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Aken's worldview

Do the the (dumbass) comments of (dumbass) Todd Aken supply evidence of the antagonism between conservative ideology and science?  Predictably, it is being depicted as such all over the internet.  

In truth, it's hard to believe that anyone who makes the mistake of treating a single individual's comments as evidence of anything (or who tries to entice others to make such a mistake) really understands (or is committed to) the disciplined form of observation and measurement that is the signature of science's way of knowing.  

But if one wanted to try to explore in a defensibly empirical way how the general belief Aiken expressed might be entangled in a cultural identity, one might start by considering the considerable body of evidence that social scientists have collected about who believes what and why about both abortion and date rape. It's pretty interesting.

The Republican position on abortion, this evidence suggets, might be part of a war against women, but if so, it's a civil war. As Kristin Luker shows (through masterful ethnography; definitely counts as "empirical," in my book), women occupy front-line positions on both sides of this cultural conflict. 

The social group most opposed to abortion, according to Luker's research, consists of women with  traditional, hierarchical values. Within a hierarchical way of life, women acquire status by successfully occupying domestic roles. "Motherhood" as a selfless--or essentially self-abnegating--state of commitment to the welfare of one's children reflects the highest form of female virtue.

This understanding is threatened by an alternative, egalitarian (and individualistic) outlook that measures the status of women and men in a unitary currency--viz., their success in markets, professions, and other institutions of civil society. The concept of a "right to choose" or "right to abortion" is linked -- through social practices but also through cultural meanings -- to this alternative outlook, and its alternative conception of female virtue. Hierarchical women are the ones who have the most status to lose should this outlook become dominant. Thus, Luker concludes, they are  the group most impelled to resist abortion rights. 

The same, status-protective logic, a large literature in women's studies suggests, informs the  position of hierarchical women in the "no means ...?" debate in rape law. A hierarchical way of life features norms that forbid women, in particular, from engaging in casual sex, or sex outside of marriage or committed relationships. "Token resistance" -- the initial feigning of a lack of consent by a woman who in fact desires sex-- is thought to be a form of strategic behavior engaged in by women who want to defy these norms while conveying to their partners that they can sill be expected to abide by hierarchical sexual mores generally (it's just that you are so irresistible!).  Hierarchical men and women take a dim view of such behavior. But the ones who resent "token resistance" the most are hierarchical women--whose status is being misappropriated by women who are trying to conceal their own lack of virtue.  

Women strongly committed to traditional, hierarchical gender norms are thus the most likely to believe that women who have acted contrary to traditional hierarchical norms--by, say, engaging in consensual sex outside of committed relationships on other occasions, or by wearing suggestive clothes, or by agreeing to be alone with a man in a room, or by drinking, etc.--really meant "yes" when they said "no." They are also the most quick, the women's studies literature suggests, to morally condemn such behavior.

These accounts are ones I've synthesized from various studies using sociological methods. But if they are right, we should expect these dynamics to generate motivated cognition. To protect their identities, women who subscribe to hierarchical norms should form factual perceptions that reflect the stake they have in opposing abortion and in conserving the law's attentiveness to "token resistance." We can test this conjecture by methods associated with social psychology.

CCP has in fact carried out studies with this goal. In one, we found that hierarchical, communitarian women were the group most disposed to see abortion as threatening to the health of women, a claim that is now one of the central justifications for a new generation of abortion restrictions in the U.S.

In another study, members of a large, diverse national sample reviewed facts from an actual rape case in which there was a dispute about whether a female college student who said "no" really meant it. Women with hierarchical values --particularly older ones -- were more likely than others to see the woman as "really" consenting despite her words. In addition to corroborating the women's studies position I described, this finding comports with the practical experience of attorneys who specialize in rape defense, and who report that the best juror in a "no means ... ?" case is likely to be a middle-aged woman with traditionalist outlooks (someone like Roy Black, who successfully defended William Kennedy Smith, wouldn't put it exactly this way; he wouldn't put it an any particular way--because he has professional situation sense, he'd just know it when he sees it.)

The cultural outlines of the dispute over "no means ...?" is very much at odds, though, with the prevailing view in legal scholarship, which depicts disputes about date rape as reflecting a conflict between men and women generally. In the study, there was no meaningful difference between men and women generally, considered apart from the interaction of cultural worldviews with gender that motivates hierarchical women to be particularly pro-defense in such date rape cases. Being a "liberal" or a "conservative," or a Democrat or Republican, also made no meaningful difference on their own.

So-- is there a connection between Aiken's comments and the culturally motivated cognition of facts relating to abortion and date rape?

Again, no one who takes a scientific view of the matter would try to draw from the sociological evidence I've described, and the sort of data CCP collected, an inference about what (if anything) was going on in Aken's brain.

But anyone who actually goes to the trouble of looking at relevant empirical evidence will find in it a plausible answer to how someone who forms and expresses beliefs like Aken's might fare pretty well in democratic politics. He is the beneficiary of the resentment and anxiety of 

women who think that they have in some ways become less liberated in recent decades, not more; who think that easy abortion, easy birth control and a tawdry popular culture have degraded their stature, not elevated it. Though the women [at an Aiken rally a couple days ago] here were of varying faiths and economic backgrounds, they were white and bound by a shared unease with Obama in particular and liberals in general, who seemed so often to hold them in contempt.

With their support, Aken might still win. And if you really want to know why they'd support him, the answer is much more complicated, much more interesting, and in many ways much more troubling than some kind of antagonism between "conservatism" as a personality trait and science as a way of knowing.



Abbey, A. Misperception as an Antecedent of Acquaintance Rape in Acquaintance Rape: the Hidden Crime. (eds. A. Parrot & L. Bechhofer) 96-112 (Wiley, New York; 1991).

Batchelder, J., Koski, D. & Byxbe, F. Women’s hostility toward women in rape trials: Testing the intra-female gender hostility thesis. American Journal of Criminal Justice 28, 181-200 (2004).

Burt, M.R. Cultural Myths and Supports for Rpe. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 38, 217-230 (1980).

Burt, M.R. Rape Myths and Acquaintance Rape in Acquaintance Rape: the Hidden Crime. (eds. A. Parrot & L. Bechhofer) 26-40 (Wiley, New York; 1991).

Burt, M.R. & Albin, R.S. Rape Myths, Rape Definitions, and Probability of Conviction. J Appl Soc Psychol 11, 212-230 (1981).

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Ellison, L. & Munro, V.E. Reacting to Rape: Exploring Mock Jurors' Assessments of Complainant Credibility. Br J Criminol 49, 202-219 (2009).

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Kahan, D.M. Culture, Cognition, and Consent: Who Perceives What, and Why, in Acquaintance Rape Cases. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 158, 729-812 (2010).

Kahan, D.M., Braman, D., Gastil, J., Slovic, P. & Mertz, C.K. Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition: Explaining the White-Male Effect in Risk Perception. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 4, 465-505 (2007).

Kalof, L. Rape-supportive attitudes and sexual victimization experiences of sorority and nonsorority women. Sex Roles 29, 767-780 (1993). 

Monson, C.M., Langhinrichsen-Rohling, J. & Binderup, T. Does "No" Really Mean "No" After You Say "Yes"? Attributions About Date and Marital Rape. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 15, 1156-1174 (2000)

Muehlenhard, C.L. & Hollabaugh, L.C. Do Women Sometimes Say No When They Mean Yes? The Prevalence and Correlates of Women's Token Resistance to Sex. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 54, 872-879 (1988).

Muehlenhard, C.L. "Nice Women" Don't Say Yes and "Real Men" Don't Say No. Women & Therapy 7, 95 - 108 (1988).

Muehlenhard, C.L. & McCoy, M.L. Double Standard/Double Bind. Psychol Women Quart 15, 447-461 (1991).

Sprecher, S., Hatfield, E., Cortese, A., Potapova, E. & Levitskaya, A. Token Resistance to Sexual Intercourse and Consent to Unwanted Sexual Intercourse: College Students' Dating Experiences in Three Countries. The Journal of Sex Research 31, 125-132 (1994).

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Reader Comments (2)

Dan, great information (never ends with you).
So perhaps I might deviate onto a less trodden the woods as it were :-)
So, I am thinking here about the evoution of maternal vs patriarchal control. If we take as a given that at some point in the past society was more defined as maternally controlled, and that the men assumed control (or so they think) over time. Can the conservative link to the past (via Gebser or Pierce), in the sense that to change we have to accept/acknowledge what has been conserved, be thought of just a human control issue? I guess what I am asking is could there be something deeper going on here? I know I ask silly questions, part of my smoothing out the data.
Is there a hidden (or hard to distinguish) battle moving through the female psyche trying to regain ~paradise lost~ (ok that is a stretch, but you get the idea). Are men then, just the patsies, and surrogate blame takers in the real battle involving the domination by women? (Not that that would be or is a bad thing)
Obvisouly in 200 years we may be able to look back and wonder what any of us were thinking. By the way I only bring up Gebser because I was reminded of him, and The Ever Present Origin (one of my favorite books) by something I read recently about semiotics and meaning. And all this connection to GOP Brain, Science communication and all that has been going on, has got me digging. A Paleo-Psychologist if you will. :-)
As always, thanks!

August 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave Seibert

David--maybe there are psycho-evolutionary forces at work but I think the sorts of the culture & status conflicts that seem to be going here could take root b/c of fairly random, local historical forces & then become deeply rooted as a result of social dynamics that also aren't so deeply ingrained in biology or psyche. But how would you test conjectures like yours? Maybe you'd expect the sorts of things we see w/ date rape & abortion in US to be replicated in other societies? Or at least to have issues that have equivalent relation to the forces you envision?

August 29, 2012 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

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