The Inventory of Beliefs about Wife Beating: The Construction and Initial Validation of a Measure of Beliefs and Attitudes

Article excerpt

Although attitudes and beliefs about wife beating have been regarded as important for understanding the factors that cause and perpetuate woman abuse, researchers have not had adequate instruments to measure these attitudes and beliefs. This article reports on the construction of a scale of attitudes about wife beating and an assessment of the scale's dimensionality and validity. Data were collected from 675 students, 94 residents of a midwestern city, 71 men who batter, and 70 advocates for battered women. Five reliable subscales were derived, and seven tests of validity were supported. Sympathetic attitudes toward battered women were related, as predicted, with liberal views of women's roles and sympathetic attitudes toward rape victims. Abusers and advocates were the most dissimilar in their attitudes. Male and female students also differed significantly. Many of the results are analogous to those in studies of attitudes toward rape. Several possible uses of the measure are described.

The topic of wife beating evokes a wide variety of responses. Some people assign blame to victims, others blame the perpetrators, and still others divide the blame equally. Victims may be regarded with indifference, hostility, or compassion, depending on the belief held about the cause of the violence. Views about causation are equally varied and can center on the abuser's mental health or level of stress, on the victim's behavior, or on a cultural analysis that points to male domination as the cause.

Although there are a variety of reactions to wife abuse, the public and many professional groups are generally charged with holding negative attitudes toward battered women (Dobash & Dobash, 1979; Gelles, 1976; Straus, 1976). It may be difficult for people to understand the plight of battered women because abused wives are more likely than other victims to be seen as being in an ongoing, intimate relationship with their abusers. Many people believe that those victimized in such relationships are responsible for their abuse, that the abuse is not serious, and that victims deserve little sympathy and assistance (Rossi, Waite, & Berk, 1974; Shodand & Straw, 1976).

The reaction of apathy or hostility experienced by many abused wives when they reach out for help, sometimes referred to as "secondary injury" (Symonds, 1980), is the focus of great concern. Such negative attitudes may actually help perpetuate abuse by turning women back into violent relationships, feeling even more helpless than before (cf. Stark, Flitcraft, & Frazier, 1979). A lack of options leads to both selfderogation and derogation by others (see, for example, Fine, 1981). This derogation may lead, in turn, to a further restriction of options.

A more direct contribution to wife abuse arises from the attitudes of the perpetrators. At least for some types of men who batter, a link has been established between the approval of marital violence and the actual perpetration of such acts (e.g., Dibble & Straus, 1981).

On a cultural level, there is evidence that attitudes about wife beating are part of a broader attitude domain about women's rights and roles in society (cf. Dobash & Dobash, 1979). For example, Yllo (1983) found patriarchal norms to be related to the physical assault of wives by husbands, using states as the unit of analysis. Such norms are also related to the acceptance of negative stereotypes about rape victims (Burt, 1980; Feild, 1978; Klein, 1981), suggesting that a search for parallels in attitudes about rape and wife beating may prove fruitful.

Several scales have been developed to measure attitudes toward rape (e.g., Burt, 1980; Feild, 1978; King, Rotter, Calhoun & Selby, 1978; Schwartz, Williams, & Pepitone-Rockwell, 1981). These scales have been useful in comparing different groups of professionals and other individuals, testing theories of attributions for rape, and measuring the effects of media depictions of rape (e. …