#MeToo movement is helping to curb the world's misogynistic behavior

#MeToo movement is helping to curb the world's misogynistic behavior

With the outing of serial sexual harassers by the #MeToo movement and the recent resignation of former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter for his role amid allegations of physical violence by two of his former wives, some may be wondering if all men are predators.

Decades of behavioral and social science research indicate that there are more perpetrators out there than most people thought. We also know, however, what characteristics those with a tendency to abuse possess and have some good ideas on how to apply this information to real world change.

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Pre-October, before women in Hollywood courageously outed Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement took hold, many in society seemed to believe that lonely, unattractive or overly chauvinistic males were the ones who expressed hostility towards women.

 

Many of us thought that the rest of males, while not perfect, weren’t predatory. But data from national crime statistics, criminal victimization studies, as well as conviction and incarceration rates, indicated that women’s reports of experiencing attempted rape, sexual coercion, and unwanted sexual contact were much higher than previously thought.

Indeed, almost a quarter of men admit to engaging in some form of sexual coercion by the end of their fourth year of college. Heterosexual men are significantly more likely to have perpetrated physical sexual coercion than heterosexual women and non-heterosexual men and women.

They are also more likely to use arguments, verbal pressure, as well as drugs and alcohol to obtain sex. Indeed, some of these men think that verbal coercion and taking advantage of a toxically impaired woman are less serious transgressions than the use of physical force.

It’s not just the obvious creeps who have the tendency to abuse. Men who wholeheartedly buy into rape myths, downplay sexual assault as a problem, and hold rigid views of women’s place in the home are more likely to transgress.

Men with these profiles have less empathy and are more self-centered than non-violent men. Moreover, they have a higher need for social recognition, are more impulsive, and exhibit higher dominance traits.

In addition, in anonymous surveys, these men admit that they would be even more likely to assault if they could be certain they wouldn’t be reported to the authorities. Put together, this perpetrator profile can be described as “hostile masculinity.”

Many of these men are, if you will, sexually narcissistic — they could care less whom and how they sexually exploit. They feel sexually entitled to take what they want, when they want it, and they have less sexual empathy for others, while, interestingly, demonstrating less sexual skill.

These are the guys who don’t care about disease protection or contraceptive use, have no qualms about infidelity, and do not care about their partners’ sexual satisfaction. Men with high levels of sexual narcissism are more likely to engage in unwanted sexual contact, sexual coercion, and attempted/completed rape. As expected, they also have a higher likelihood of future sexual violence.

Sexually coercive men often believe that they have greater mating success than they actually do. They typically have more sexual encounters and a stronger preference for partner variety and casual sex. Males who use verbal or physical coercion to obtain sex often use a manipulative, deceptive game-playing style in intimate relationships.

They like to strictly adhere to hyper-traditional masculine norms like having power over women or being a playboy. While all seem to exhibit high doses of male entitlement, some are sadistic and want to teach women a lesson. A subset of these sadistic men are actually physically and emotionally aroused by sexual violence.

Many of these perpetrating men have high impulsivity traits and lack forethought and planning in how to appropriately initiate and negotiate an intimate sexual relationship with a woman. They often make errors in reading another person’s social cues.

For example, they misread women’s standard friendliness as sexual interest. They also seem to have difficulties with social anxiety. If you add high pornography consumption and alcohol or drug abuse into the mix, particularly on college campuses, the chance of sexual violence among these males is much higher.

And, let’s not forget, that peer attitudes toward women play a role in sexual violence as well. Friends matter. Young men who had perpetrated a sexual assault in the past year reported feeling peer pressure to have sex by any means and used more objectifying statements when recounting how their friends spoke about women. Whether these men’s perceptions of their peers’ attitudes of aggression toward women are accurate or not is debatable.

Men who repeatedly assault have little remorse. As expected, previous perpetration of verbal, physical, or sexual aggression toward women is a significant predictor of who will do it again. In addition, their aggression toward women goes well beyond the sexual arena.

Maybe the #MeToo movement isn’t going to rid the world of all predators, but it certainly seems to be making the world less tolerant of misogynistic behavior. It is showing the world that by exposing male sexual predators, we can create strong public resistance to toxic masculine norms and therefore change the cultural environment.

As a trauma psychologist, I believe the movement is doing more than just saying we will no longer tolerate or make excuses for sexually aggressive behavior. It is also highlighting that more universal prevention programs as well as targeted interventions are needed.

First, let’s shout it from the rooftops. The #MeToo movement is educating the public. Psychological healthy sexual satisfaction comes from positive mutually pleasurable sexual experiences. No conflict, coercion or dysfunction.

Second, let’s target those who are predisposed to sexual coercion and aggression for prevention and intervention.

We could, for example look for those males and females with aggressive tendencies and empathic deficits on college campuses or in the workplace and teach them how to re-calibrate and regulate their emotions as well as how to recognize cues indicating sexual interest and consent.

Joan Cook is a psychologist and associate professor at Yale University who researches traumatic stress and clinically treats combat veterans, interpersonal violence survivors and people who escaped the former World Trade Center towers on 9/11.