What is Violence? The Role of Sexism and Social Dominance Orientation in Recognizing Violence Against Women

J Interpers Violence. 2021 Nov;36(21-22):NP11349-NP11366. doi: 10.1177/0886260519888525. Epub 2019 Nov 19.


Violence against women represents a global public health issue of epidemic proportions, as well as a gross violation of women's human rights. It can take many forms, such as physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse, and controlling behaviors. The purpose of the study was to extend past research on recognition of violence against women within the framework of the ambivalent sexism theory and the social dominance orientation (SDO) theory. Specifically, we investigated the following: (a) to what extent different behaviors potentially harming women are recognized as a form of violence, and (b) whether gender, SDO, and sexist attitudes influence such recognition. Participants were 264 University students (43.1% males, M age = 23.09 years). They were asked to rate the extent to which several behaviors constituted violence against women. Participants' sexism was assessed by the short version of the Ambivalent Sexism (ASI) and Ambivalence toward Men Inventory (AMI) scales and the SDO by the SDO Italian scale. Through a factor analysis, we individuated three different groups of behaviors harming women: Physical violence, unequivocally recognized as a form of violence; Limitation of freedom, containing behaviors restraining women's action; and emotional abuse, encompassing verbally and emotionally aggressive behaviors. We tested the relations between variables through a structural equation model, finding that SDO and sexism had a direct effect on the recognition of violence, whereas the influence of gender was mediated by SDO and sexist attitudes. Thus, not gender per se, but gender-role attitudes that seem to affect recognition of some behaviors as a form of violence against women. Implications are discussed.

Keywords: anything related to domestic violence; cultural contexts; domestic violence; sexual assault; women offenders.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aggression
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sexism*
  • Social Dominance
  • Violence*
  • Young Adult