Study reveals how pop culture encourages men to view women as ‘prey’

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Moya Crockett
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“The implication of these findings is alarming.”

From Maroon 5’s song Animal to the film Swingers, there are many examples in pop culture of heterosexual men being framed as predators and women as ‘prey’.

Now, a new study has revealed that this kind of language can encourage a belief in rape myths and potentially contribute to a sexually violent culture.

To investigate the potential consequences of absorbing pop culture references to women as prey and men as predators, psychologists Melissa Burkley and Jarrod Brock recruited 350 men and women of varying ages.

These participants were then asked to read a passage that described a man on a first date with a woman. Half of the participants were randomly given a neutral version of this text. The other half read a version that included several references to the men-as-predator and women-as-prey metaphor.

“For example, instead of referring to a ‘night on the town’, the metaphor version stated ‘a night on the prowl’,” Burkley explains in Psychology Today. “And rather than saying he ‘enjoyed the get-to-know-you phase’ of dating, the metaphor version stated he ‘enjoyed the chase’.”

Men who read text that framed women as prey were more likely to believe rape myths 

After they had finished reading, all participants completed questionnaires that measured their attitudes about rape. The researchers found that while the women were not significantly more or less likely to believe rape myths after reading the metaphorical version of the reading, men’s attitudes were markedly affected by which passage they read.

Men who read the passage filled with women-as-prey metaphors were significantly more likely to hold beliefs that perpetuate rape, such as “women who are raped while drunk or sexily dressed are asking for it”, “if a girl doesn’t fight back it’s not rape” and “women often lie about being raped”, Burkely says.

Men who were assigned the metaphorical version of the reading were also more likely to indicate that they would engage in rape if given the chance.

Burkley and Brock’s study was recently published in the journal Sex Roles. While more research needs to be done, Burkley writes that “the implication of these findings is alarming”.

“The take-home point is that depictions showing men as the predator and women as their prey are not harmless, as some claim,” she says. “Exposure to them has real-world consequences.”

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