further molding and shaping society's expectations and ideals.


Not only do boys and girls know how to behave according to their assigned gender role by our society but what is particularly interesting though is that boys learn at a very early age to act condescendingly toward women (Mann, 63.) Boys learn that they are superior, dominant, and tougher than girls. They learn this through many different mechanisms: toys, patterns of play, and through female-male interaction observed. Whether it is teacher student interaction or other relationship dealings, young minds are literally a blank slate onto which our society draws precise boundaries and restrictions upon. Extremely early on in life, boys also learn that it does not matter who they are socializing with, that they can get away with much more than their female playmates. They also learn that boys cannot control their hormones and are rarely expected to do so (Mann, 63.) This plays a key role in teaching boys what is expected and acceptable of them. If foul play is acceptable and therefore "natural", this is the way young boys are going to think and act.

On the other hand, there are girls who learn to be passive, subservient, and not to challenge. It is not as if girls are not capable of being dominant and speaking up, but our culture has put up invisible bars restricting them from being as assertive as they would like to be. If women rise above males and become "equal" with them, men will no longer hold all the control in society. The people who hold positions of power in the US are for the most part males and they believe this is a way of social control. Overall, women are socially constructed to be the subordinate to the man and cater to his needs. Petrikin states that "the socialization process keeps a female linguistically in line (45.)" The author goes on to say that these language patterns include hesitance, insecurity, indirectness, and weakness.

Almost three fourths of rapists claimed that they thought the victim was willing. Not only that but "that she enjoyed herself to an immense degree (Scully, 536.)" Obviously, the wrong cultural messages are being sent out to men and women to cause this mentality of rapists. Can it be that simple? A man observes the shaking, vulnerable, scared body of a woman who for physically obvious reasons does not wish to partake in this sexual act and is so consumed with his cultural messages he has received since he was a baby that he overlooks the fact that she wishes to have nothing to do with this man. It is the blinding mechanism that culture has placed upon us that causes this extremely faulty judgment act known as rape. Men commit this dire act of rape every six minutes every single day (RAINN.ORG.)

Also, it is important to realize that fewer than five percent of rapists were psychotic at the time of their rape (Scully, 529) This indicates that the issue is not the mental state of the rapist but the socialization process that occurs that allows these men to think that this is justified and acceptable. A total of eighty four percent of rapists interviewed stated that they viewed themselves as non-rapists (Scully, 531.) Quite clearly, rapist's attitudes are indicative of a faulty value system that had been instilled in them from early on. Since these gender roles are so completely opposite from each other, it can especially lead to confusion during sexual interaction. Men learn to be aggressive in their sexual lives as well because they have been socialized to think that this is what is ideal for men to act like. And to make matters more confusing, women are socially viewed as "unconsciously wishing to be taken by force (Scully, 534.)" This becomes an issue because not only are men acting big, tough, and aggressive, on top of that, they think women may want sex when they actually don't at all.

The next point to realize is that men are also under the social impression that women mean yes when they say no. This is related to women's learned role of being passive and shy. Men think women play games to get them aroused and this leads to a whole jumble of confusion for both participants involved. There is a cultural view that women are timid but seductive which can lead men to believe a woman wants to be sexual when she does not. Men think that they are simply using force as an appealing technique to get a woman aroused and interested when in actuality they are not tuning in effectively to what the other person really wants. In the Difference, the author says that, "there are very few innate differences in the listening ability of males and females. The diversity comes from indirect sex role socialization (29.)" Why would a man not hear a woman saying no, stop, please don't? The answer is they do! Men are shaped by our society to be strong and forceful. The problem does not lie in the communication but in the "box" that men were socialized to view women and themselves in. This relationship is not a positive relationship whatsoever. It is a story being played out by women and men where men are confused and women are being victimized and devalued. This cultural story between men and women will continue to be acted out until the socialization process changes men and women's gender roles.

On the other side of this issue, there is the argument that hormone levels are to blame for the sexual aggression that leads to rape. It was found that men with high LSH "tend to perceive a stronger link between sexuality and social dominance than men low in LSH (Scully, 538.)" This may be true in a few cases; however the majority of men who have committed rape do not have more of this hormone.

Another alternative view is that some rapists use alcohol and drugs and this leads them to commit acts of rape. Where this may be correct, the fact still remains that after the rapists become sober they still don't think they did anything wrong when they committed this act while intoxicated. In fact, one out of every three rapes, the rapist is intoxicated. Yet, the rapist still makes the claim that the woman was asking for it by dressing provocatively and acting seductively. Alcohol does not necessarily change a person's beliefs, only allows the person act uninhibited, rather revealing their insecurities and who they really are.

Another important point to realize is that women often see sex associated with love and men see sex as a goal. Men have been socially constructed to think of sex as merely a marker of success and not necessarily correlated with love. From the journal article by Hall, it says that, "males typically feel that they should initiate and control their relationships with females (pg 103.)" A lot of men also view sex as an entitlement and this leads to men trying to justify rape as if it were acceptable. In fact, "men with traditional stereotypes about women have both a higher self-reported likelihood of raping and are more likely to perceive a rape victim as reacting favorably to the assault (Journal 2, 388.)" In fact, because of the justice system being completely socialized as well, only two percent of all rapists will be convicted and imprisoned (Raiin.org.) It is extremely disturbing to think that not a single person that surrounds us, not even those who are there to enforce the law and protect us, are not exempt from being brain washed by these foolishly constructed gender roles.

Last but not least, another extremely important creater and reinforcer of these gender roles is the media. On TV, movies, magazines, you name it; women are portrayed as objects whose purpose is merely for sexual satisfaction. Women are exposed almost baring their privates in the grocery store when we buy our milk and bread for the week. Yet, you rarely see a scantily dressed male. Women are objectified and devalued by the media in almost every aspect. This engrains in men that women are simpler objects made for male desire and lust. In the book The Difference, Mann discusses the media saying that "the media is asserting the patriarchal dominance of men by debasing women (256.)" Boys and girls also associate themselves with female and male characters being played on TV. For boys, they connect with the tough, dominant actor. Whereas girls connect with the beautiful and physically attractive character (Andersen, 309.) This only supports and further reinforces the idea that men are supposed to be controlling and superior to women and women should be there only to "look good."

The other component to this is the violence that is being displayed. The ADA reported that when sexual violence of depictions of rape are shown on TV, male youths are more likely to develop a callousness toward female who are victims of rape and other violent acts! This is especially detrimental to boys but also to girls who begin to learn that this is commonplace and acceptable. Women learn to become too accepting and neglect their own feelings; they are literally being "programmed" to think that this is "normal".

In order to prevent women from being raped and men from thinking that this act is legitimate, how we socialize children and adults must change. The characteristics we in instill in our children need to be equal for both genders. We must also socialize women to be physically competent and assertive. Women often become intimated by men because of the way they have been socialized and restricted. However, women are strong, powerful, and need to be freed from these institutional restrictions that have literally trapped them in with out them even realizing it! In Differences, Mann says that sex roles are not immutable stating that, "history makes it very clear that the roles have in fact evolved considerably, thereby demonstrating that they are mutable (57.)" Unfortunately, the system as a whole must change in order to put a stop to this perpetuating cycle of confusion and abuse.

Work Cited

1. Convicted Rapists' Vocabulary of Motive: Excuses and Justifications
Author(s):Diana Scully, Joseph Marolla
Social Problems, Vol. 31, No. 5 (Jun., 1984), pp. 530-544
Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of Social Problems
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/800239

2. The implicit theories of potential rapists: What our questionnaires tell us
Aggression and Violent Behavior, Volume 7, Issue 4, July-August 2002, Pages 385-406
Devon L. L. Polaschek, Tony Ward

3. Hall, Eleanor R., Judith A. Howard, and Sherrie L. Boezio. "TOLERANCE OF RAPE: A SEXIST OR ANTISOCIAL ATTITUDE?." Psychology of Women Quarterly 10.2 (June 1986): 101. Professional Development Collection. EBSCO. [Library name], [City], [State abbreviation]. 18 Feb. 2009 .

4. Krulewitz, Judith E., and Janet E. Nash.. "Effects of rape victim resistance, assault outcome, and sex of observer on attributions about rape." Journal of Personality 47.4 (Dec. 1979): 557. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. EBSCO. [Library name], [City], [State abbreviation]. 18 Feb. 2009 .

5. Mann, Judy W.. The Difference: Growing up female in America. New York, N.Y.: Warner Books. C1994

6. Petrikin, Jonathan S.. Male and female roles: opposing viewpoints. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1995.

7. Rape, abuse, & incest national network. 2008.
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8. Andersen, Margaret. Sociology in Everyday Life: Sociology 204 at Portland Community College. Cengage Learning. Mason, Ohio: 2007.

9. Ayim, Maryann Neely. The Moral Parameters of Good Talk: a feminist analyis. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1997.