Normalizing Violence Against Women: What Motivates People to Justify the Gender System?
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It is possible that rape, and reactions to these victims, act to reinforce the gender system. The gender system is a network of practices meant to (1) differentiate men and women as two distinct categories and (2) organize and justify social inequalities based on these differences. People tend to react negatively if someone or something threatens an existing system. One way in which people justify a system is through victim blame – people tend to blame the victim for her fate. People might also justify the system by exonerating the perpetrator – by giving the perpetrator a lesser punishment, people can reaffirm that the system is fair and just. The purpose of this mock juror experiment was to understand what factors motivate people to justify the gender system by blaming the victim and exonerating the perpetrator in affirmative consent cases (i.e., an alleged rape in which the victim claims consent was not affirmatively given). Participants read a vignette about an affirmative consent case at a University and acted as committee members determining the guilt and punishment of the perpetrator.According to system justification, both advantaged and disadvantaged groups are motivated to justify the status quo; anyone or anything that threatens the status quo is viewed negatively by society. System justification was manipulated such that participants read a news article specifying that affirmative consent is a danger to the gender system; in the control condition, participants read that affirmative consent does not threaten the gender system. Two potential motivations to defend the gender system include rape myth cues and defensive attributions. In order to manipulate rape myth cues, participants were given information about what the victim was wearing: a mini-skirt, halter top, and high heels (rape myth cue), or jeans, sneakers, and a sweater (control condition). Defensive attributions was manipulated such that participants read about either a cisgender or transgender victim. This dissertation also assessed whether certain individual difference characteristics (e.g., attitudes toward transgender people and legal authoritarianism) affected victim blame and perpetrator punishment. This study employed a 2 (system justification: threatening or not) by 2 (rape myth cue: information about what victim was wearing vs no information) by 2 (victim gender: cisgender or transgender) by 2 (participant gender: male vs female) between subjects factorial design. Results indicated that there was no significant main effect of system justification on either dependent variable. There was, however, a significant main effect of rape myth cues on victim blame and perpetrator punishment such that participants reading that the victim was wearing revealing clothing engaged in more victim blame, and less perpetrator punishment, than participants in the control condition. With regards to defensive attributions, there was no significant interaction between participant gender and victim gender. With regards to individual difference measures, system justification and legal authoritarianism interacted to affect both perpetrator punishment and victim blame. Based on the results, it is likely that rape myth cues are a motivation to defend the gender system. Defensive attributions, however, are likely not a motivation to defend the gender system, and thus are not a part of system justification; instead; it is possible that defensive attributions are a part of something known as group justification. Results further indicate that system justification is a motivation to defend the gender system, but only for certain people (e.g., people high in legal authoritarianism).