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Episode 48

This is the second episode [of four] in our series exploring culture, the media, and sexual exploitation in the U.S.

“Rape is not exclusively the product of a few bent and twisted minds but a result of [cultural] belief systems.”

In this week’s podcast interview, we discuss the effects of the “rape myth,” the limitations of sexuality and rape-supportive beliefs, the influence of media violence, and the implications of the acceptance of violence against women.⁠ Our guest Neil Malamuth is a professor of social studies and communication at UCLA and interdisciplinary social scientist who studies violence and conflict. ⁠

This episode contains a trigger warning.

Sasza Lohrey 

Thank you so much for joining us today, Neil. I’d like to open up with a quote from one of your papers. It says, quote, this evidence was found to support the hypothesis that rape and forced sexuality are widespread and to a surprising extent, acceptable in North American society. That rape is not exclusively the product of a few bent and twisted minds, that beliefs in rape myths are linked to acts of aggression against women. And that sexual violence in the mass media plays a significant role in the fostering of rape myths, and then the acceptance of rape and other forms of violence against women. And so kind of just that excerpt from one of the studies and its findings, really sat with me in a in a big way. And so I’d love for you to kind of just lead us off by explaining a bit of how you got into this research and the path down which it has led you.

Neil Malamuth 

I’d be happy to so I got into this research. Somewhat by chance, I worked in a lab of a professor at UCLA while I was an undergraduate, and they were looking at issues of sex and aggression from a somewhat psychoanalytic framework. And to me that didn’t seem that interesting. But at the same time, there was a great deal of controversy going on. In the environment that I was in, there were some writings of radical feminists that made such statements as all men are potential rapists and there was a lot of debate going on about certain portray of women in the media that combined sex and violence, particularly ones that showed women as enjoying being violated or enjoying having some force in the process of being victimized and getting turned on by it. And there were people who were arguing that this kind of material should be censored, others saying not at all. And I thought, well, it might be interesting since I was pretty ambitious at that time to try and do some of my own research, to try and take some of these radical feminist ideas and test them in a scientific way. And we said about having several hypotheses that we tried to test in a valid scientific way One of them was that many men in the general population may see rape, and forced sex as attractive, even if they currently don’t commit it. The second one was that certain kinds of attitudes, certain kinds of beliefs such as those and rape myths, may in fact contribute to men’s propensity to sexually aggressive against women. And the third was, the certain depictions in the media may in fact, encourage such attitudes and therefore indirectly or directly contributes to violence against women. And we went ahead and did some studies with undergraduate students at UCLA and then later on with many other people in other universities and throughout the population. And we found a lot of support for those ideas. For those hypotheses, and those studies got a lot of publicity, both support from some of the radical feminists and from other groups as well as a lot of criticism. And then I felt compelled to address that criticism. And when I went to graduate school, well, my focus area was actually quite different. I continue to do studies to try to address the criticism, and eventually that became sort of my major area of research. And now 40 years or more later, I think we have a comprehensive research program that really speaks to some of these issues in a very clear way. And in that sense, I feel gratified that we’ve been able to do this research over the years.

Sasza Lohrey  

To start out I think, before we get into the research and the findings that irrevocably confirm A lot of these arguments, I’d love to kind of know a bit more about what the criticism is, you know, what is the angle that critics are playing? And what are they saying in defense or against these findings?

Neil Malamuth  

Well, criticisms of some of the early studies were that we were doing them in the laboratory, and that that’s an artificial environment. And therefore, we don’t know that we could generalize outside the laboratory. So then we went ahead and did complimentary studies, where we, for example, how to sample a random sample of all people in any form of higher education in the US, and found a great deal of support for what we had concluded from the laboratory studies. There are criticisms that said we’re only looking at short term effects. So we did some study. He’s looked at longer term effects. There are criticisms that said, well, you’re dealing with a very unusual population of college students. So we did studies that looked at men in the general population. There are criticisms that said that you really are not focusing on the kinds of effects that might occur from a combination of variables. So we develop what we call the confluence model, which simultaneously included multiple risk factors, but also controlled for other kinds of competing explanations. And again, the data very much supported our overall conclusions. So one by one, there were various criticisms that we took seriously. I think that’s the heart of science. is to have criticisms. And we then address them in other studies that indeed, addressed and I think spoke to those criticisms. And nonetheless, we were able to find in a comprehensive research program over many years, we found a great deal of support for the overall conclusions. I think the most most researchers at this point, do accept our conclusions. When it comes to most of the variables were. Controversy will always remain concerns specific media effects, particularly when it comes to pornography. Because some of our research does indicate that exposure to certain types of pornography, particularly violent pornography, and certain kinds of extreme pornography can have a A negative influence on those men who are already at risk based on other factors for committing sexual aggression and other forms of aggression against women. There are two I think there’s generally an acceptance of that conclusion, but because the topic of pornography has been so politicized, and there are extremes on both sides, those who say pornography is the boogeyman, or all pornography is bad for everyone, which is not what our research indicates. And those who say, hey, pornography is great, it actually forms a catharsis and there are no conditions under which it has any negative effects. And clearly our support, our research does not support that position either. It’s a much more attenuated much more of a limited set of conditions under which there are adverse effects. But I think if you look at At the scientific data with an open Objective Mind, you would, as many research have researchers have now come to accept the limited kinds of negative effects that we’ve shown both in the laboratory as well as outside of the laboratory for certain kinds of pornography for certain men who are already at risks to begin with, from other risk factors.

Sasza Lohrey  

So before we dive deeper into the the findings and some of the statistics and quotes from the articles that I’ve pulled, I’d love for you to just give our listeners a synopsis of the biggest findings, and if possible, to also explain how those findings perpetuate on a deeper level outside of the lab, outside of, you know, those specific people who may be were found to be more susceptible but how do then there, you know words or actions or interactions with other people how does that perpetuate the general culture we live in?

Neil Malamuth 

Well, those are very good questions and let me start with the last of them Yes, the cultural context is very important. The cultural context provides an environment in which certain kinds of individual risk factors may manifest in actual aggression, or those risk factors may not be as prevalent and if they are prevalent, may not result in actual rape or other forms of aggression. If the culture does not in some way accept or condone. So when you look at individual risk factors, it is the case that we can identify very well which men are most at risk for committing sexual aggression based on a relatively small number of risk factors. And these risk factors can be organized into two constellations or two groups. If you think of an analogy, if let’s say if you were trying to predict who’s going to have a heart attack or not, you might say, well, there are certain risk factors that fall into genetic, the kind of home environment that you come from, the kind of background factors that you have. And there are other factors that maybe are more environmental, the kind of diet you have, the kind of exercise you engage in and so forth. And similarly, when we look at predicting who in the general population is more likely to commit acts of sexual aggression, we find that there are two constellations of characteristics The first of those we call the hostile masculinity characteristics. And this is a set of personality factors that includes such elements as having hostility towards women having attitudes that are supportive of violence against women, being sexually aroused by power over women. And also I should mention a kind of Narcissistic Personality would be a fourth one that we could include in that constellation of hostile masculinity. If a person has those characteristics of the hostile masculinity, it makes them more likely to commit acts of sexual aggression. But then there’s another constellation which we call impersonal sexual orientation and that includes coming from a home environment Where you have violence, aggression, particularly aggression, such as child abuse or other kinds of abuse, then in adolescence that includes having friends who engage in mild antisocial behavior or you yourself engaging in some form of mild antisocial delinquent acts, and then over the life course, having an orientation to sex, which is outside of intimate relationships. It is looking for sex and being, perhaps particularly likely to seek sex without an emotional commitment with strangers one night stands and throughout the life course that is manifested in such things as having short term relationships, extra marriage affaires if you’re married, and so forth, if you have scores that are relatively high on those elements of the impersonal sexual dimension, or constellation, that also by itself increases your likelihood of engaging in sexual aggression, but not to a very high degree. But if you are high in both of those constellations, both in hostile masculinity and impersonal sex, constellations, then you’re much more so than each one of them alone, much more so likely to be at risk for committing acts of sexual aggression. So it’s the interaction, the interactive combination of hostile masculinity, and impersonal sexual orientation that best predicts the likelihood of engaging in sexual aggression. So those are the elements on a individual level. Now, if you combine that with a cultural environment, where you have support, or tolerance for rape for sexual aggression, then it is much more likely to be that those risk factors develop, and that those risk factors will result in actual aggression. such men are more likely to seek out environments where they may find victims who are less resistant and less likely to successfully fight them off. So they may go, let’s say to fraternity parties, where there’s a lot of alcohol that is being consumed, both by the men themselves but particularly by women. And then they’re likely to find individuals who are more vulnerable. So again, it’s the combination of risk factors, those individually risk factors that I mentioned and hostile masculinity and impersonal sex, the overall cultural environment where other people are not likely to intervene. Other people are not likely to try to protect their friends or to keep them away from these men who are more at risk. And then being in such an environment where there’s a lot of alcohol consumed. All of those coalesce together to make the likelihood of sexual aggression or rape much more likely.

Sasza Lohrey 

I think the interesting part there to note is that culture not only creates kind of a breeding ground on which these traits are more likely to be developed, but also then on top of that, kind of enable or almost encourage them in a toxic way to be expressed. Whether it be within the next dividuals the circumstances or the compulsive participants around these sorts of situations, and since you did mention the example of the frat party, I found your research regarding alcohol particularly interesting because I don’t think it’s exactly what people would expect. And so I’d love for you to just elaborate on the findings behind that.

Neil Malamuth 

Well, the findings of the alcohol have been in the past that men who have the other risk factors that I mentioned and drink a lot of alcohol are more likely to indeed be sexually aggressive. But more recent findings have suggested that it’s not necessarily the consumption of alcohol, per se. And I should mention this research is done by other researchers that used our basic paradigm and then developed Further, but they found that it’s being in settings, such as we mentioned, fraternity parties where a lot of alcohol is consumed. That is most predictive. And it seems that these men seek out those kinds of environments, as I mentioned, where they know that women are going to be drinking a lot and when they themselves drink a lot, and that kind of provides an extra fuel to the fire, if you will. Now, coming back to the issue of culture individuals, let’s remember that individuals create cultures and cultures also then, in a reinforcing way, magnify and create a contribute to the creation of individuals. So it’s a kind of a bi directional causation. And we shouldn’t again be looking for the Boogey Man saying, Oh, it’s our culture, oh, it’s certain individuals. These are synergistic. processes where each one contributes to the other.

Sasza Lohrey 

Right? And I just found it interesting how one it was only for those who have the risk factors for whom alcohol was a predictive factor. But then particularly interesting that it wasn’t necessarily the alcohol itself, but just going to situations in which there were drunk women or more vulnerable women, which allowed them not even necessarily because of the alcohol, but because of opportunity to then prey on on these other people. But exactly how you said how this is a synergistic relationship? How would you say they’re related and the levels from the media and all of this, as we dive deeper into that, I’d love to know how powerful you think some of these different factors are and which ones can be the most dangerous, whether they’re ones that are within or outside of our Control and influence as society and culture.

Neil Malamuth  

Very good questions. The way we’ve divided the risk factors is certain ones are more primary. So those that are associated with the hostile masculinity and personal sex, dimensions or constellations are the ones that we consider more primary. such things as pornography use, alcohol use. Those are seen as more secondary risk factors that can add as I mentioned, fuel to the fire, it doesn’t mean they’re not important. And in terms of the ability to predict if we have someone who has all of those risk factors that I’ve been describing, then I think we can say with a great deal of confidence that they have or will commit acts of sexual aggression. We could say 90 percent or more of the time they will have, I should mention there also may be counteracting factors inhibiting factors. So if you have a high level of empathy, if you have the contrary attitudes to say that this kind of aggression is really wrong, it may be something that could counteract to some degree, the risk factors, but I might add that currently, the data that we have is that all the prevention attempts at colleges and elsewhere with such men have failed. And there are very large amounts of money that are being spent in context of the Congress passing a bill that required institutions of higher learning to have some sort of prevention and they have these Prevention’s for all incoming students and we’ve covered The paper using the data of the CDC, and all the scientific data available, that shows that these interventions may not only not work, but they may actually do more harm than good. And argument is you really have to have interventions that are tailored to these high risk men, and don’t get them to be even more hostile, and defensive. That may work much better, but that the current interventions don’t work. And that people who are in charge of those interventions are burying their heads in the sand. They don’t want to admit or recognize that those interventions don’t work, because Congress only mandated them to have interventions, didn’t mandate them to evaluate these interventions or to show that they work. So when we’ve raised the issues with how level people in universities and elsewhere, they say, well, we’re not gonna argue with you. We’re not saying you’re wrong, but we don’t want to have to deal with this because then we’re going to be actually in a more difficult position. If we acknowledge what you’re saying,

Sasza Lohrey

what types of interventions are these?

Neil Malamuth  

These are interventions that either the institutions such as the universities have developed themselves, or many of them hire these companies that basically have all incoming students go through an hour or two, some universities much more that basically tell them that rape is wrong, that if they are inclined to do it, they’re jerks, and that they should basically recognize that such behavior is not only wrong, but if they get caught will be punished severely. And remember that these men are hostile to women to begin with. And here they’re forced to participate in these interventions that are telling them in so many words that they’re wrong, that they’re jerks, that they’re jackasses. And it appears that these men who are hostile to begin with become even more hostile. And they become more upset by being told that they’re simply wrong and that they should face the fact that what they’re feeling is wrong. And, you know, it would be nice if those kinds of interventions worked. But unfortunately, as I said, if anything they seem to have Boomerang effects, and results in the opposite of what the interventions are intended to do.

Sasza Lohrey  

To give an example, quickly goes off topic in battling addiction. certain countries, specifically Portugal that had one of the most intense drug crisis problems and fatalities, etc. They eventually found that the only way to really have a powerful impact and change the issue was to not treat with anti drug problems to tell people what not to do to try and explain how bad it was, but to provide connection to help them feel connected to their community to a purpose by helping them start companies so giving them connection to other people in into a purpose and through almost giving people these things rather than preaching. It’s it then I once heard somebody who was an addict say that you’re only able to quit When your life sober is better than your life when you’re on drugs. And so I don’t want to closely relate these things. But my point is that, you know, how much can really a different perspective and instead of trying to put a bandaid and come at things from a negative perspective, but teaching people and I would imagine often people who come from broken homes or who have been, you know, essentially brainwashed with unhealthy information, be it at home through examples through seeing certain things or through, you know, the media and whatnot, but trying to change things around and really lean into those inhibiting factors, as you mentioned, such as empathy and trying to empower people to kind of create a version of themselves or a version of, of women and of relationships. That is a new Reality better than the kind of backwards version they they were living in and how we could possibly use you know what we try and do at PBX x story and sharing perspective. And that cultivating empathy, emotional intelligence and connection be even with men and other men or, you know, between men and women, but some sort of better self understanding and understanding of others. How do you think that we could possibly try and fight against this in a different way that you see maybe has potential to be more effective?

Neil Malamuth  

I take your points very well, and indeed, we have designed procedures along those lines. So my colleague Mark Huffman, and I have designed studies in which we use a technique called self affirmation to To try and get these men to be less defensive. So self affirmation involves saying something positive getting the person to focus on certain positive aspects of their identity before presenting any kind of criticism of them. You might think of an analogy, if you’re engaging in an argument to somebody, it’s good to use what’s called the sandwich technique. First you say something positive about them, then you might increase include something that is perhaps challenging or critical, and then you’ll have against something positive. And the affirmation approach gets the men to think about certain positive aspects of themselves. In addition to getting them to recognize some of the things that we’re suggesting, may need to be changed and we are quite optimistic that this may at least be a first step in the right direction. But in general, you can’t ignore the high risk people in the population and just focus on everyone in general, you might be able to design a risk, a intervention that is particularly suited for high risk people, but also can be used for people in general, because you can’t necessarily label the people as high risk and, you know, take them out of the overall program and label them in a way that may have negative effects. But if you can use the self affirmation, for example, you can use that for everyone, and then do in a more systematic way studies that look at how these men not only can be changed, but in many ways, may become allies in the process of change. And we have proposed to actually the military study where we do first get a lot of the men themselves to comment on what it is that they can see as productive changes in say, masculinity, in attitudes and the like that they think other men who are perhaps at risk as well may be much more amenable to listening to maybe much more likely to be open to these kinds of ideas, these kinds of attitude change. We also think that there are certain kinds of things that are much more difficult to change than others. So, for example, the sexual arousal to power which includes perhaps violence against women under certain settings, is probably established at a relatively youthful age. And if You’re dealing with interventions with adults may not be feasible to change. But it may be feasible to teach a person how to interpret and manage that kind of arousal. hostility towards women also is probably relatively difficult to change. But there may be some aspects as you suggest that as well, the certain inhibitory and more positive aspects of getting them to highlight certain positive aspects of their relationships with women may serve to be a counteracting force. So in general requires a lot of focus, a lot of research, systematic attempts at intervention that are evaluated in a scientific valid way and not just jumping in there and saying, okay, here are a bunch of things we think will work and therefore we’re going to give them because Congress manta rays did us to do something. And we’re going to do this and bury our heads in the sand. And even if the data don’t show that they’re working, we’re just going to continue doing it because that’s our mandate.

Sasza Lohrey 

Yeah, I think that, and obviously, depending on what end of the scale we’re talking about, but I do believe that, you know, you can’t be what you don’t see or you can’t, you know, do what you don’t know. And a certain amount of exposure, be it in the past or going forwards does play a role, and I’ve had more than one woman come to me and you know, make certain statements like men are trash or Oh, that’s typical men. What Be it and one of them one said to me, I said, what why do you think that and one of them once explained to me that she had never had a positive role model Have a man in her life nor really any positive relationships, you know, experiences with men. And that was kind of a big moment for me realizing, you know, how can we help women, obviously, through changes in behavior on both ends and a change in in perspective and preconceived notions to change this status quo that a lot of people often live in. And so whether that’s certain men who have a predisposition or have only been exposed to unhealthy relationships, or, you know, the media, I still see some interesting potential there. I found it particularly interesting in the research to read that there was no relation to the psychopathic deviant scale, which I think is probably where a lot of people might jump to thinking, Oh, well, you know, this is because it’s sociopathic behavior or you know, psychopathic behavior. Once you get past a certain level. But just once again grounding ourselves in the reality that if we can’t put the blame fully there, while some of it might be inherent, there are definitely other factors that you know society and culture are providing or influencing.

Neil Malamuth 

Let me speak to a number of points you raised in terms of psychopaths, ie, it is the case that those men who are relatively high on the psychopathic scale are more likely to develop these hostility towards women. Another characteristics that make them a greater risk so psychopath, he does play some role. But it’s not the case that it’s a direct role. And it’s certainly not the case that all men who commit acts of sexual aggression or who are at risk for it are necessarily high and psychopaths. But the psychopath the scale that is most been used by hair does have some overlap with our risk factors, interestingly, but it looks kind of more general characteristics that are risk, increase the risk for committing antisocial acts. In general, our model shows that people have high scores on psychopaths, he says I mentioned and have the particular risk factors that we’ve identified as being more specific to aggression against women are the ones who are most at risk. But the term psychopath he is used differently in the research literature, then it’s the way it’s used in common language people think of a psychopath as really weird, crazy, deviant individual psychopath he is measured by the hair, other scales there’s not clinical psychopath the psychopath the in every day. Life that we’re talking about that many people have varying degrees of. And in that sense, it can be a contributing factor. But you’re correct, that it’s not just explained by psychopaths, the but these more specific risk factors are actually more directly irrelevant.

Sasza Lohrey  

Yeah, just because I think that exactly. I think that people, though, might make the jump to assume, you know, it is on a heavier clinical level, somewhat associated. So I found it particularly interesting to know that indeed, there’s at least on that level, no relation to kind of take out that excuse or explanation that that people might try and jump to run with it being you know, the result of a few bent and twisted mind, which is what it reminded me Oh, okay.

Neil Malamuth  

Yeah, that makes sense. I know we’re definitely talking about men in general. And again, Depends on what the environment the social environment the culture approves of or not. So let’s take an example of Japan, which is known to have a very low level of internal violence and crime in general, and also has a very low reported rates of rape. Yet the highest number of recorded rapes that were committed in a single day, or during World War Two by Japanese men, against Chinese women in the city of Nanking were about 100,000 women were raped in a single day. So you really have to look at what the culture accepts what the culture condones. And just like in violence, generally, we may be very opposed to violence within our group. But when it comes to the out group to the enemy, we’re much more likely To support it and make it actually heroic. But when it comes to rape, clearly, you could say that the highest risk factor is being a male. And the highest risk factor for being a victim of rape is being female. But then the other risk factors do differentiate very well under peacetime conditions. And there’s some men who obviously never engage in sexual aggression and consider it reprehensible. And other men who certainly do so and yet other men somewhere in the middle who feel they would do so if they could get away with it or certainly have an attraction to it, and may engage in a various kinds of behaviors that are not legally considered rape or are not least reported to the authorities. And clearly the me to movement has dramatically changed. The environment to which certain acts of sexual aggression are tolerated. certain acts of sexual harassment are seen as just being something that women have to accept and the me to movement, I think has had a major positive impact and changing that.

Sasza Lohrey 

Well, I just wanted to quickly touch back on, you mentioned in group versus out group behavior, which I just wanted to say I found extremely interesting, obviously, in the context of, of war and conflict you think about but on a very much more basic, everyday level in terms of who we consider to be like us or within our group versus outside and whether that’s, you know, sex or gender based, or you know, religion based on a grander scale. I think it’s interesting and I would ask our listeners to ask themselves, who do I consider, you know, in group versus out group, and how might my Words, behaviors and actions change for one versus the other. And again, outside of this context completely, because there’s probably a chance that, you know, even looking at the most basic, innocent example, whether it’s helping somebody out on the street or customer service or lending a hand that seeps down and kind of can leach into other areas of our life and does represent something bigger. So I think it’s important for us to acknowledge the difference between in group and out group behavior, especially on the scale that you mentioned throughout there. And throughout the research you touched on this, the the term rape myths, and this was actually something that before reading up on your research I wasn’t familiar with. So I’d love for you to help give our listeners an operating definition and a bit more context into what that is and what it means. 

Neil Malamuth 

Sure, well rape myths refers to widely held beliefs that are false or inconsistent with what we know from research findings. So examples of those are that a large percentage of women actually secretly desire to be raped, and beliefs that men who rape are only deviants and only crazy guys who jump out of bushes, various kinds of beliefs that are included on a scale. Martha Byrd who developed well known scales, one of the scales that measures that that has about 20 items of the sorts that measure false beliefs about rape, that I said, are widely held, even though they’re inconsistent with what we know from scientific research-

Sasza Lohrey

Right? And so then things particularly which seek to deny or make light of the effects on the victims, or I guess going as far as blaming the victims so some of the examples from this scale, I believe, where she asked for a, she’s promiscuous, any woman can successfully resist rape if she really wants to, etc.

Neil Malamuth 

Right, right. And indeed, those kinds of beliefs do form as a disinhibition, or justification, or rationale for men who commit sexual aggression that justifies it or makes them feel less likely to be guilty or sees their acts as more acceptable. But even people who don’t commit such acts often hold such beliefs and when this has been administered to a wide Audience including random samples of entire states, it’s quite shocking the extent to which these rape myths are widely held in the general population.

Sasza Lohrey

I did mean to ask you about the numbers earlier of the percentage of men who fall into the either the of the two categories in the confluence model, and then what percent fall into both?

Neil Malamuth 

The dimensions are continuous dimensions, which means that, you know, somebody everybody gets some score on these dimensions. But what I can tell you is that from a random sample of all men in any form of higher education, which includes high schools, universities, colleges and so forth, in a research that Mary Carson I and others have done, we have found that about 7% of men score high on all of the risk factors that we examined. And of those a very large percentage well over 80% had committed acts of sexual aggression, that if they came to the attention of the law, they would be considered serious crimes. And yet, generally, none of these have come to the actual attention of the law.

Sasza Lohrey  

I first want to just kind of challenge people to look at that number in question. If if that number is 7%. Then how many other factors are there that we might be perpetuating? And secondly, I know that in your research, part of it is kind of impacted by or at least comes up the infrequency of which cases are even reported, which makes it hard to gather data, because so few of cases are ever reported.

Neil Malamuth  

Right? You know, these are men who themselves have admitted to have committed acts of sexual aggression that they say that the woman did not want to engage in those acts. So it doesn’t include those men who, let’s say, may rationalize and say, Oh, the women actually did want to. And so it’s clearly an underestimate, and also likely to be an underestimate, because even though the men are anonymous when they report, some men will be fearful that even in an anonymous questionnaire, it might get them in trouble. And, you know, we’ve known for a very long time but a, probably the majority of acts of sexual aggression are not reported by victims. But one hopes that again, the climate has changed to some degree, the me to movement, and that some people may be, some women may be more willing to report and more likely to report and current environments than years ago. What we do find, interestingly, is that in general men self reports of having engaged in those behaviors. Even an anonymous questionnaire seemed to have gone down over the years. Is that because they’re much more cautious about reporting, or is it factually, there has been some decrease in very recent years? No one really knows.

Sasza Lohrey  

Yeah, when I was reading through some other research, I actually took note wondering if people are reporting to the full extent of their beliefs. Or if you know, the reality behind the research and the numbers could be even darker. I guess I I was just already so surprised with some of the numbers, that I found it hard to believe that people would self report these answers. And so then that just kind of brings me back to another interview I’ve done with Benjamin Nolo who directed a movie called liberated, that follows a documentary, following spring break and hookup culture in Cabo. And just the fact that people were, you know, willing to be documented on video, you know, internalized and publicized in this role they had taken on and, in many cases, sexually aggressive, and so led me to wonder if, you know, it wasn’t just that they thought that in a lot of experts in the movie kind of voice in saying it’s because, you know, our culture has led certain people to believe that this is okay. And in some of these cases in the movie, You know, the extent to which they think it’s not only okay but cool and something to brag about. And so in reading some of your statistics I was grappling with how much you know, people were how okay people felt sane, and how much that could be, you know, as a result of, you know them truly not realizing how wrong it is or just actually having no no guilt in a certain extent, extent of apathy, but some of the stats I wrote down were college men were asked how likely they would be to rape if they could be assured of not being caught and punished. On a scale of one not at all likely to five very likely about 35% of all the males indicated some likelihood, two or higher, and about 20% of all the males indicated an even higher likelihood of three or above

Neil Malamuth  

Roddick And that was one of our earliest findings that was highly criticized. People said, well, you’re just asking two items, first of all, so then we developed the whole scale of traction to sexual aggression that was much more comprehensive, many more items. people criticize it by saying, well, maybe people will say they will do anything under the hypothetical circumstances where they could be assured of not being caught or punished. We show that that’s not the case. Either that it’s quite specific. Yes, some people say they would engage in certain kinds of behaviors, robbing a bank, whatever, but it’s not necessarily the people who say that they would rape if they could be assured of not being caught that there are more specific things that are being measured Here we show that people who are higher on the self reporting attraction to sexual aggression are more like convicted rapist on all dimensions that have been Measured hostility towards women attitudes, accepting violence against women, sexual arousal, to violence and so forth. So, again, this scale of attraction to sexual aggression, how likely would you be to engage sexual aggression, if you could be assured of not being caught is not necessarily an indication of how the person is actually going to behave in everyday situations. But it does reflect an attraction and acceptance of sexual aggression, that now has been well validated. And all of the criticisms that have been raised I think I’ve been effectively met. And the conclusion remains as a very strong one, that there are many men in the general population who don’t see rape or sexual aggression, as totally reprehensible and outside the potential for them to engage in if you have As you go, are you likely to do it under current circumstances? Most of them if not all of them, say no. But if you asked them if you could be assured of not being caught or punished, as you mentioned, if you use the word rape, a third of men in the general population say yes, there’s some likelihood they would do it. And a majority of men say there’s some likely that they would do it. If you don’t use the word rape, but you use the phrase, force a woman to sexual acts against her will.

Sasza Lohrey 

I’m wondering if there are any studies to see if this is something that changes as our conceptualization of self and relationships with other people grow and evolve and become deeper. So if if there’s any change with age or over time, if this is something that is getting better, you know, over the last few decades that you guys have been doing this research how much you know the findings. have changed. And lastly, if there are any, you know, what would be any of the differences between the US? And if there’s research in other countries? How do we compare to the rest of the world and then to other developed countries who could have very different outlooks?

Neil Malamuth  

You know, we don’t have very good data over many years to be able to make those systematic comparisons. My sense is from what we do have and my general impression is that some things have indeed improved. And again, the me to movement is a reflection of that, and that what would have been more tolerated and more acceptable, let’s say in locker room conversations among some men, has for some of them become less acceptable, and some men are more likely to speak out and challenge somebody who boasts about engaging in sexual aggression in terms of other cultures. You know, I do think it’s important to recognize that there are some cultures that are many cultures that are far worse than we are. We tend to kind of bash American society. But, you know, there are many cultures, which not only condone women as being possessions of men but tolerate various kinds of violence against women in ways that are very extreme and many Americans were to examine those cultures, they’d be shocked. And where acts of violence against women occur on a daily basis and are socially condoned. At the same time, certainly our society still has a long way to go. And there are other cultures who are doing better than us. Certainly some of the countries such as the Netherlands. or Sweden, countries have that sorts appear from again, the limited data that we have to have more egalitarian roles about male and female behavior, and to be less tolerant of violence against women, but there are two, there is a certain degree of acceptance of rape myths and certain attitudes that we would consider to be potentially contributing to aggression against women.

Sasza Lohrey 

So then, I guess as we segue, then I would love to hear a bit more about throughout this synergistic model in which all these different factors play a role and can contribute some in more ways than others or create a different mix of things going into your research on the media. What have you guys found there?

Neil Malamuth 

Right. Well, the media is not one of the factors we would consider the major cause, but it’s It really depends on recognizing what we’ve been able to measure and whatnot we’ve looked at primarily in the media, the role of heavy pornography consumption, particularly violent pornography and what’s called extreme pornography. And it does add significantly to the prediction once a person has certain other risk factors, even when you control for other kinds of competing explanations. We’ve also and other researchers have looked at such things as certain kind of rap music that does very much objectify women very much, denigrates women and you know a lot of rap music, of course does not do that, but some does it and with James Johnson and other researchers, we have found That that can be shown to contribute to more acceptance of violence against women. But the media, of course, is not monolithic. There are many aspects of the media. If you look over time, certainly a lot of the traditional sex rules were reinforced by the media and reflected those. So I can’t give you a general answer about the media in general, I’d have to say, for the particular segment that we’ve looked at, there are significant important effects, but they only occur for some men. In fact, a minority of men where you can say it actually contributes to sexual aggression. And for the majority of men who are pornography consumers, we haven’t found support that pornography in general contributes to sexual aggression. So those men who don’t have relatively high levels of Sexual of the risk factors. Even if there are heavy pornography consumers, it doesn’t seem to increase their likelihood of committing acts of sexual aggression.

Sasza Lohrey 

Is that regardless of the type of pornography?

Neil Malamuth 

Yeah, it would be regardless of the type of pornography but, you know, men who are more at risk are the ones who are more likely to consume violent pornography if you’re talking about more extreme pornography in general. Yeah, the data do not indicate that men who have low scores and the other risk factors, they have not been shown to increase their levels of sexual aggression when they consume extreme pornography.

Sasza Lohrey  

Right? Although they are much less likely to be consuming. That’s right. And perhaps not at all. What could you speak a bit to desensitization. They have this this excerpt here that says media violence produces long term effects via several types. learning processes, leading to the acquisition of lasting and automatically accessible aggressive scripts interpretational schemas and aggression supporting beliefs about social behavior and by reducing individual’s normal, negative emotional response to violence, ie desensitization.

Neil Malamuth

Well, that research focuses on media violence generally. And again, I think there is the risk of thinking of that as the boogeyman, which it’s not, but men should look at it as a contributing factor, and probably plays more of a role for some people than for others. But there has been a great deal of research in many different kinds of settings. That does indicate that as for example, exposure to media violence, can have desensitization effects. make you less sensitive to real world violence, that doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily going to go out and commit real world violence clearly not under everyday peaceful conditions. But that’s particularly a heavy diet of media violence does make some individuals less sensitive to violence that occurs in the real world.

Sasza Lohrey 

And I found that extremely interesting and the fact that we need to think not only about what makes us or certain people or as a society as a whole, more likely to engage in certain behaviors or commit certain behaviors. But what is it that makes us less likely to stop them or to you know, speak out against them or even to notice them,

Neil Malamuth  

Right? And that’s, by the way, the one and Only area that in research on rape prevention has been shown to be effective, that is programs that are designed to increase the intervention of individuals does show that they work in making people more likely to intervene. So for example, if you’re at a fraternity party and you see a woman getting drunk and some guy appears to be potentially preying on her, people are more likely after they’ve undergone these interventions to go and try to run interference, so to speak, and to help her avoid being put into a vulnerable position where she may be victimized. There hasn’t unfortunately yet been research showing that those kinds of interventions, they get people to be more effective bystanders actually reduce the Rates of rape or violence against women. But the hope is that if they’re more likely to intervene, then it may actually make the rates of rape become lower. But that still has to be shown. But the the interventions for bystanders increase by standard willingness to intervene, that has been effectively shown-

Sasza Lohrey  

Right and at least changing the fact that while we’re focusing on people doing consequential acts, but then examining what the consequences of not seeing or not doing anything about it is and so they can be these passive problems that are perhaps flying under the radar even more so because they just eventually become part of the the norm or the acceptance.

Neil Malamuth 

And indeed, one of the additional risk factors that’s been shown to add fuel to the fire is the belief that your friends tolerate Or supports sexual aggression that they consider it to be okay. And if you can change a man’s beliefs about how his friends would react, that may be one of the interventions that can help reduce the actual acts of sexual aggression. 

Sasza Lohrey 

That’s fascinating. In studies, they talk about how, you know, you are a combination of the people you surround yourself. By, or you know, the people we surround yourself with shape a part of who we are so, almost in changing whether our beliefs about them were justified or not from the beginning, but in changing our beliefs about them, that can actually in turn change our own behaviors. I think that is fascinating. So as we get ready to wrap up, I have just a few more shorter questions for you. My next question would be what new questions or new areas are you looking to explore going forward?

Neil Malamuth  

I think The newest questions was to her asking, focus more on what can we do about it? More interventions? I think, you know, we did many years of research, where we identified the risk factors, where we addressed all of the criticisms that we could possibly address. And as I get older, and have a certain social conscience that I was raised with, I asked, okay, how’s all this research going to be used? And in what way can it make this a better world and what we can inform interventions, and that’s what we’re struggling with now. And that’s an area that is difficult to tackle because as I said at present, a there isn’t research that really supports the efficacy of interventions in this area. Be there’s research that suggests there may be Boomerang effects. So you got to tread carefully. See, it’s very difficult to get funding by the institutions that are using these interventions because they don’t want to be shown to have interventions that are not working. And they would rather bury their head in the sand or avoid the potential legal morass of are showing that their interventions don’t work and being compelled to develop interventions that might work but are going to be much more expensive to develop and to validate than kind of doing something even if you don’t know if it works or even if it might have negative effects.

Sasza Lohrey 

Some of that, particularly I mean, the the research in itself is is heavy hearted digest and definitely can feel a bit morbid at times. But then I think the part about kind of the efficacy of, you know, going forward and treatments and how we can improve that. And the fact that we don’t really have a foothold there yet, as well can be a bit disappointing. So I’d love for you to talk a bit about what the bright side of this research is, what potential might there be for change?

Neil Malamuth 

Well, I think in general, the bright side is that attitudes and tolerance of aggression against women, and sexual harassment has dramatically changed in the society. I think, again, mentioning the meat to movement, and perhaps some of the views of radical feminists and some of our research supporting some of their views and, in general, the research program I’d like to believe has an at least some small way contributed To the change in the cultural climate, and people recognizing that the problems of aggression against women, particularly rape and sexual aggression and sexual harassment are not the province of certain extreme deviant individuals. But as you quoted from our early work, supported the conclusion that really requires changes in the culture as a whole changes in men in general. And I think we have seen a lot of that occur on a level where certain kinds of roles have dramatically changed certain kinds of a lot of presentations in the media have dramatically changed. Certainly certain kinds of beliefs and rate myths are probably less accepted and if they are accepted, less likely to be spoken publicly. So there’s a great deal of positive change that I think we can be proud of. And as I said, I’d like to believe that in a confluence way, this research has been one of the factors that has contributed to those positive changes.

Sasza Lohrey  

You mentioned just now and also in the beginning how radical feminists, I was just curious as to what your definition of a feminist is,

Neil Malamuth

oh, well, my definition of a feminist is simply people who believe that men and women should have equal opportunities. When I say radical feminists, I’m referring to the writings of people like Susan Brown Miller, Andrea Dworkin, Catherine MacKinnon that back in when was it? I guess it was the Late 60s, early 70s, these were some very controversial opinions. So, you know, those kinds of ideas I think have become more widely accepted. Some of them at least have permeated society and have become far less radical, although some of them probably still would be seen as being on the fringe.

Sasza Lohrey 

Yeah, I really like that idea of viewing equality as opportunity in a way and putting opportunity on an equal playing ground. And I also think that it’s interesting to would be interesting to challenge ourselves to not view equality as this objective, quantifiable measure in the sense of strength, height. certain capabilities but to really challenge ourselves to see equality more as an understanding or a mutual respect and a form of solidarity with one another, rather like I ground level on which to connect. And so my last question would be if you have any actionable advice to our listeners in terms of you know, whether it’s helping people notice certain patterns or behaviors in themselves or in others or how to engage with, you know, media or certain things like that, that they could perhaps take with them from this interview and try and re examine the way they are living out their own habits and and relationships.

Neil Malamuth 

Yes, I would suggest to the listeners that this is a issue That all of us need to be involved in at whatever level we can. And that all of us are both potentially contributing to the negative facts and being able to contribute to making it a better world and a better culture and a better situation, the way we raise kids the way we talk to kids, the way we critically consume media, the kinds of things we take for granted. I would say that being much more cognizant, and asking, Well, what do scientific findings tell us? In what way might I be wrong? Based on my own limited experience? In what way can I be open to listening to other people and becoming more empathic about their experiences, their attitudes to get away from a tribal kind of mentality of us versus them and Being more tolerant of differences, even when those differences are jarring. But in order to help change people who you really might be prone to condemn, you have to in some ways, be willing to better understand where they’re coming from, and then you may be more effective in actually bringing about a change.

Sasza Lohrey 

I think that last part is amazing. And in the beginning, you mentioned challenging us to and this brings me back to solidarity again, take shared responsibility for perhaps being a part of this problem. But then, taking shared responsibility and shared empowerment, to the possibility that we can be part of creating change and part of building a solution and reshaping the the society and culture. We live in. In and also perpetuate for the best. Agreed. Awesome. Well thank you so much for taking the time to meet with us. I really appreciate it.

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