South African women's conceptualisations of and responses to sexual coercion in relation to hegemonic masculinities

Glob Public Health. 2016;11(1-2):135-52. doi: 10.1080/17441692.2015.1032993. Epub 2015 May 21.


Despite the documented relationship between hegemonic norms of masculinities and South African men's use of sexual violence, less is known about how women's engagement with norms of masculinity influences their agency in sexually coercive experiences. This study applied a narrative approach to assess how women's understandings of hegemonic male norms affected their perceptions of and responses to sexually coercive experiences. Twenty-five sexual history narrative interviews were conducted with women across five South African provinces representing a range of ages, language and sociocultural backgrounds. Interviews elicited stories of first experiences of sex and the range of sexual relationships through adulthood. Data were analysed using principles of thematic and narrative analysis. Coercive sexual experiences informed many women's normative ideas about men's sexuality including being impulsive, controlling and aggressive. This could underpin women's limited ability to exercise agency and their increased vulnerability to sexual abuse. Some women reported levels of trust and respect in subsequent relationships, which typically involved deconstructing norms of men's use of coercion and moving beyond self-blame and guilt. The findings highlight the need to appreciate the fluid and situated nature of women's agency from a relational perspective in terms of how women condone and challenge gender norms that support men's use of sexual violence in their relationships.

Keywords: South Africa; hegemonic masculinities; narratives; sexual coercion.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Coercion
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Incest / psychology
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Intimate Partner Violence / ethnology
  • Intimate Partner Violence / psychology*
  • Male
  • Masculinity*
  • Middle Aged
  • Personal Narratives as Topic
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sex Offenses / ethnology
  • Sex Offenses / psychology*
  • Social Norms / ethnology*
  • South Africa
  • Women's Rights / standards*
  • Women's Rights / trends
  • Young Adult