Gendering rape: Social attitudes towards male and female rape



Publication Details

Rumney, P. N. S. & Hanley, N. (2011). Gendering rape: Social attitudes towards male and female rape. In J. Jones, A. Grear, R. A. Fenton & K. Stevenson (Eds.), Gender, Sexualities and Law (pp. 135-147). Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge.


This chapter will explore the extent to which rape can be said to be a uniquely gendered crime in the context of one particular issue that has been the subject of repeated claims by feminist scholars: the idea that rape is gendered because male and female rape are treated differently in terms of social attitudes. This claim is used by scholars to reinforce feminist theorising on gender which suggests that the bodily violation of women is taken less seriously than the violation of men. Thus, it is argued, male rape is 'privileged' in the sense that it is treated more seriously than female rape in the legal process and in that male victims are less likely to attract negative social attributions. While there is some evidence of the privileging of male rape in social attitudes, a wider examination of the literature reveals that such privileging as does exist is not to the exclusive benefit of males. Further, claims that male victims receive preferential treatment in legal responses to rape appear, on the basis of current evidence, to have little basis in reality.

In order to critically examine claims that male rape is 'privileged', this chapter examines how male and female rape are perceived and constructed in social discourse. It will do so through the use of four focus-group discussions in which participants examined vignettes involving an allegation of male rape. The focus-group discussions will be analysed in order to consider the implications they have for some feminist theorising on gender and sexual assault.

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