Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Evaluations of Aggressive Women: The Effects of Gender, Socioeconomic Status, and Level of Aggression

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Evaluations of Aggressive Women: The Effects of Gender, Socioeconomic Status, and Level of Aggression

Article excerpt

Research finds gender differences in aggression and suggests that female violence is viewed differently from male violence. Participants were 94 female and 38 male students from a mid-size public university in the Southeast. Participants read a mock trial and answered questions about their attitudes concerning an aggressor in the scenario. The study was a 2 (male or female) by 2 (high socioeconomic status or low socioeconomic status) by 2 (verbal aggression or physical aggression) between-subjects factorial design. The participants responded to a revised version of the Attitudes Toward Women Scale (Nelson, 1988). As hypothesized aggressive women were evaluated more negatively than aggressive men and participants evaluated the female aggressor who used physical aggression more negatively than the female who used verbal aggression. The hypothesis that the female aggressor would be perceived as more in need of counseling than the male aggressor was not supported. Contrary to another hypothesis, respondents did not evaluate higher socioeconomic status aggressors more negatively than those of lower status. As hypothesized people with traditional views of women evaluated the female aggressor more negatively than people with more liberal views of women, and liberal participants evaluated the male and female aggressors similarly. The more negative evaluation of female aggressors and, in particular, females who use physical aggression, may result in unfair treatment of such females. These social biases may cloud perceptions of aggressive females, suggesting that their actions are more inappropriate than those of a male who committed the same act.

Both individual studies and meta-analyses of literature on aggression find gender differences in aggression (e.g., Eagly & Steffen, 1986; Eagly & Wood, 1991). For example, males are more likely than females to engage in direct physical aggression (Harris, 1991; Lagerspetz, Bjorkqvist, & Peitonon, 1988), while females are more likely to use more indirect forms of aggression (Bjorkqvist, Lagerspetz, & Kaukiainen, 1992; Lagerspetz et al., 1988). In addition, female violence is perceived as less threatening and less harmful than violence by males (Harris, 1994, Harris & Knight-Bohnhoff, 1996).

Much of the research on female violence deals with aggression in intimate relationships. Women are just as likely as men to express direct aggression in roles that are congruent with their gender role orientation, such as in family or dating relationships (Towson & Zanna, 1982). Strong support exists for this assertion (Archer & Ray, 1989; Bookwala, Frieze, Smith, & Ryan, 1992; Johnson, 1990; Malone, Tyree, & O'Leary, 1989; O'Leary et al., 1989; Paul & Baenninger, 1991; White & Koss, 1991). For example, in a longitudinal study O'Leary and associates (1989) found that women actually report higher use of aggression than men to resolve conflict in premarriage and early marriage relationships. However, research indicates that the primary motivations for women's use of aggression in intimate relationships are self-defense or fighting back (Saunders, 1986), expression of anger, retaliation for a previous assault, and avoidance of aggression (Hamberger, Lohr, Bonge, & Tolin, 1997). Research clearly indicates that women are capable of expressing physical aggression in self-defense or intimate relationships; situations where they are protected from negative social evaluation. Studies asserting that males are more aggressive than females in all societies (e.g., Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974) base their conclusions on a limited definition of aggression and restricted situations in which it is expressed.

Very little research exists on the perception of female aggression committed in public settings. Harris (1994) reports that males are more likely to respond with verbal and physical aggression than females in public situations. Also, males anticipate more approval of aggressive acts from friends than do females when the aggressive acts are committed in public (Harris, 1994). …

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