Americans like to boast that we’re “the freest country on earth,” and yet half the population doesn’t even feel free enough to go for a walk at night. Unlike the status of women in Afghanistan under the ghastly Taliban, women in the United States are allowed to go out. Fanatic men in government don’t issue edicts to prevent them from exercising their basic freedom of movement. Instead, the widespread fear of men’s violence does the trick.
Jackson Katz, 2006
Basically, rape myths are beliefs that women are somehow responsible for their victimization and relieve the perpetrator from responsibility. Burt (1980) defined rape myths as “prejudicial, stereotyped, or false beliefs about rape, rape victims, and rapists” . Those who endorse rape myths are likely to say things like, “she should not have dressed like a whore” or “she should not have been drinking so much.” “Myths” that women are “asking for it” or are actually sexually aroused by force are common in US culture. The movie classic Gone with the Wind depicts Scarlet O’Hara saying “No, no, no…” then swoons to Rhett Butler’s sexual advances. The “no means maybe” mentality confuses both genders, and perpetuates rape myths. Research shows that endorsement/acceptance of the notion that women are responsible for rape contributes to the prevalence of rape .
Brinson (1992) reported that “rape myths allow our culture to rationalize the prevalence of rape by offering explanations for its occurrence” . Further she states rape myths actually influence whether or not an assault will be considered “real rape.” Researchers have found evidence that the “greater acceptance of rape myths is associated with greater willingness to attribute blame to the victims of sexual assault” .
Many studies show that rape myths are related to, or more prevalent in, a patriarchal social system like exists in Western culture. Traditional gender role stereotypes were the accepted and “normal” way of life for most Americans in the early 1900’s. Men were in charge, and women were to meet the demands of the male spouse. Women were either “good girls” or “bad girls.” And of course, only the bad ones were raped. These beliefs added to the social norms that men are expected to be strong and powerful, and women are inferior and weak. The “boys will be boys” mentality is a classic example of how our culture encourages boys to be rough and domineering, while it asks girls to be subdued and passive.
Brief summary of widely circulated rape myths:
- Women must really want to be raped because any woman could really get away if she wanted to.
- Women “ask for it” by the way they dress or the places they go.
- Women never really mean “no.”
- Women are not really harmed by rape.
- Women lie about rape following a regretful night of consensual sex.
- Women enjoy or are sexually aroused by rape.
Virtually all rape myths share a common theme — it is a woman’s fault if she is raped — the offenders are innocent.
Common phrases that clue you into the endorsement of rape myths:
- “She wears her skirts way too short – she was asking for something bad to happen.”
- “Everyone knows that is the wrong place to go – what did she think would happen?”
- “She lied about it.”
Rape myths take the responsibility for the crime from the perpetrator and place it on the victim.
Women should be free to go wherever they want without fear of violence simply because they are female.
Brinson, S. (1992). The use and opposition of rape myths in prime-time television drama. Sex Roles, 27(7/8), 359-375.
Burt, M. (1980). Cultural myths and supports for rape. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38(2), 217-230.
Check, J., & Malamuth, N. (1983). Sex role stereotyping and reactions to depictions of stranger versus acquaintance rape. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45(2), 344-356. Dean, K. & Malamuth, N. (1997). Characteristics of men who aggress sexually and of men who imagine aggressing: Risk and moderating variables. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72(2), 449-455. Eyssel, F., Bohner, G., & Sieber, F. (2006). Perceived rape myth acceptance of others predicts rape proclivity: Social norm or judgmental anchoring? Swiss Journal of Psychology, 65(2), 93-99.
Katz, J. (2006). The Macho Paradox. Sourcebooks, Inc.: Naperville, IL
Shechory, M., & Idisis, Y. (2006). Rape myths and social distance toward sex offenders and victims among therapists and students. Sex Roles, 54, 651-658.